Werner's Reviews > Taliesin

Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead
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's review
Feb 25, 11

bookshelves: fantasy
Recommended to Werner by: It was a common read in one of my groups
Recommended for: Fans of Arthurian fantasy; Lawhead fans or fantasy fans in general
Read from January 31 to February 25, 2011, read count: 1

While the above Goodreads description of this book reads like it was a publisher's book-jacket blurb (and it probably was!), the basic description of the premise of this series opener is correct --and aside from its overwrought language, the implied assessment isn't far off the mark, either, as my rating shows. (If I could give half stars, I'd probably have added one.)

That isn't to say that there aren't eye-rolling flaws here. Atlantis, according to Plato (who apparently created the legend out of whole cloth), was destroyed "9,000 years before Solon," or ca. 9600 B.C. In this book, Atlantis was real, but was destroyed in the late 300s A.D. (the mention of the Roman emperor Theodosius near the end of the novel anchors that date). This has something of the same effect produced in the various episodes of the old Xena, Warrior Princess TV series, in which Xena could encounter everybody from the biblical Abraham to Julius Caesar. (And anybody in between --Trojan War? David and Goliath? Sure; easy as pie!) In itself, that strains credibility like a rubber band, and it creates serious problems of internal consistency. The kind of cataclysm that destroyed Atlantis, for instance, would certainly have caused tidal waves in western Europe on the scale of the Asian ones of several years ago, but they don't happen here. And while Atlantis has trading relations with places in the Roman Empire like Phrygia, King Avallach apparently has heard of the "Roman tribe" only vaguely; and though Atlantean seers know about Mithraism and the cult of Isis, they haven't heard of Christianity. To put it bluntly, that's not believable. (It's also not realistic to portray Christianity as relatively new and unknown in Western Britain at this time; Theodosius had made it Rome's state religion in, I think, 380, but it had been widespread long before that, even in western Britain; St. Patrick came from there, in this era, and was already a third-generation Christian. And Isis was not the "female aspect" of Mithras; the two religions were completely unrelated, the one being Egyptian, the other Anatolian.) Atlantean culture, as the author depicts it, is a sort of grab-bag of elements from Greece, Crete (where he gets the "bull dancing" that plays such a large role) and the Semitic East, from which he gets the worship of Bel --though Bel or Baal was actually a sky/rain god, not a sun god as he is here. Lawhead also takes chronological liberties with his title character, who was a real person attested in actual Welsh sources, but really born around 530 A.D. While I'm nit-picking, I also don't think an infant could be wrapped in a water-tight bundle, as Taliesin was here, without suffocating!

All of that said, Lawhead's storytelling ability here draws you in and enthralls you early on, so that you leave those concerns lurking in the background (or, at least, I did!). :-) The two alternating strands of narrative, Charis' and Taliesin's, which will finally intertwine, are eventful and attention-grabbing; the characterization is sharp (Charis was initially hard for me to relate to because her age in the first part of the book wasn't specified --I eventually deduced it to be 12 or 13-- but she grows into a splendid heroine); the Atlantean and Celtic worlds are vividly evoked, and some key scenes are drawn with great power. There's human drama here that grows out of believable human interrelationships (the magical element is muted; it takes a back seat to the natural events, or sometimes blends with the idea of spiritual reality); we have chaste romances that would warm any heart, violence and treachery, love and loss --and the powerful lesson that what we need for psychological wholeness is the guts to love in the face of loss, here in a world that's not perfect yet by a long shot. Some characteristic features of Lawhead's work are easily discernible: his strong female (and male) characters; his fascination with things Celtic; concepts like the Otherworld, the "time between times," the genuine creative power of music, and Druid mysticism in general. His evangelical faith shines through clearly as well (he reconciles it with the pre-Christian Celtic background in a way that C. S. Lewis, who was clearly one of his literary influences, would doubtless have approved!). Blended with the latter is a view of the coming Dark Ages, and Arthur's coming role in withstanding the darkness, that invests these with a cosmic spiritual significance. No spoilers here, but the ending of this novel is one that I did not see coming; and the quality of the writing in the last pages reaches a level that, so far in my reading life (and I'm 58) I've seen equaled, but not bettered.

To conclude, I picked this book up only because it was a common read in a group, but it proved to be well worth the time. And if I don't rush to add the sequel to my to-read shelf, it's only because there are too many books there already; eventually, I would like to follow up on this series.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Perelandra (new) - added it

Perelandra I have his this on to-read for a long, long time. I can't wait to get into it! I will have to wait until the fall, but I really look forward to tackling this series. Of everything I've read, Lawhead's Byzantium is my absolute favorite novel by an author that it is still alive.

Werner Tre, I'm not sure if I actually have Byzantium listed on my to-read shelf or not, but it's one I definitely want to read someday!

JoLene Tre wrote: "I have his this on to-read for a long, long time. I can't wait to get into it! I will have to wait until the fall, but I really look forward to tackling this series. Of everything I've read, Lawhea..."

I really loved Byzantium, however it is more along the lines of the Celtic Crusades series where it is more historical fiction than fantasy.

Great review Werner.....I know that the first time that I read Taliesin, I didn't have any of the historical references (having been an comp sci student) but this time, they did bother me a small bit. However. like you, Lawhead's ability to create compelling characters made me overlook those flaws.

Werner Thanks, JoLene! Yes, I had the impression that Byzantium and the Celtic Crusades series were more in the historical fiction than the fantasy genre. That's true of the King Raven series, too. Lawhead writes well in both fields, IMO.

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