Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Medieval Fiction: The Hallows of Ireland & Britain

In my reviews of Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King and Enemy of God, I noted how the character of Merlin is obsessed with recovering the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, which he believes can restore the power of the old Celtic gods. These treasures, which are sometimes called the Thirteen Hallows, feature prominently throughout Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles, some more than others.

The Cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn, for example, plays the role of the Holy Grail in Cornwell’s magnificent retelling of Arthurian legend, and the Sword of Hael, another of the hallows, turns out to be Excalibur. The other treasures, which include a horn, a chariot, and a knife, among other things, also make an appearance, but none are as important to the story as the sword and the cauldron. The Thirteen Treasures are also the subject of a dark/urban fantasy novel aptly titled The Thirteen Hallows. I’ve never read it (and the reviews warn that it’s quite dark), but it does have an eerily beautiful cover!

Ireland has its own mythical treasures, known as the Four Hallows of Ireland or the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. These items, which are referenced a number of times in my own novel, Enoch’s Device, are the Stone of Fál, the Spear of Lug, the Sword of Núada, and the Cauldron of Dagda. The Four Hallows are also mentioned in Morgan Llywelyn’s novel about the Tuatha Dé Danann – Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish – and the Stone of Fál plays a role in Llywelyn’s Lion of Ireland. The Stone of Fál (also known as the Tara Stone and the Stone of Destiny) was said to roar when the rightful High King of Ireland sits on it – and it does so when touched by Brian Boru, one of Ireland’s greatest high kings. (I’ll have more on him when my series moves on to the Tenth Century!)

The Thirteen Hallows of Britain and the Four Hallows of Ireland almost certainly helped inspire the most familiar “hallows” in recent fiction: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The “legendary” origins of these items even harkens back to the myths that surround the famous treasures from Ms. Rowling’s homeland.

The above-mentioned books cover a lot of the landscape when it comes to these mythical treasures, but I am curious to know: Do you have a favorite story about the legendary Hallows of Ireland or Britain?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Medieval Fiction: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur!

In the midst of my series on the Magic of Medieval Fiction, which is currently focusing on the Arthurian age of the late Fifth Century, a treasure falls into my lap – The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien is being released tomorrow! I purchased an advanced copy on Amazon last night. Here’s an excerpt from a Tolkien Society press release after this image of the book’s cover.

A brand new J.R.R. Tolkien epic, The Fall of Arthur, will be released this Thursday. This never-before-seen story starts with the legendary King Arthur going to war in “Saxon lands” before returning home to confront Mordred’s treachery.
J.R.R. Tolkien, well-known as the author of international best-selling books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, wrote The Fall of Arthur in the 1930s before he started work on The Hobbit. Its existence was revealed in the 1970s, and its publication has been rumoured for some years, but it had been overtaken by other new posthumous releases such as The Children of Húrin and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.
My to-read list is jammed, especially given my upcoming review of Ben Kane’s Spartacus: Rebellion (to be posted in early June, along with an interview of the author), but The Fall of Arthur is one book I’ll be reading as soon as I can. Until then, let me know: Are you excited about reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Wayward Herald: Amazon Giveaway for Enoch’s Device!

For the next 72 hours, the kindle version of Enoch’s Device will be free on Amazon! Here’s what Marty Shaw of Reader Views said about the novel: “If you enjoy tales of magic and adventure that are perfectly blended with reality and history, ‘Enoch’s Device’ by Joseph Finley will be an exciting read for you.” Here’s a link to the book’s page on Amazon, followed by a cover image and brief summary.

 Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.
Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
Stephen Reynolds of SPR said "Enoch's Device is a wonderfully imagined, vividly described, alternately lyrical and violent romp of a novel that should give lovers of historical fantasy just the kind of fix they're looking for."

You can read more about Enoch’s Device in my interview with author Tyler Tichelaar here.

Update – 5/17/2013 – Thanks to everyone who has participated in the giveaway so far. As of 7:30 AM (ET) today, Enoch’s Device was #1 in the free Kindle store for Historical Fantasy in both the US and UK! A shout out to the websites and blogs that promoted the giveaway: It's Write NowFree eBooks Daily, Flurries of Words, Awesome GangeBooks Habit, Super eBook Deals, Indie Book of the Day, Snicklist, Bargain eBook Hunter, Kindle Books and Tips, and One-Hundred Free Books. Thank you!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review - Cornerstone: Raising Rook

