I picked up The Greenstone Grail thinking that it would be another ‘Grail’ story, knights and magic and so on as well as something on the lines of The Dark is Rising series. However, this intriguing story is mostly science fiction and only partly fantasy.
I will admit that the first few pages of this book scared me a little – I started to read it close to midnight. Creepy feeling, thinking I heard things in the dark as Annie did! Her son Nathan is an unusual boy. That much the blurb on the back of the book had already conveyed. It also seemed to imply that his mother Annie has a sort of ‘immaculate conception’ in the sense that she cannot account for it, especially since Nathan has far darker skin than he should have had, being her son. The book begins with Annie taking refuge with a man (Bartlemy) whose home seems immune to the ‘creatures’ she senses following her. The story then skips to when Nathan is an adolescent. Strange things begin to happen to him. His vivid dreams of another universe become real rather than imagined. In addition, the Grimthorn Grail is also suddenly once more in the public eye. As the story proceeds, the Grail is central to everything, and Nathan seems to be bound to it. Magic here seems to exist in a sort of witch and wizard way, and is the route through which Nathan travels to the alternate universe (Eos) he dreams of. Nor is Bartlemy all he seems on the surface. Add to the story magical creatures including a dwarf and a woodwose and it becomes even more intriguing. Revealing any more would take all the fun of reading the book away.
Book two of the trilogy is The Traitor’s Sword, also published in some editions as The Sword of Strour or The Sword of Straw. This book, like the first, has a solid fantasy-science-fiction plot. Nathan has risked life and limb to retrieve the Grail, and now it seems it’s his quest to retrieve another relic. Lately his dreams have been leading him to Wilderslee (a place he realises he’s been to before in his childhood), a largely abandoned city, in a kingdom ruled by an ailing king and his daughter, Princess Nell. They live in the shadow of a terrifying curse inflicted by a sword that holds within its gleaming metal an ancient demon conjured by the universe’s most powerful wizard. It is a sword that brings death to anyone who dares to draw it from its sheath. There is also (somewhat typically) a legend that only a stranger can wield the sword and save him and defeat the dark evil in the sword. Undoubtedly, that stranger is Nathan, and somewhat predictably, he does emerge the hero in Wilderslee, while at school on Earth he deals with the usual teenage troubles of bullies (who turn out to be more than just that).
Book three of the trilogy is The Poisoned Crown, the culmination of the story, and possibly my favourite of them all. Nathan, now 15, has realised by the end of the last book that his dreaming is not random, and is led by the alien lord on Eos. Nathan has discovered that the last relic he is meant to find – the Crown – is on Widewater, a planet completely covered by the sea except for a polar ice cap, ruled by the evil godess Nefanu, bent upon destroying the land creatures who live on the ice cap. An albatross and a mermaid become his allies, and with the help of his best friend, Hazel (whose abilities we read about in the first two books), he overcomes his fear of water to acquire the Crown. Nathan also finds himself involved in a war between the cold bloods (sea creatures) and the lung breathers (birds, seals, half-human-half-seal selkies).
The culmination of the book is the performing of The Great Spell. Annie, Bartlemy and Hazel all play vital roles. Without adding any spoilers, and although things turn out predictably, Nathan’s coming-of-age story is one of bravery and resourcefulness. He must choose whether to give in to forces greater than himself or to fight those forces because he knows it’s right.
Hemingway does pay tribute to the great sci-fi and fantasy series, and references are smart and not always obvious. She also manages to weave in English folklore and Arthurian legend into the mix, successfully creating a story like no other.
These books are highly recommended, especially for those of you who liked The Dark is Rising series. Go get them all now!
A book designer, Arati has always enjoyed books and the world of imagination that they open up. She is extremely accident-prone, due entirely to absent-mindedness caused by thinking about books and their contents, instead of paying attention to what she's actually supposed to be doing. She reads multiple books simultaneously, and her choices range from cookbooks and design manuals to fantasy, crime and Regency romances.
She lives and works in London, UK and sells her art on paper and textiles at Etsy