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February 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Grail Prince by Nancy McKenzie
Del Rey
Trade: ISBN
0345456483 PubDate Jan 03
Review by EJ McClure
576 pages List price $14.95  
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ďWhen all three are in his keeping -- the Vanquisher, the Preserver, the Restorer -- Arthur will return. It was foretold long, long ago. Now the time is upon us.Ē

Nancy McKenzie continues the story of the Knights of the Round Table after the death of Arthur, which in and of itself makes Grail Prince a ďmust readĒ for true fans of the Arthurian legend.  McKenzie weaves her narrative back and forth across twenty-odd years, beginning with Galahad's boyhood during the heyday of Arthur's reign.  Young Galahad is a stunted soul, raised at Lanascol by his embittered mother Elaine in his fatherís absence and steeped in a peculiar brand of Christian fanaticism. Eager to protect and please his mother, whom he adores, he becomes a malleable tool in a murderous plot that goes awry at the last minute.

But we canít feel properly sorry for the boy, for this Galahad is not an endearing hero; self-righteous, fanatical, blinded by pride, he dispenses judgment on everyone who fails to measure up to his rigid standards, starting with his father. Lancelot actually comes across as a likeable character: honorable, loyal, brave, chivalrous -- all you would expect from the hero of the Round Table. But Galahad somehow ignores the evidence of his own experience during the nine years he spends at Camelot with his father, and clings instead to his misguided belief in his fatherís unworthiness and treachery. One can only imagine King Arthurís quandary in dealing with a rude teenager who roundly condemns Guinevere, Mordred and the Kingís best friend for most of the sins in the Christian canon, and some of his own imagining.  Had the sullen, impulsive Galahad been anyone elseís son, I bet he would have had a short career at court.

Galahadís one redeeming quality is his stubborn loyalty to his friend Percival. In the wake of Arthurís defeat at Camlann, Galahad escorts the wounded Percival back to his home in Wales, and when that fails to be the safe haven the boys hoped, he takes Percival with him on his quest for the Grail.

Inspired by Mary Stewartís Arthurian trilogy, McKenzie has centered Grail Prince on the cornerstone of English mythology. And like Mary Stewart, she sets her tale during the twilight of the Roman Empire, and vividly recreates the fear and uncertainty in a country teetering on the verge of anarchy and barbarism in the power struggle that followed Arthurís death. Between Saxon raiders, blood-thirsty outlaws, and the plots of ambitious magnates, the young questors have plenty of adventures. By luck, good fortune, and a whiff of magic, Galahad survives, only to find in the end that nothing is as he expected it would be; not the Grail, or fame, or love.

McKenzie has dutifully woven the traditional threads of the legend into her tale: Merlinís fate, the enmity between Gawaine and Lancelot, Morgaineís perfidy; it's all included. Sword-and-sorcery fans or real history buffs may be disappointed that McKenzie glosses over the battle scenes in single paragraphs, or relegates them to an aside in later conversations, but it is probably a wise choice, for it is clearly not her area of expertise. What she does best is create emotional drama in living color. Welcome to the fabled court at Camelot as seen through the prism of Galahadís Oedipal angst.

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