I am taking a brief respite from my series on Medieval Fiction to review a wonderful new contemporary fantasy by author K.A. Krisko called Cornerstone: Raising Rook. While set in our day and age, there are distinct medieval elements to this novel and it was a nice change of pace from the pure historical fiction and historical fantasy that I usually read.
It has great cover art too!
I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book. It began as a quirky tale about an illustrator named Lorcas Felken who, years ago, received a cornerstone from some medieval castle as a birthday present from his father on the day he turned thirteen. The cornerstone, which had been transported from Eastern Europe to the U.S., sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean nearby his family’s summer cottage, which becomes Lorcas’ permanent residence after his relationship with his girlfriend falls apart and he needs a break from his everyday life. The story gets even stranger when he meets Zumar, a 600 year old ghost who was buried beneath the cornerstone back in the Middle Ages. The cornerstone turns out to be a sentient being called “Rook” that wants its castle rebuilt – and Lorcas discovers that he’s the person destined to rebuild it.

The story proceeds to introduce Lorcas to a host of other quirky characters who inhabit the cliffside town and, for reasons that are not immediately apparent, help him find the stones to start rebuilding the castle. The tension and conflict during this part of the story, which lasts about a quarter of the way through, is fairly light, and I was worried it might turn into a breezy little tale about a bunch of odd folks with little else to offer. But I stuck with it, and boy am I glad I did.

By the second quarter of the novel, the tension and conflict starts to really heat up. It becomes apparent that things may not be as they seem and possibly malevolent forces may be at work. There are a number of intriguing revelations as the story progresses, which I won’t spoil here, except to say that there are two factions at play in this book: one that wants the castle to be rebuilt and another that will do anything to prevent it from happening. One of the reasons this story works so well is that the author does a masterful job of keeping the reader guessing about which side is good and which is evil.

By the time I reached the novel’s midpoint, I felt as if I were reading a story by Stephen King or watching the TV show LOST when it was at its best, leaving everyone guessing about what the island really was and whether the Others were good or bad. I must say that the book ends in a way that begs for a sequel since, in my mind at least, I keep coming up with questions that need answers. But the story works well by itself and has more than enough to keep readers entertained. The fantasy elements are well done and they are a big part of the mystery that makes this novel a success. If there is a sequel, I’ll be buying it the day it comes out.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: Enemy of God

This novel is the second in Bernard Cornwell’s series The Warlord Chronicles. Its protagonist is still Derfel Cadarn, who is now near thirty years old and one of Arthur’s lords. The book begins immediately where The Winter King ended, after the battle among the British kings at Lugg Vale. Arthur is trying to keep the new peace among kings and protect the claim of a 5-year-old Mordred to the high king’s throne. The conflict begins, however, when Arthur arranges to wed the princess Ceinweyn – the women Derfel secretly loves – to Derfel’s enemy, Lancelot.

Arthur wants to strengthen his alliances among the British kings with the hope of uniting them against the invading Saxons, but Merlin has other plans. He is determined to find the lost Cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn, one of the thirteen Treasures of Britain and a magical gift to the old Gods. Merlin fears the old gods will desert Britain and the land will be lost to Christianity; yet with the Cauldron, Merlin believes he can control the old gods and defeat the Christians. The Cauldron, however, lies in a land ruled by a ferocious Irish king, so Merlin needs warriors for his quest. To persuade Derfel and his men to join it, he gives Derfel a magic trinket with the power to prevent Ceinwyn’s and Lancelot’s marriage. But if Derfel uses it to win Ceinwyn’s love, all of Arthur's carefully constructed alliances may collapse.

Merlin’s obsession with the Cauldron, which comes to replace the story of the Holy Grail in Cornwell’s retelling of the Arthurian legend, is part of a larger conflict between the old pagan (Celtic) religion and the new Christian faith spreading across Britain – a well-portrayed theme in this series. This also provides some of the more thought provoking, and even disturbing, aspects of the story. For as whimsical and likeable as Merlin's character can be, his obsession with defeating Christianity and the things he's willing to do to achieve that goal can be troubling. Yet this was clearly one of Cornwell’s goals: to paint Marlin in distinct shades of gray instead of black or white.

Merlin’s quest for the Cauldron is only one part of the story, however. The rest concerns the growing threat of the Saxons, Camelot and the Round Table, and the love affairs and betrayals that are a hallmark of most Arthurian tales. Cornwell, however, puts a quite a twist on the latter aspect. This is not a story about a young, naive Guinevere falling for a chivalrous Sir Lancelot. No, Cornwell’s Guinevere is a fiercely strong and calculating woman, who, like Merlin, has her own plans in this novel, and the ramifications of those plans could decide the fate of Britain. This final element, in my view, makes Enemy of God as good as The Winter King, and it’s one of the reasons this book has stuck with me the longest of three in Cornwell’s masterful trilogy.