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Kingdom of the Grail

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The wizard Merlin, imprisoned within an enchanted forest since the fall of Camelot, receives a visitor possessing strong magical talent. His name is Roland, a knight and warrior who has sworn to free the legendary sorcerer. But, to save the wizard, Roland must first confront an old, powerful enemy of Merlin's on a quest for the Holy Grail.

512 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Judith Tarr

118 books382 followers
AKA Caitlin Brennan, Kathleen Bryan.

Judith Tarr (born 1955) is an American author, best known for her fantasy books. She received her B.A. in Latin and English from Mount Holyoke College in 1976, and has an M.A. in Classics from Cambridge University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Yale University. She taught Latin and writing at Wesleyan University from 1988-1992, and taught at the Clarion science-fiction-writing workshops in 1996 and 1999.

She raises and trains Lipizzan horses at Dancing Horse Farm, her home in Vail, Arizona. The romantic fantasies that she writes under the name Caitlin Brennan feature dancing horses modeled on those that she raises.

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5 stars
89 (26%)
4 stars
122 (36%)
3 stars
95 (28%)
2 stars
22 (6%)
1 star
5 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 38 reviews
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 109 books536 followers
April 12, 2019
This solid fantasy from Judith Tarr blends the Song of Roland with the Arthurian legend to create something new. I've been burned out on King Arthur since I was a teenager, but I love tales about Charlemagne and Roland, so that was the biggest draw for me--and also the dominant element in the story. There's a classic fantasy feel to the book, great in terms of the voice, but the villains felt a bit one-note to me. I did like how Roland evolved in the course of the story. When someone is destined to be a Big Damn Hero, it's a challenge to show that they do still need to grow as not only a hero but a human being, but Tarr does that very well. And of course, it's always a joy to read what she writes about horses, as she truly knows her stuff.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
January 4, 2009
To some extent, this is pretty standard fantasy. The dark vs. the light, and let's throw in the grail to spice things up a bit, and hey, have some battles and a pretty lady. Hell. Let's have nine pretty ladies. And some sex. To spice up our hero, he can do magic and he has yellow eyes!

On the other hand, there's something unique about this because it actually draws on a lot of medieval myth. Using Arthurian myth isn't all that startling, but I've never seen any of that which also draws on The Song of Roland and weaves the two together. I also detected a hint of Marie de France -- one of Charlemagne's companions is called "Milun".

In terms of characters, Roland is interesting, and it's quite interesting to see how his arrogance and sureness from the original poem is a part of his character, while he's still also somewhat likeable. Merlin's involvement in his upbringing is interesting, too, and the way they come together in the end is genuinely touching.

Most of the other characters are largely unremarkable. Sarissa is interesting in a way, and yet I didn't get particularly interested in her. Olivier and Turpin are fun, but minor.

Not a mega-favourite, and I did actually stall with reading it a couple of times, but it's nice enough if you're interested in the fusion of medieval literature it represents.
40 reviews
March 10, 2011
At first I wasn't into the book, but after the first couple chapters it got to be pretty good. About half way through there's a twist and it's because of that twist that I really liked this book. It was a reminder of how talented Tarr is and why I just can't get enough of her writing.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
465 reviews12 followers
June 10, 2017
So happy to spend some more time in Arthurian Legend!! Really enjoyed this book. The only reason it didn't get 5 stars from me is because it's competing with Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle...and that's some epic stuff right there. :)
683 reviews10 followers
May 4, 2016
In The Kingdom of the Grail, Tarr has created a story that is a thoroughly enjoyable blend of Arthurian legend and the tales of the court of Charlemagne, two of the three canonical subject mattes for medieval storytellers, as named by French poet Jean Bodel: “Ne sont que iii matières à nul homme atandant, De France et de Bretaigne, et de Rome la grant.” In creating a tale with roots in both traditions, Tarr makes use of the great French epic, La Chanson de Roland, while drawing considerable background from Wagner’s opera Parsifal, itself inspired by the earlier epic poem Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach, which presents one version of Parzival’s quest for the Holy Grail

Tarr begins with the idea that Merlin, child of a human woman and a demon summoned by a powerful, evil, and near-immortal sorcerer, lives on in imprisonment and has, through the human enchantress Nimue, fathered the line that culminates in Roland, the greatest hero of Charlemagne’s court, and Roland’s adversary, the ancient sorcerer, has been trying for centuries to gain possession of the Grail. Foiled once before by Parsifal, brother to Nimue and trained by Merlin, the adversary is preparing to mount another assault on the Grail kingdom, a place no longer of this world, but still accessible through magic, known as Monsalvat.

