Wednesday, November 17

The Paradise War - a review

The Paradise War by Stephen R. Lawhead
The Paradise War is the first book in Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy. Lawhead is best known for writing stories infused with Celtic mythology and history. The Song of Albion Trilogy and his King Arthur series are two of his most well known series, though his retelling of Robin Hood has garnered many fans as well.

There may be minor spoilers throughout.

In the books I’ve read, Lawhead tends to write two types of stories. One type is the retelling of a famous myth, such as King Arthur or King Raven. These stories usually chronicle their early days and work in many of the popular elements of the myth while using his knowledge of history to add realism. His second type of story is that of an apathetic person suddenly thrust into a strange new world. The Paradise War is one of the later types.

Lewis Gilles is an unassuming Oxford scholar with an adventure seeking roommate/best friend, Simon. When Simon begins investigating the supposed appearance of mythological beasts, Lewis rolls his eyes at Simon’s eagerness to believe everything. While investing these appearances, Simon enters a Cairn and doesn’t come back out. This obviously unsettles Lewis. He teams up with a man named Nettles, who is an older scholar with a deep knowledge of Celtic history. Lewis ends up entering the same Cairn and it transports him to an ancient Celtic land called Albion.

The first person Lewis meets is a battle crazed warrior who tries to kill him. The second person Lewis encounters is Simon, who slays the warrior but has Lewis pretend to have done it. Lewis quickly discovers that Simon has been in Albion for 5 years, even though in our world much less than a year has passed.

Lewis is accepted into the kingdom and is sent to a training school where he will learn to be a warrior. A bard named Tegid is sent to bring Lewis back after the training is complete. They take a brief detour as Tegid attends a gathering of the bards, a gathering that proves fateful. An ancient evil creature attempts to escape bondage and is held at bay by the chief bard. Though the creature is repelled, it kills the chief bard. Before dying, the chief bard breathes into Lewis his ‘awen’ or spirit. Held within the spirit is the key to locating the Song of Albion.

Tegid and Lewis continue back to their king, to give him the fateful news. Upon their return they find the castle destroyed, though the king and his war band are gone. They discover that a demon named Lord Nudd managed to escape the pits of hell while the chief bard held off the greater evil and this demon is ravaging the land.

Tegid and Lewis are able to rejoin the king and they hold up in another fortress where they are repeatedly attacked by Lord Nuffen and his horde of demons that cannot be killed by mortal weapons. Lewis’s only hope is in retrieving the hidden Song of Albion. For his part in saving Albion, Lewis is renamed Llew (renaming is a common tradition in the book).

One of the things that immediately strikes me about this story is much of the realism that is present. When Lewis is trained, he doesn’t become a sword master overnight. Rather he goes to a training school and is there for years. He also doesn’t master the language immediately. At the end of the book he still needs to ask for clarification for words. While the way it is done is used more to cue the reader into certain Celtic phrases/words, it helps create a realistic setting for Lewis to be learning in.

Another great thing is that the story is largely self contained. Though there are scenes that hint at a larger story (as well as a huge cliffhanger I won’t reveal here), the primary narrative here isn’t ‘part one’ of a larger one. Rather the narrative has a beginning/middle/end contained in this book as well as containing the ‘beginning’ of the larger narrative. One thing that often bugs me in trilogies is when the end of the first (or second) book offers no true conclusion but rather a cliffhanger with no satisfaction. At least the cliffhanger here comes with

I also tend to be picky about my first person narratives, but Lawhead handles it well, creating a great environment of an Oxford student thrust into an ancient/mythological Celtic world.

My biggest complaint is that the beginning dragged on too long. After Simon disappeared, it seemed to take forever for Lewis to eventually follow. I get that Lewis is supposed to be an apathetic type of person at first, but this was too apathetic. Your roommate just DISAPPEARED into a pile of rocks. I wouldn’t go home and tell his girlfriend that he made an impromptu vacation thus missing a dinner date. Even if I thought it was a joke, I would call the police when he wasn’t back after 24 hours, not seek the help of an old professor much, much later!


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