October 07, 2011

Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead

I really like Arthurian legends. And this one was supposed to be a good one. In some ways it was, and in other ways I did not enjoy the book at all.

This goes way back in the Arthurian legends to tell the tale of Merlin's parents. The beautiful strong Charis of Atlantis. And Taliesin, the enchanting druid bard who is son of a king. The book divides its time between the two and their families, telling of their early years. For Charis, this is the start of a war for her nation, her time spent as a bull dancer, and the fall of Atlantis. For Taliesin, his tale shows the meeting of his parents, his training as a druid, and how he meets Charis. Charis especially meets with a lot of hardship and her story is the more interesting of the two. Taliesin seems to live a charmed life and is thought of as lucky and fortune favored.

The characters were well written. They had a lot of depth to them and Lawhead took the time to give them a full history. Charis is written as cold but capable. Taliesin is charming. There are many other characters that are all essential to the book. My only complaint about the characters is that Lawhead made the Christians perfect in action and the pagans somewhat evil at times. It was a little disconcerting to find that in what I thought was a fantasy novel rather than a religious work.

Lawhead is very descriptive. He gives an engaging plot and does a wonderful fantasy telling of the earlier parts in the Arthurian legends. He makes his characters mostly believable and especially in Charis' case, you want to know what is going to happen to them and care about them as a character. Nothing is overtly offensive in the wording and there isn't a lot of harsh language.

Let me touch on some criticisms however. As stated before Christianity is considered very good in this book. Lawhead took it to the point where it felt very preachy to me. I don't care that a writer reflects his religion in his works, but please don't announce it as the be all end all of religion because that can be offensive to some readers with different beliefs. In this Arthurian legend especially, where a lot of paganism is involved, it is very disconcerting to read a book that expresses the beliefs this way instead of being a fabulous work of fantasy. Also, for the purists who read this, the timeline seems a bit strange. For most, Atlantis takes place hundreds if not thousands of years before the time of Arthur and even though this is a couple generations back from Arthur, it still seems to be too close. There are some other historical data that doesn't quite sync up with normal Arthurian tales as well. While it is a fantasy tale, there are some genres like the Arthurian legends, where are you taking a risk by deviating well accepted norms within the genre. I think Lawhead dances a very fine dance on the line with these aspects. Overall though, these things brought the book down a bit for me and really were a disappointment.

I have the next book in the series so I will be continuing on. I can only hope they improve and become less preachy and truer to the Arthurian legend.

Copyright 1987
452 pages

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