Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Lucifer's Crown
Lillian Stewart Carl
Five Star, 450 pages

Lucifer's Crown
Lillian Stewart Carl
Lillian Stewart Carl lives in the Dallas area. She has written such novels as Sabazel, The Winter King, Shadow Dancers, Wings Of Power, Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust and Garden Of Thorns.

Lillian Stewart Carl Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Along the Rim of Time

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Lucifer's Crown is not an easy book to describe or classify. It tries to be many things at once, but first and foremost, it's a novel of Biblical apocalypse. In a time where Christian fiction with an apocalyptic bent -- led by the wildly popular Left Behind series -- is a multi-million dollar industry, it was inevitable that more traditional fantasy writers would eventually turn their hand to these tropes and themes. Lillian Stewart Carl, in taking up this challenge, has responded with her most complex and ambitious novel to date. What's more important, it's also by far her best.

With Lucifer's Crown, Carl reclaims Christian mythology from the fundamentalist set, and treats it as mythology as opposed to dogma. And she does it without the self-righteous and judgmental trappings, taking on such issues as intolerance and blind faith head-on. Planted firmly and unabashedly in the tradition of the Inklings, Lucifer's Crown evokes the theology-steeped works of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams -- a connection reinforced by repeated references and allusions to Tolkien. Personal sacrifice, faith and redemption are the overarching themes here, playing a pivotal role in the never-ending battle between good and evil. In that aspect, Carl's book compares favorable to another classic work of Christian-themed fantasy, The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

But pigeonholing Lucifer's Crown as apocalyptic Christian fiction does a grave disservice to the book and to readers. It's so much more than that. Carl has taken half a dozen or more traditions and genres, mixing them together to forge an alloyed novel of unexpected strength. Superficially, it's contemporary fantasy, with magical elements intruding on modern life, but it is also equal parts historical tour-de-force, murder mystery, quest fantasy, romance, Arthurian epic and alternate history of Wagnerian scope.

Lucifer's Crown begins with a group of history students from Southern Methodist University in Texas visiting Glastonbury Abbey as part of a study abroad program. Led by their professor Maggie Sinclair, the group stumbles across a murdered reporter and becomes entangled in the ensuing police investigation. Complications multiply a hundredfold with the revelation that Thomas London, the humble caretaker at Glastonbury, is in reality Thomas Becket -- one-time Archbishop of Canterbury. Rather than suffering martyrdom in 1170 as history records, Becket's faith failed him, and he allowed a young monk to die in his stead. Now, cursed with immortality for his sin, he strives for redemption by serving as the guardian of the Holy Grail. The Dark Powers that are gathering -- as Dark Powers are wont to do -- naturally have other plans, for both Becket and the Grail.

Lucifer's Crown is, at its heart, a journey of forgiveness and redemption. The legend of the Fisher King echoes throughout, and fans of Arthurian myth will positively work themselves into a frenzy picking up on all the references and allusions Carl packs into the storyline. Something of an Anglophile and a voracious historian as well, Carl never misses an opportunity to drop some nifty historical fact into the narrative. Rather than bog down the story, these nuggets add to the resonance of the tale, anchoring events to historic and thematic contexts. Even her characters benefit from this approach, engaging repeatedly in intellectual contests of "can you top this?" with each answer not only codifying their considerable knowledge of the past, but also casting a bit of light on the inner person.

Two serious flaws work against the novel, however -- flaws made all the worse by being easily correctable, to my mind. Carl opens the book by throwing almost the entire cast at the reader, making it hard to grasp and identify with any of them, much less the setting of contemporary Glastonbury. When the murder follows shortly thereafter, it's hard to feel anything other than a good bit of confusion, which will certainly put a number of readers off. That's a shame, though, because once the introductions are out of the way and the body's carted off the morgue, the plot kicks in and everything sorts itself out. The other major problem I had with Lucifer's Crown is infuriating simply because it's so utterly unnecessary: The novel takes place in the final months of the year 2000. That's right, we're treated to yet another clichéd end-of-the-millennium apocalypse. Other than hopelessly dating a story that otherwise manages to be effectively timeless, the move is just downright dumb. First of all, Lucifer's Crown is published in 2003, so that pretty much spoils the suspense, as the good guys obviously won. But beyond that, who's to say that a monotheistic deity slavishly follows the Gregorian Calendar? Wouldn't it be more logical to go by the Roman Calendar, since that was the one in widespread use at the time of Christ's birth and death? Or the Julian Calendar, which came into being at the same time as the early Christian church? Or maybe even the Babylonian Calendar, if you want to get traditional with the Old Testament. Perhaps it's a minor point, but every time a date reference came up, it jarred my suspension of disbelief, and that's the last thing a good story should do.

Despite those complaints, Lucifer's Crown is a densely-packed narrative of uncommon complexity and richness. It's a challenging work and certainly not light reading, but -- as is the case with the works of writers such as Gene Wolfe, for instance -- those who put forth the effort will find themselves well-rewarded, indeed.

Copyright © 2003 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction, and serves as fiction editor for A collected volume of his speculative fiction interviews, Cosmosis, is due out from the University of Nebraska Press in 2004. His website can be found at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide