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Stephen Lawhead
Avon Books, 453 pages


Stephen Lawhead
Stephen R. Lawhead is the author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first novel, In the Hall of the Dragon King, became the first in a series of three books (The Dragon King Trilogy). Later came his best known The Pendragon Cycle, now in four volumes: Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur and Pendragon. He lives with his family in Oxford, England.

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A review by Steven H Silver

"Arthor and Medraut fought at Mount Badon." These words, written by the historian Nennius in the sixth century, would last for fourteen-hundred years and inspire millions upon millions of words. The story of King Arthur has grown and been retold by men as diverse as Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia Regum Brittania), Wolfram von Eschenbach (Parsifal), T.S. Elliot (The Wasteland) and Terry Gilliam ("The Fisher King"). One of the more recent additions to this mythology is Stephen R. Lawhead's Grail.

Although a focal point of the later legends of King Arthur, the story of the search for the grail is probably less well known in its particulars than some of the earlier stories, such as Lancelot's love for Guinevere or Arthur's retrieval of the sword from the stone. This permits the author to examine an ancient story and imbue it with freshness without having to deal with quite as many preconceptions that his audience might have.

Lawhead has quite definitely done his research into the classic tales of King Arthur and his knights. What he has done, after doing this research, is pick and choose the pieces which he desires to use in his novel and piece them together. Although his story can not be called an historic re-creation by any stretch, it is intelligently drawn from the wide variety of sources Lawhead has used.

Unfortunately, however much research is evident in Lawhead's writing, he does not manage to weave it into a well-told story. The plot is slow in getting started as Sir Gwalchavad, (better known as Sir Galahad) travels throughout the blighted countryside picking up an enigmatic maiden in the process. Despite covering a large area of Britain, Lawhead does not really show us a land which is suffering from drought. The traveling knights must search, on occasion, for water, but they are always able to find enough. Food does not seem to be a problem, although Lawhead never really shows the more common folk who may be suffering. We only know of Britain's dire straits because we are told that such is the case.

In one of his alterations from the original myths, Arthur is cured by the Grail while he is convalescing in the castle of the Fisher King. Just before Arthur is prepared to dedicate his Shrine of the Grail, the Grail is carried off. Arthur and his knights, therefore, are much more intimately linked to the Grail's theft and recovery than in the original legends and fables. The loss of the Grail is also connected to the fall of Arthur's own Kingdom of Summer. The Irish knight Llenlleawg (French Lancelot originally) is seduced from Arthur's side and in turn seduces Arthur's queen, Gwenhwyvar.

Although Lawhead knows his legend and plays with the common themes masterfully, bringing interesting interpretations to the well-known tales, his writing is too heavy to make Grail fully enjoyable. Not having read the earlier works in this series (Taliesin, Arthur, Merlin, and Pendragon), I can't comment on whether knowledge of the early works would increase the enjoyability or readability of Grail. Based on my reading of Grail, I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series. As a standalone, Grail should only be read by the Arthurian completist.

Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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