The first part of the novel follows the basic plot of La Chanson de Roland, but the pivotal events are revisioned as steps in the struggle between the sorcerer – identified with the character of Ganelon from the Chanson – and Roland. In the second half of the novel, however, instead of dying with his companions at the battle of Roncesvalles, Roland is transported to Monsalvat where he is expected to prepare to lead the forces of the Grail Kingdom against the gathering armies of the ancient enemy that seeks to take the Grail and use its power for evil. Tarr brings these elements together into a most satisfying tale of heroic destinies and the great and everlasting battle between good and evil.
Profile Image for Julie.
5 reviews
April 1, 2008
I loved this book, nice fantasy world to step into. (Helped with my Harry Potter withdraw:) I have always loved the stories around Merlin and Camelot.

"Centuries after the fall of Camelot and the disappearance of King Arthur,the wizard Merlin remained a prisoner in a enchanted forest.Then an ardent youth named Roland came and vowed to free him, unaware of the consequences such an oath carried..."
Profile Image for Rosie.
18 reviews
August 3, 2009
I like the premise of combining the Song of Roland with the grail legend. But in practice, it comes off sounding forced with too little character development. Too much contrived magic, not enough realistic historical description. Too much Roland, not enough Merlin (Why did that dude disappear after the first 10 pages?). In all honesty, there is too much good fantasy out there to make this a worth while read.
Profile Image for Sandy Walker.
Author 4 books7 followers
November 22, 2012
Very enchanting story - so many of the elements in this story "ring true", especially the spiritual stuff. Wow - what a great storyteller! I found this at the library and loved the book so much, I purchased a copy. It lifted me up whenever I felt cut off from my true self - that is a rare gift. Thanks, Judith Tarr.
November 6, 2012
If there is anything I expect from a book, this one lives up to all expectations. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy and historical fiction. Based on the epic poem of Roland along with heavy influence of the Grail ...and Merlin.
Profile Image for Chris (horizon_brave).
247 reviews4 followers
October 26, 2021
*As per all of my reviews, I like to preface by saying that I listened to this book in audiobook format. This does indeed slightly skew my rating. I have found that audiobooks, give me a better "relationship" with the characters if done well, but also kills the book for me if narrated poorly. Also due to the nature of listening to the text, names and places may be spelled incorrectly here as I often do not have the physical volume in front of me.

Also, I have written this review in a "rolling updates" style. In that I basically chronicle my reading as I progress. This may make for a jarring and spoilery review so be warned.**

I haven't read a good Arthurian legend book in a while, and what I thought I was getting was a more traditional King Arthur book, but this seems to be rather askew from the story..well atleast for now. I've found King Arthur stories to be in two different camps... one is a highly fantastical version of the story with a more fantasy and storybook tale approach...the other is the more historical based realistic take. This definitely falls under the camp of the latter. This takes place straight up in the Holy Roman Empire and Breton. King Charlemagne, or just "Charles" as we know him throughout the book.
We are introduced to Charles, and his eldest son Pepin who is a lad who is angry, bitter and tired of being second fiddle. He has a pent up anger at people...and seems like a perfect stand in for Mordred.
Merlin is imprisoned by Nimuwe and his son Roland unknowingly visits him in the forest. He eventually learns that Merlin is his father and vows to free him someday.
Ganelon (or Ganelou) who is a priest, but seems to be evil diviner and enemy of the grail (whatever that means...) seems to be at odds with Roland. He takes Pepin under his corrupting wing.
So Roland wins the sword of destiny, and while it was supposed to be won by King Charles, Roland is the one who claims it. He feels a bit reluctant about it, especially in the face of Charles. But Charles being very much like Arthur is nonplused and hopes Roland the best with it on the eve of their battle together on the Spainish Moors. Speaking of which, the Franks have been treating with the Moors. They will help remove the Muslim army occupying lower Spain, and in turn will control some of spain.
Roland's true foe is the devil incarnate, whose human guise is Ganelou the monk. A favorite of Charles, who refuses to dismiss him, Ganelou beguiles and corrupts Charles's deformed young son, Pepin. As we see more and more Roland is more of a protector of Charles. He's fiendishly quiet, able to tail the King and make sure he's well at hand, from the shadows.
Roland is also Merlin's son (Odd to think Merlin procreating..) making him someone half devil, but for the good..It's an odd juxtaposition that he faces while calling out others for being devils say...oh...Ganelon...
Overall I'm liking this...it's more of a historical take on Arthur which I usually don't enjoy as much as the more fantasy based books, but the characters are all coming together rather well.

