Technically this is the sixth novel in the Pendragon Cycle but it was marketed as a standalone novel. Avalon details the return of the legendary King Arthur to rescue Britain during its greatest need. While in Portugal, King Edward the Ninth of England has committed suicide. Meanwhile in England, the Prime Minister’s, Thomas Waring, plan to abolish the Monarchy and take over the parliament is finally coming to fruition. In the Scottish Highlands, a mystical emissary named Mr. Embries-formerly known as Merlin-informs a young man that he is next in line for the British Throne. James Arthur Stuart is not a commoner, he is Arthur, the legendary King of Summer reborn in the 21st Century. However, Arthur is not the only one who has returned from the mists of time. This novel is an excellent combination of the chivalrous notions of the Round Table combined with modern cynicism, extreme prejudice, and popular apathy. This is definitely more of a postscript to the Pendragon Cycle versus a straight up sequel. Lawhead explores all of romantic Arthurian clichés against contemporary politics. There are a lot of modern political commentary, well 1999 modern, and several excellent historical fiction sections. Also, Lawhead does a great job keeping James and the other Arthur, from the previous books, completely separate characters. I love this novel because it is great end to the Pendragon Cycle and a moving parable about good versus evil.
Avalon: The Return of King Arthur, HarperTorch, 1999, ISBN 9780380802975
Lawhead excels at writing historical fiction, specifically Celtic history. Patrick: Son of Ireland is the origin story of St Patrick, whose name is forever going to be associated with a day of drinking every March 17. In this novel, Patrick is the son of a noble welsh family. When he is sixteen years old, he is violently taken from his home by Irish raiders and sold to a brutal king. The king’s druids take pity on him and teach him the arts of healing, song, and the mystical secrets of their order. He eventually escapes from Wales and ends up in Rome. In the shadows of a dying empire, Patrick is once again transformed and sets out on his life mission. Throughout the entire narrative Patrick is a sympathetic and believable character who struggles with his calling and the reality of life. This is an exquisitely detailed novel and Lawhead clearly did his research. Lawhead took the recorded historical information and realistically fills in the holes. While this is a novel about a legendary religious leader, it is a highly engaging narrative and an enjoyable read. This is a historical novel and Lawhead never allows the narrative to descend into religious “preaching”. It has a strong Christian message but it is not shoved down the readers’ throats. Any fan of historical fiction will enjoy this book.
Patrick: Son of Ireland, HarperTorch, 2004, ISBN 9780060012823
This is the second book in Lawhead’s excellent Song of Albion trilogy. In this trilogy, Lewis and Simon, two hapless college students, stumble into an alternate universe. Albion is a medieval version of Britain, only slightly different. The Silver Hand follows the events that occur after King Meldryn Mawr dies and leaves his kingdom in ruins. Several contenders for the throne rise up and fight for the kingdom. Meanwhile, Lewis is seeking to find the meaning behind an ancient prophecy about a long awaited champion: Silver Hand. The Ancient Celts believed that there was no separation between this world and the Otherworld, the two were interwoven such that each was dependent on the other. Any action occurring in one realm can either negatively or positively affect the other. I have yet to find another author who manages to bring Celtic legend to life in such an engrossing manner. Though Juliet Marillier’s books are a close second. This book excellently depicts life in both modern Britain and a pseudo-Celtic otherworld. Everything in Albion is complex, bizarre, and wonderful when contrasted with the stressfulness of modern life. The Silver Hand is an engrossing novel and my personal favorite in the trilogy. It is quite emotional, Lawhead knows how to effectively manipulate the feelings of his readers. Be advised, although entertaining, this book is more philosophical than most fantasy novels available today.
The Silver Hand, WestBow Press, 2006, ISBN 9781595542205
I am a huge fan of narratives based upon myths and legends. Hood is the first installment in Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy. This is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend. In this narrative Robin is known as Bran, Prince of Elfael. He is a spoiled Welsh Prince who eventually matures into the roughish outlaw we all know and love. The classic Robin Hood story is transported to 12th Century Wales right after the Normans landed and began conquering England. Wales, known in the Celtic language as Cymru, is one of the last strongholds in Briton resisting the Normans. Against this backdrop a young Bran grows up and plots to take down the Norman invaders. Hood is an excellent introduction to a new twist on a classic legend. It is a great book that is steeped in historical detail. The Ancient Celtic religion is pitted against the rise of early Christianity mores about acceptance and forgiveness, which is in conflict with the Norman’s belief in divine right. Lawhead mutes the magical aspects of the story and chooses to focus more on the historical aspect. Any magic that is mentioned is usually explained away and there is a lot of commentary on faith and politics in Medieval Briton. Hood is excellent written, has wonderful descriptions, and strong multi-dimensional characters. However, it is not as complex as Lawhead’s earlier works and the background details are rather underdeveloped.
Hood, WestBow Press, 2006, ISBN 9781595540850
I struggled to finish this book, the narrative does not pick up until the last two-fourths. Lawhead does a lot of world-building and exploration into the politics of the time. While interesting, it is not his most engaging writing. Byzantium tells the story of Aidan, a man who was born to rule but lives as a scribe in a remote Irish Monastery on the far, wild edge of Christendom. One day he is chosen to accompany a small band of monks on a quest to the farthest eastern reaches of the known world, the fabled city of Byzantium to present a hand-illuminated manuscript to the Emperor. Aidan becomes a warrior, sailor, slave, and spy during his travels over land and sea. He sees more of the world than he ever imagined and becomes an inmate of Byzantium’s fabled Golden Court. But his greatest accomplishment is overcoming the ageless trial of commanding your own Destiny. Lawhead is a Christian author and the Christian themes are integral to the narrative. However, he does show a keen and sympathetic tone for the beliefs and cultures of non-Christians. Byzantium was marketed as a fantasy novel; however, the otherworldly elements are quite muted. Prayer is a vital part of all of the characters’ lives and dreams are considered omens. While the narrative drags in parts, Lawhead really brings the ancient city of Byzantium to life in vivid detail.
Byzantium, Harper Voyager, 1996, ISBN 9780061057540