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Canadian sf Reviews by Dave Duncan

The Black Chalice
by Marie Jakober

Calgary: EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, Inc, 1999. 460 pages, C$35.95

I am not in the habit of hyping other people's books, but this one is exceptional. Alas, it's published by a small Calgary press, and I fear it will be overlooked and trampled in the crush.

EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, Inc.
P.O. Box 1714, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 2L7
Phone: (403) 254-0160 - Fax: (403) 254-0456

Briefly: a war-weary knight returning to Germany from the first crusade meets a pagan witch queen and comes into conflict with the church. If this sounds like warmed-over Katherine Kurtz, trust me, it isn't. The politics of the time set the Holy Roman Empire against the pope, lords against vassals, the church against the old but not forgotten gods of the forest. Women are stock certificates. The chief narrator is an absolute swine with attitudes that make you want to scream, and yet you can sort of see his point. I won't say more, because the plotting kept me guessing all the way through, which doesn't happen very often.

This really one has it all! You like scholarship? Jakober wields pagan myth as surely as Tolkien ever did, and cites Christian beliefs in a way even C. S. Lewis would never dare (although to very different ends). She knows history but adapts it to serve her purposes, just as Guy Kay does. There's plenty of action for repressed adolescents like mećmagic, jousting, tender romance and gruesome brutality. She creates superbly subtle characters, men and women both. Best of all is her evocation of the atmosphere of Dark Age Northern Europećnasty, brutish, and haunted.

Edge has done a magnificent job of design; the book as a book is a pleasure to own and read. Alas, it is pricey and hard to find. Amazon and Indigo list it on their webpages; Chapters does not.

This one deserves to be a classic. Grab it while it's still available and don't count on waiting for a mass market edition that may never be.

Dave Duncan

Read Another Review of Jakober's Black Chalice
(by Douglas Barbour)

Marie Jakober entry in Author Listings.

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