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5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and Dreams, but not of Arthur, 18 Jan 2012
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This review is from: The Grail War (Mass Market Paperback)
I first read this book when I was sixteen and I still remember the impact it had on me. So much so that I spent those odd moments I found myself in second hand bookshops looking for the prequel for the best part of thirty years even though after the first few all I could remember was that the name of the prequel was Parsival and that was also the name of the main character. I couldn't recall anything else, author, plot, none of it, I just knew it was important to find a copy though I couldn't even remember why. Thanks be to Amazon that I found Parsival, and having read that and been stunned by it, I tracked down this book and its sequel The Final Quest, and when finances allow I shall purchase book four Blood and Dreams. I find it hard to believe that a work of this quality is virtually unknown, I mean this will be the first review on Amazon UK for a series that apparently had two volumes nominated for a Pulitzer, but then given the subject matter and the fact that any simple categorisation is going to misplace it and give the wrong impression I'm not overly surprised. Originally it was sold as a fantasy because of the magical/spiritual/mystical elements that are an important part of the feel, but the gritty realism, graphic violence and bawdy sexual scenes would normally lead one to a more historical classification except that the language and spectacular prose are modern and so would offend history buffs. Then there is the fact that it is labelled as Arthurian but other than as background he's not in it. A few of the more well known members of the round table are, like Gawain and Lancelot, but even they are just supporting cast, thereby disappointing those looking for a retelling of that well worn story. If anything these books bear a resemblance, albeit loosely, to Spencer's Faerie Queen. This is about the Grail, and life, and revelation, and realisation, and questing, and love and death and all those other things that those with a mystical inclination will recognise as important. The plot is different and complex as, unusually for this sort of thing, all the characters are pursuing their own agendas and goals (even if that is just to survive) and react to events as people actually do (drifting in what seems to them the most reasonable direction for their own limited viewpoint best interest), unlike the usual sort of fantasy or historical retelling where the main protagonists have a defined goals (like defeating the villain or saving someone) that they pursue with some sort of defined plan. As in everyday life stuff happens and the protagonists just deal with it as best they can with largely no idea as to what the big picture is all about, or any real interest in finding out why things are happening. I have no doubt that the story is to a large degree allegorical but as with all such work what it is trying to teach us will be different for every reader. Hopefully this review will encourage you to be one. And just to whet your appetite here is a passage that sums up the contradictions in this book....

'He didn't look up as the animal minced on the bank of another stream running flat, greenish-dark, straight. He didn't look up as the riders caught up with him. Every so often tears would overspill his eyes. He paid no attention to that either. He barely noticed the voice shouting and the tinkle and clink and bang of horse and steel sounds.
..... When he finally glanced bleakly through the hopelessly reddened and blurred eyes, he blinked at dim, gleaming figures. He didn't trouble to count them. He blinked on, but his eyes had been wept out of focus and, for all he knew or cared, forever.
He really didn't listen, either, just politely awaited until the voice stopped raging, blinking his fogged eyes. He had never been depressed to such depths. And distraction. Oh, he knew remotely that the voice ringing in the open helm was Bonjio's, but that fact connected nowhere because he was replaying images of her softness in the first hay, the bed,the tent silks, under moon,stars, and sunlight....kept wanting her voice, kept wanting to turn and go after her, try again, not knowing what he'd say or do.....The future was so vacant and terrifying now.....Sometimes he worked together perfect speeches that would win her back with eloquence alone.....How could any other have equalled their passion...?It was hard for him to care just now about the Earl and his men and all that, so, as he made his mind up to say something (because there was a silence), he peripherally perceived the shadow of an axe stroke arced for his open face mask, and he drew and slashed at the arm in one motion with that unearthly reflex speed, and axe,hand and wrist sailed past his face, the streaming blood spattering his cheeks like red pox, the chopped arm still held out straight, as if in stunned salute, blood jetting, splashing over him, as if (his mind said in a blurry corner) that was the real attack: running, pooling; dripping too thick for the faint drizzle to rinse, and then, with a bellowing scream, the stump was snatched back, and desperately, futilely, a metal-bound hand tried to staunch the incredibly rapid flow as Parsival, in terror, understood what had happened, wanting to scream himself and have the blow taken back, to have those few moments returned, that fragment of unyielding time (there flashed in his memory from what seemed a thousand years ago): a buck deer jerking its polished antlers, speared through the chest, collapsing in a shimmering splendour of sunshine and himself wanting the cast back, feeling the pain, begging for life there, the first time...Oh, my God in heaven, he thought heavily, it's always a moment too late....always...'
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The Grail War
The Grail War by Richard Monaco (Mass Market Paperback - July 1984)
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