All in all this was a really fun book. It was a bit of a slong about 2/6's the way through, but that quickly changed. It started strong and ended stronger. The battle was truly well done. Not just focusing on Roland and Ganelon. The relationship between Sarissa and Roland was nice, if a tad shallow, but no complaints. Ganelon was properly terrifying, Pepin's fate was justly underwhelming. I like how after all of his hanging on to Ganelon, he amounted to little. The history and lore here was great. The women who protect the grail, and the inclusion of the bits of historical items like the spear of christ was woven in well with fantasy elements like dragons. It felt all like a proper King Arthur continuation. There's a portion of the book where I was having trouble following the logical flow of events. Once King Charle's rear guard is attacked and the events that followed, I was a bit lost as to what was actually going on. Even when Roland flee's and turns into a hawk and somehow ends up in the other Realm of the Grail, I just couldn't follow. But once he picked up back in the Grail Realm, it continued on without a problem for me.

I really enjoyed this, and if you're a history/fantasy fan, you'll want this one on your list.
Profile Image for zuh.
49 reviews1 follower
September 11, 2022
Just finished reading this fantasy novel, and I have so many thoughts regarding to this book. I am all aware that fantasy book is not my favorite genre, but still reading new genre to gain some new perspectives about the other books, so this one is a hard read for me. But I got really attached to this book, because this is the book that I got when the face-to-face classes starts and when I’m alone, I’ll pick this one and going to read it on room, so I love this book so much.
Kingdom Of The Grail by the author Judith Tarr create a wonderful and enormous novel that the feeling is not explainable, when I first read this I ‘did’ really enjoy it until the school year started, then again I’m into my reading slump era because I got busy with paper works at school, so I don’t really have much time to read. But I just finished reading this last night, and it was wonderful and satisfying feeling to finish a good book. This novel, is about the religion both Muslim and Christians, so it has resemblance for what is happening around the world. And also, this book is inspired by the book “The Song of Roland” though I didn’t read the book, but I wish I can read it so I can see if it’s have a resemblance or none, so soon I will give it a try. I’m also a little bit sad for Pepin because he got betrayed, I think from his point of view, he just want attention and he just want love from his father, because King Charles is always with Roland, so Pepin think that his father don’t love him, but otherwise it is, but he got blinded by the power and attention from the powerful Grail. And also, I did cry when Olivier died, he doesn’t deserve it all. On the other hand, I love Sarissa and Roland they do really have a chemistry and I’m so happy because they got happy ending, so I think deserved?
I will rate this book 4/5 stars, because I love every single pages of this book and the characters, plot, and ending it is so satisfying feeling of mine, and I just realize I will give a try next time to another fantasy book, exploring my genre is not a problem for me it took me almost 1 month to finished this great book, that’s why I’m giving it 4 stars, but clearly it was my favorite fantasy read this year it doesn’t matter if I gave this book 4/5 stars I love it, so yes that’s all.
Profile Image for Scott Rezer.
Author 11 books30 followers
April 12, 2020
I really wanted to LOVE this story, but I had mixed feelings. I love Judith Tarr’s fantasies and this had the promise of a great story with Merlin and Roland and the grail. The idea was fantastic and the legend of Roland was made for fantasy. Ms. Tarr’s characterizations were superb and a nice twist to the legends, and very cleverly done. Loved the characters. I’m surprised more stories like this haven’t been written. It fits in nicely with the whole grail myth cycle. Unfortunately, the first half of the story was incredible and I’d give it five stars, but the second half fell off for me and I found myself skimming and only half reading every other paragraph or page. Three stars, maybe. Overall, I gave the book a four.

