By Cheryl Morgan
The second volume of Amanda Hemingway’s Sangreal Trilogy shows every sign of the author intelligently spotting what had worked best in volume one and providing more of it. The book is more avowedly Young Adult in its approach, but it is also more knowing and full of clever use of popular culture as a commentary on the text. How can any science fiction fan not love a book that has this on page 1?
… the worlds in Nathan’s dreams were real, or seemed real, depending on the nature of reality. He went to the kind of school where teachers talked about philosophy and quantum physics, so he knew the chair he was sitting on was provably non-existent, and the entire cosmos was made up of particles too small to believe in, popping in an out of reality whenever scientists studied them too closely. (Sneaky things, particles.) Nonetheless, Nathan was a down-to-earth boy who had yet to find a magical country at the back of a wardrobe, so it was unnerving to find one in his own head.
The book is known as The Traitor’s Sword in the UK (where it has been out for some time) and The Sword of Straw in the US (where it is published this month). The two titles do refer to the same sword, which is of course the same magical artifact from the Grail legends, completely re-interpreted for Hemingway’s Arthur-less (and indeed Camelot-less) grail story. Having secured the Cup, young Nathan now has to travel to a different parallel world to secure the Sword. Along the way he gets to meet and fall in love with a princess, but one who shells peas rather than one who tries to avoid sleeping on them. Meanwhile, back in his own world, the bad guys continue to chase after Bartelmy Goodman to try to steal the Grail. And even Barty, who is after all a kindly old wizard, is well rooted in everyday things.
‘Well,’ Bartelmy said, ‘was that helpful, or wasn’t it? Do we know anything we didn’t know before? Or — at the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld — do we only know things we don’t know?’
Thankfully Donald Rumsfeld does not take much interest in strange goings on in small British villages, especially those involving teenagers getting into trouble. So there are no secret service agents trying to discover the secrets of inter-dimensional travel. Inspector Pobjoy, on the other hand, is even more confused then ever, and this time he only has a burglary and a kidnapping to deal with. It is a good job he doesn’t question Annie too closely about Nathan’s origins, or he might just end up with an unsolvable rape case as well.
She wondered if other victims of supernatural impregnation had felt the same. Rosemary with her baby, Leda, ravaged by a swan (she had often wondered about the technicalities of that). And Mary, who had been honoured and overwhelmed according to the Bible — but then, Annie reflected, the Bible was written by men. Maybe she too had known that instant of raw fury because her body had been used without her permission, invaded by a superior being who thought he was above the rules, and humans were his creatures, to do with as he pleased.
It isn’t often that I build a review around a set of quotes. I have done so deliberately here because the plot of The Traitor’s Sword is simple and predictable. The characters are fun, but mostly fairly stereotypical. It is the meta-narrative — the constant commenting on what is going on from the point of view of an F&SF-reading set of characters — that makes the whole thing so much fun for the likes of us to read. Hemingway’s series is light entertainment, but it is fun light entertainment written by someone who can’t quite rid herself of the idea that what she is writing is faintly absurd. Consequently I’m very much looking forward to part three.