Taliesin is the first book in The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen R. Lawhead.
The Pendragon Cycle as a whole is an interpretation of the Arthurian myth, drawing on Celtic history with liberal dashings of fantasy thrown in. The author’s research and knowledge of the era and the legend are apparent throughout, even the few inconsistencies can be put down to artistic interpretation.
Taliesin tells the story of the love of the eponymous hero and an Atlantean princess, Charin, who escaped the catastrophe that engulfed the island kingdom.
The book is a solid, if not spectacular, introduction to the world that Stephen R. Lawhead is creating. The society created in Atlantis is of particular interest, drawing clear influences from the classical civilisations without being a straight parody or interpretation of any particular one.
The method of storytelling is an interesting one, cutting between Atlantis and Britain between chapters, and focusing the point of view on various characters. The story follows Charis exclusively in Atlantis, but in Britain follows down two generations of the family before coming to focus on Taliesin himself. This created a strange incongruity between the characters, by the time the two meet we have the impression of Charis being much older than Taliesin, and their match seemed strangely unlikely. The connection between the two was of the traditional fantasy ilk, spotting each other across a crowd and finding an instant unbreakable connection, call me cynical but this didn’t strike me as realistic.
Another strange feature of the story was the complete lack of focus on any of the “action” moments. The first part of the book deals with the buildup to war in both Atlantis and Britain, with the political unrest of the Glass Isle contrasting with the raiding barbarians in Britain. Once the flash point is reached, the death of the High King and the barbarian invasion respectively, then the story jumps forwards seven years.
After the initial jarring experience of the jump, I actually found this choice refreshing, this book doesn’t want to be a drawn out description of military tactics and makes no effort to be so. Rather, the author focuses on what is important to the story he is telling.
There were aspects of the world that I wanted to explore more, the political landscape of Atlantis was particularly interesting with Stephen R. Lawhead hinting at deeper subterfuge and conspiracy, but this was left at the wayside in the seven year leap with characters mentioning past happenings that confirmed my suspicions without going into details.
Overall this was an engrossing read, though ultimately a love story between an unlikely couple, but it was very much let down by the fairy-tale nature of the romance between the two protagonists. Taliesin himself seemed flawless, and this does not make for an interesting character. When he is able to make any trouble melt away by singing then their is no real peril.
The world was intriguing and the subject matter, of the Arthurian Legend, is one that I’m always interested in exploring more. While I was by no means blown away by this initial offering in the series, it piqued my interest enough to continue reading and for that alone I can’t rate this book too poorly. I’m going to give this a 5/10 but don’t let that put you off. It is far from a bad read, and may well be redeemed by the future entries in the series.
Reviewed by PD Richmond
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