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The Black Chalice
Marie Jakober
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 455 pages

The Black Chalice
Marie Jakober
Marie Jakober grew up in a log cabin on a small homestead in northern Alberta. Her home schooling, by correspondence, and an imaginative flair for storytelling brought her international recognition at age 13 with the publication of her poem The Fairy Queen. She graduated from Carleton University with distinction, and has toured, lectured, and served on numerous panels. She is the author of five books, including the science fiction novel The Mind Gods, and the winner of the 1985 Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction for her novel Sandinista. She lives in Calgary, Canada.

Marie Jakober Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Black Chalice
SF Site Review: The Black Chalice
Sample Chapter: The Black Chalice
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

It is the year 1103, and the German knight Karelian is returning from the Crusades to his home in the Reinmark, with his faithful young squire Paul in his retinue. Karelian is a man of thirty-eight who has made his fortune fighting, but is weary and embittered by the bloody atrocities committed in Jerusalem in the name of the Christian God.

Karelian has no desire to fight ever again, but his duke, Gottfried, has returned from the Crusades with a megalomaniacal thirst to start a new holy war. Soon Karelian is torn between his honour and loyalty to his sworn lord, and his passion for a half-human sorceress, Raven, whose blatant sexuality and pagan beliefs seem more and more alluring.

Watching Karelian's downfall in horror, is Paul, whose devotion to Christianity is stronger than even his love for Karelian. When Karelian chooses blasphemy over duty, Paul knows he has no choice but to betray him to his enemies.

The thematic underpinning of The Black Chalice, as you might have already guessed, is eco-friendly, feminist, magical paganism versus misogynistic, brutal and obsessive medieval Christianity. I don't usually have a lot of patience with this type of trendy socio-philosophy, but to Marie Jakober's credit, she handles her scenario very deftly because she creates a cast of complex, believable characters in a setting of intricate political and religious intrigue. Also, her depiction of the gruesome excesses of the medieval church is entirely accurate -- no embroidery required.

Paul, the guilt-ridden, homosexually-repressed squire makes for a fascinating narrator, since he is both very observant and very anxious to delude himself about his own motivations. Unfortunately, his twisted, agonized viewpoint is hard to take for long periods of time and this is a long novel -- at least forty percent too long for a book with only one plot thread. The rabbit grows very old on his 450-page journey out of the hat.

However, that's my only major gripe about this novel. It is very well written, the characters are exceptionally strong and the medieval setting is competent. Jakober does "cheat" by including viewpoints other than Paul's (he is writing an account of events long after they happened), but what the heck.

This is a very good book by a very good Canadian writer, and it was even published in Calgary by Edge Publishing. Way to go!

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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