Marie Jakober,
The Black Chalice
(Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2000)

Karelian Brandeis, count of Lys, is a former Crusader. Sickened by the sights and deeds of the Crusade, he longs only to marry his betrothed, Adelaide of Ravensbruck, and settle down in Lys as a farmer. But on his way to Ravensbruck, he is forced to turn aside and journey through the forest of Helmardin. It is a journey that will change his life forever.

Gottfried, called the Golden, is Karelian's liege and a great soldier. But he has a secret that will divide a country and cause his most trusted vassal to turn against him and embrace a pagan heritage.

The sorceress Raven is the Queen of Car-Iduna, a fabled holding hidden in the forests of Helmardin. After luring Karelian and his party to her holding, she reveals to him her secret. She is the guardian of a priceless treasure, the Black Chalice, the Grail of Life that was fashioned by one of Karelian's own ancestresses. She offers Karelian much to renounce Gottfried and become her sworn champion in a fight to preserve the old ways.

Paul von Ardiun is a monk, though once, many years ago, he was Karelian's trusted squire. He has been commissioned by the pope to write a history of the tumultous times through which he lived, a tale that will warn good Christians away from heathenism and sorcery. But Paul has no sooner begun his tale when the sorceress Raven, whom he had hoped was long dead, appears in his cell and enchants his quill. No longer is he able to write the history he had planned; his ensorcelled pen will write only the truth, no matter how hard he tries to make it write something else. And Paul desperately does not want to remember the truth.

The Black Chalice is a historical fantasy set in the time of the Holy Roman Empire, just after the first Crusade. It is a mythic tale of love and betrayal, but also a tale of war. In the background is the Crusade just ended, with all its cruel depravities. Looming over all is the threat of civil war in Germany (the Empire), but the basic struggle is that between the old ways and the new, between paganism and Christianity, between the ancient god Tyr and Jesus Christ.

Fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon will find much to like here. The Black Chalice depicts the same struggle not to lose something precious in the face of an oppressor. The Holy Grail and the Black Chalice of Life can even be seen as one and the same, though Jakober's book is definitely not Arthurian.

The best books evoke an emotional response in the reader. The Black Chalice is just such a book. I found myself by turns angry and saddened by the events described, knowing that even though they were fiction, the same sorts of events did occur in the world.

The Black Chalice is an excellent historical fantasy. I highly recommend it.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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