The Black Chalice
by Marie Jakober
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
460 pages; ISBN: 1894063007
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Paul Lappen
Set in 12th century Germany, soon after the First Crusade to Jerusalem, this is the story of Karelian, Crusader knight and youngest son of a formerly noble House. Troubled by his violent past, and disillusioned with war and the church, he, like many of his countrymen, is not yet ready to give up his pagan roots.
Karelian meets Raven, half-human and half-veela and queen of a hidden castle. He falls madly in love with her, and later, he betrays everything for her.
The emperor of the Holy Roman Empire dies before his son, Konrad, can be officially sworn in as the new emperor. At the same time, Duke Gottfried also claims the throne. He claims descent from Jesus himself, and possesses what might be a relic from the time of Christ that claims to show him, Gottfried, on the throne. The group of nobles that choose the emperor is deadlocked, setting off a major power struggle. Karelian joins the side of Prince Konrad, even though Karelian is accused of all sorts of terrible crimes, because Duke Gottfried's plan for a Christian empire must be stopped. The whole empire rests on the outcome of a one-on-one battle between Gottfried and Karelian, acting as Konrad's champion.
The whole tale is told in flashback from the point of view of Paul, Karelian's ex-squire, who switched sides when Karelian abandoned the Church, and is now an elderly monk. Instead of writing the tale his superiors expect, Paul is forced, through sorcery, to write what really happened.
This is a first-rate piece of writing. It has all the elements a fantasy lover could want, in an interesting and well done story. This book runs rings around most of what is packaged as fantasy in the local chain bookstore.
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