Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Black Chalice by Marie Jakober

The Black Chalice plummets the reader back to an age where Crusaders arrive at your doorstep for uttering a false word against the one God and the Holy Roman Empire has its claws into every portion of Europe. It is a tale full of Christian knights and squires, as well as Pagan sorceresses and veelas who haunt the German forests. Jakober doesn't explain fully what a veela is, much less delve into veela mythology. However, the reader is able to draw a conclusion from scenes such as Raven's keening for her veela kin to come to her, while mortal blood runs cold at the very sound.

The main narrator is Paul von Arduin, a squire turned monk who is forced to write the tale of his beloved count Karelian Brandeis, count of Lys and his turn from light into dark, though frequent changes to third person for Karelian and the Lady of Car-Iduna (ie the Sorceress) help to even out the emotions that come from such a powerful novel. Particularly impressive in Jakober's novel is the interplay of religious customs and thought, between Christian and pagan. The common people waffle between their ancient pagan traditions and their new Christian lifestyle, seemingly embracing both. Yet, as always, there are people on each pole, those who seek to stomp out the pagans once and for all and those who wish to be left in peace (and these same fear the destruction of the earth). Jakober's novel also doesn't shy away from topics which would offend the intolerant. Themes of sexual preference and longing, spirituality differences, and betrayal carry the story through to its end. It is through these themes that the characters scrutinize themselves. This only adds to Jakober's ability to make the reader one with their characters. She did such a brilliant job of thrusting the reader into the closed mind of Paul that even I became uncomfortable under his scrutinizing gaze.

But underlying all of the sex and treachery was the main theme: the need to be understood and for some, the desire for tolerance. Nothing made me smile more than seeing characters with different viewpoints come together as one. It is a lesson that this book gives well, and one that should be well thought upon by all of us.

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