Profile Image for Kelly.
296 reviews3 followers
June 13, 2022
Roland is not quite human. Mortal on his father's side, his maternal forefather is Merlin, still trapped in the forest. But Roland is Charlemagne's Champion, and most look the other way. Until he is chosen by Durendal to be the Champion of the Grail. Ganelon is evil incarnate--the Grail's enemy. He subverts Pepin, Charlemagne's son. He is also still behind the attack on the rearguard--in an attempt to destroy Roland. But he and Turpin are saved and taken to Montsalvat, the Grail Kingdom. Roland follows Percival as Grail King and defeats Ganelon. And finds himself a Queen in the process--Sarissa. Frees Merlin as well.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Seth Kaplan.
374 reviews13 followers
July 4, 2017
Beautiful historical fantasy focusing on the roles of Roland and Sarissa in the Arthurian legend. Tarr's writing flows easily and there's several excellent plot twists to keep the narrative moving along. Slightly shallow in its character development or it would've merited 5 stars.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
70 reviews2 followers
August 31, 2018
I really enjoyed how the author combined the Arthurian Grail Quest with the Song of Roland. The story recognizes and honors the Christian faith, the Muslim faith, and the ancient Celtic beliefs without disparaging any of them. The story was entertaining and moved along at a good pace.
Profile Image for Kathi.
829 reviews45 followers
July 8, 2017
Pieces of the Arthurian legend, linked to the Song of Roland, grounded with some historical events, and wrapped together author Judith Tarr's unique imagination--what could be better?
Profile Image for Allipink.
14 reviews1 follower
May 14, 2016
The writing in this book made me so angry that I sought comfort in shared commiseration. I did a Google search for "Judith Tarr terrible" and nothing was coming up. I went to Amazon.com reviews, but the few reviews on there were written by her pre-exisiting fans. I came here to Goodreads and most of the reviews were positive. (So there you have it, I will admit that other people do not seem so bothered by the writing; maybe I am just too critical). BUT YOU GOTTA BELIEVE ME, THE WRITING IS TERRIBLE.

For one thing, the author has no sense of pacing. Things happen as if they just popped into her head and she decided to put it onto the page. No smoothing out of time, no guiding the reader from event to event and preparing the reader. There is no foreshadowing. Events happen in big blocks, all of a sudden. Seriously, I would love to quote some examples but I'm feeling a bit lazy, and also I'm not 100% positive that's kosher. But overall there's a very deus ex machina feel to the action. For a clear visual representation of this, however, all you need to do is look at her paragraphing, especially near the beginning of Kingdom of the Grail. She has pages and pages of 2-3 sentence paragraphs, because she has apparently not mastered the crucial skill of weaving a narrative. Jarring, or perhaps stuttering, is the best word for her narrative pace.

For another thing, her prose is terrible. We have no consistent authorial tone. Some of her reviewers seem to think that her writing is "elegant" and "lush" etc., but this is just not true. She throws in phrases here and there that she obviously thinks are "period," but overall the writing is 20th/ 21st century casual. As in "he downed his meal, if truth be told" (just throwing together two phrases from the same page. Not that "if truth be told" is an archaic phrase, but the little aside is meant to sound "elegant" and "old," I can tell). Again, jarring. And she frakking overuses the same phrases OVER AND OVER again. Her favorite is "a handful of days (or other unit of time)." "He was away only a handful of days." "He came to the camp a hand of years ago." Obviously, she thinks this is a gem of a phrase, so good that she has to use it at least once every 20 pages (sometimes much, much more frequently). It's not a bad phrase, but it's one of her many "period" shortcuts, thrown in to fool the reader into somehow thinking the writing is "elegant" (gag). Instead, she should use it once and be done with it. It's a novel, not a three-minute pop song with a recurring hook. But no, not only does she use this phrase over and over, she does so PROMINENTLY. I believe it's used in the first sentence of two different chapters! Like, chapters 2 and 5 or something. Ridiculous.

Her characterization, which is supposedly oh-so-rich, is blah. Standard characters, almost cliched. And she picks them up and drops them casually, as they suit her needs. She mentions the king's "Companions" near the beginning of the novel, but only three (including the main character) ever develop any sort of personality (not to mention a name). But they're supposedly nearby to the main character throughout the book, as his "close" friends and support. Randomly a couple of them pop up with names in the very middle of the novel. How convenient. That is not my definition of brilliant characterization.

