Thoughts on “Taliesin”, Book 1 of the Pendragon Cycle

By the time this gets posted, I’ll certainly at least be into if not through the second book of this series, but as I type right now, at this very instant, I’ve only finished this, the first book. I know that this is only the first book in a series, and so it’s a little odd to write a “review” of it, but that’s what I’m going to try to do. What I won’t do is claim that this is an objective review of the book, even though I’ll give reasons for my opinion, because most of my reasons and discussion are about style and how things seemed to me, which is much less objective than what I normally do. Anyway, let me start with my overall impression of the book:

Meh.

There will be spoilers, so I’ll continue below the fold:

The book, in and of itself, was okay. The big problem I had with the book was, in fact, Charis and her scenes … which are kinda important because they are our only exposure to Atlantis. The fact that the back cover gave away what her relationship to Taliesin would be was actually a help, because otherwise outside of the framing device there’d be no real reason for us to think that she was actually important. And as the focus of the Atlantis part, I found her, overall, to be somewhat self-absorbed and selfish, with flashes of something more, but for the most part her personal problems were the focus of those sections, and even the ending section with Taliesin, and arguably are even what gets Taliesin killed at the end … and I couldn’t bring myself to care about them.

There are also loads of threads there that don’t go anywhere. The daughter of the one king who turns traitor — which I not only saw coming, but think that I saw coming by being confused by the names of the explicit antagonistic king and the pretending to be friendly one (once again I feel like Aragorn) was an interesting character, but Charis’ relationship with her doesn’t go anywhere. Neither does Lile and her relationship with Charis’ father, nor do we ever settle what her overall plan was. More might happen in later chapters, as her daughter is the obvious choice for at least a relationship that leads to Morgan Le Fay, but in this book it seemed to be played as being more important than it really was to the plot. That being said, if this all pays off later, then it might be worth it.

But there are lots of these threads in the Atlantis sections, and they really hurt those sections. So despite the fact that the fall of Atlantis is the key to this story according to the framing device, I found that I didn’t really care too much about that part. Also, given the framing device, the sections where it focused on Taliesin, while much more interesting, seem to be overdone; Taliesin had no real impact on Atlantis or its people other than his relationship to Charis … which, given that Charis is purportedly the narrator of the tale (I think), seems to confirm my opinion of her as being self-absorbed [grin]. Although, it is the most interesting of the two parts.

The big issue I’m having so far is that neither story, despite the length of the book, gets the in-depth treatment that I feel they deserve. The plotting and characters seem shallow, signposts to get you to the next part rather than fully-fleshed out stories as they deserve to be. Yes, this book is essentially a precurser/prologue to the main Arthurian legend itself, but it is still a book on its own, and as the framing device assures us these stories are worth hearing and remembering. But again they seem relatively shallow. When I originally picked up these books, I had them confused with Gillian Bradshaw’s Down The Long Wind trilogy, and particularly with Hawk of May, which I remember reading and do remember having a clear, contained and yet linked story to the main Arthurian legends, which made me remember it quite fondly. Compared to at least my memories of that book, this one is quite inferior.

Maybe this will all make sense in the end and work out. I’ll have to see. At any rate, so far what I can say is that the book isn’t bad and is worth reading, but I just feel that I’ve heard the Arthurian legends told better in other works. I guess, maybe, my feeling is that the books aren’t literary enough to be a new book around the legend, but are too literary to work as simple restatements of the legends in an interesting way. Lawhead seems to be straddling the line between new take and original work and restatement of legend, and so far seems to be, really, sitting way too much on the line instead of doing something that works as one or the other. But that might just be my own view on this.

Merlin is up next, and I’ll see how things work out in that one.

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8 Responses to “Thoughts on “Taliesin”, Book 1 of the Pendragon Cycle”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    “Taliesin” as prologue is a good way to put it. “Merlin” has the best reviews on Amazon, and I think is probably a bit better.

    “Arthur” is the best, but again, read parts one and two before you read part three, then go to “Pendragon” and “Grail”.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Well, I have indeed finished “Merlin” (a post on that should come up in a couple of weeks) and it is much better. I’ve just started “Arthur”, which is fine so far, but I’m VERY early in the book.

  2. malcolmthecynic Says:

    That said, Lawhead’s biggest issue IS pacing. But then, this puts hm in the company of G.R.R. Martin, so I consider it a minor issue in epic fantasy (if a mildly annoying one).

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Interestingly, I did compare “Taliesin” to the “Song of Ice and Fire” books, and noted that while I thought it okay, at least it wasn’t a book where I was wondering “Am I even going to FINISH the series?”, like with the third book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. I think I liked the first book in the series better than I liked “Taliesin”, but I think I liked “Merlin” better.

      Then again, my favourite thing of Martin’s is Wild Cards …

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        It hit me that when they kept talking about a coming darkness they might as well have been saying “Winter is coming”…which is then punctuated even further when they term the reign of Arthur (presumably) the “Kingdom of Summer”. Lawhead is the anti-Martin.

        Anyway, I liked “Taliesin” more than you did, apparently. I liked the British sections more, but I found the worldbuilding impressive, and while it was inevitable I still looked favorably at the audacity needed to spend over half a book worldbuilding and then destroy that same world in book 1 of a five book series.

        The portrayal of pre-medieval British society was also very interesting.

        I liked “Merlin” more, but not a whole lot more. I LOVED “Arthur”, though. The whole thing is great, but the Battle of Baedun Hill is an outstanding scene.

  3. malcolmthecynic Says:

    I did forget to mention…about Taliesin. After reading “Merlin”, and now at least some of “Arthur”, would you agree with me when I say that the shadow of Taliesin, both the book and the character, is emphasized VERY STRONGLY in the later novels?

    I think the things he said and did are a big enough deal to justify the book and character when all is said and done.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      True, but remember, Taliesin himself wasn’t the problem for me. Charis was. If anything, I think that the book spent too little time with Taliesin; his story and background was much more interesting and much more directly related to where we are now.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        I do agree that Taliesin was more interesting, but I thought the world-building was well-done, and I look very favorably on the nerve needed to spend so much time on it only to completely disregard that setting in book one of a five book series.

        And I thought there were some genuinely great moments. When we see the fate of Avallach, after his injury, is great stuff. A real gut punch, forcing us to look directly at the horror of war when it had previously been an abstraction Charis was faintly disgusted at.

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