There is a LOT more I could discuss here, but, I don't have the patience. Of course she makes horrible punctuation errors, and consistently abuses the dash and the semicolon. Supposedly she taught "writing" (mmhmmm...), but she obviously does not understand the purpose of basic punctuation, let alone the subtle nuances of narrative that create coherence. Her writing is horrible, and it makes me sad that the haphazard jumble of words and ideas that got thrown up on the page and marketed as a "book" are actually lauded as "rich," "deep," "engaging," or "enchanting." Do professional critics even read??

In short, I must ditch this book halfway through. I almost gave up at the very beginning (after one or two chapters), but I hate leaving books unfinished, so I pushed through. Something just happened, though, that makes it impossible for me to continue. (And the event that I'm referring to has nothing to do with the content of the story, though that is really nothing special at all, and everything to do with horrible writing). If you're looking for a rich, unique, complex, developed, and moving story told in prose that does not seek call attention to itself, do yourself a favor and read something else.
Profile Image for James Oden.
98 reviews2 followers
December 19, 2013
It proved to be a very entertaining story with several unexpected twists. Granted it was clearly a variation on the old story of a brilliant somewhat magical knight meets the unexpected gorgeous priestess falls in love with her after fighting it for a while (the fight being mutual) and going on some magical/spiritual journey that ends in...you get the idea, but it still had enough twists to lift it above cliche status. Also, Judith Tarr writes in my opinion brilliant straight forward prose that draws you into the story. Reading her prose was like listening to a close friend tell you a story over a few beers, or at a campfire. The only thing left for the reader to do is to relax and read on.
Profile Image for Salimbol.
492 reviews6 followers
February 16, 2013
[3 and 1/2 stars]
Based on the "Song of Roland" (and throwing some Arthurian stuff into the mix for good measure), this is a very solid effort from Tarr. I think that her medieval fantasies tend to be the best of all her historical fantasies, so that aspect was a pleasure to read (I certainly found the parts that were more solidly rooted in history to be more interesting than the later parts where the action transferred elsewhere and the story became straight-out fantasy.) Still, she displays her usual knack for characterisation and lush prose here, and I enjoyed the story as a whole.
Profile Image for Kate.
500 reviews33 followers
August 12, 2010
I really loved this book because it was fantasy and about Arthurian legend. Fantasy is my favorite genre and this book totally fit the bill. I loved the way the book followed the story of Roland and the quest for the grail, but also had a romantic twist in it, too. I would totally recommend this for anyone who is a fan of Arthurian legend and/or fantasy. And... since I loved this novel so much, I went out and bought another Tarr book; The Pride of Kings. I can't wait to read it!
Profile Image for Dementropy.
16 reviews23 followers
December 26, 2011
While not a straight-forward historical narrative like Ars Magica, and not entirely realistic speculative writing like Pillar of Fire, Kingdom of the Grail is doing a fantastic job at writing the bridge between early Christianity, Arthurian Legends, and the life of Charlemagne (and the Song of Roland) without skimping on facts, and filling in the gaps with fantasy that doesn't need a full suspension of disbelief.
5 reviews
January 8, 2014

This is an excellent book. A story of light versus dark, woven with beautifully scripted battles, and joyous love scenes. This book lays a land before the reader and guides them on an adventure that they won't be able to turn away from. I recommend this to any and all who wish to get lost in a fantastic book.
20 reviews1 follower
April 26, 2011
This appeals to the 'player of World of Warcraft' in me. The story is about the son of Merlin, Roland and his quest to free Merlin from the enchanted forest. Interesting facts about the round table and the "real" story behind Merlin and where he came from and why he was imprisioned. Interesting
144 reviews
February 12, 2012
Interesting and beautifully written story of Merlin and what happened after Camelot. Missed most of the allegorical and mythological (not the right word exactly but hey) references but still a nice tale.
Profile Image for Lynne.
206 reviews4 followers
June 21, 2017
I only give five stars to books that I a)like a LOT b)am willing to give shelf space to/actually own c)want to re-read many times - this one meets all three. It is one of the best alternate-Song of Roland stories I've ever read.
169 reviews2 followers
May 17, 2008
I love Merlin stories - this is a good one, enjoyable read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 38 reviews

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