“Grail” was … disappointing, after the high of “Pendragon”.
Since “Grail” describes one of the most clear and cleanest and deepest stories in Arthurian legend, I was hoping that Lawhead would continue from what he had done in “Pendragon” and create a deep story. The fact that Gwalchavad quickly grew to become my favourite of all of the narrators should have made this my favourite book but, like Pelleas, the superior narrator ended up in an inferior story.
The main issue here, I think, is the limitations of the first-person narrative-style that Lawhead adopted for this series. While other works managed to avoid much of the issues, the story in this one relied on us knowing things that the narrator wouldn’t have known. Thus, the introduction of the Morgian sections to fill in some of the details, which did give some insight into her as a character. Unfortunately, they were too short and too few and far between to really add depth to the character, and so mostly served to fill us in on the success of her plan until the end, which made them a bit pointless. The meat of the Grail quest itself went with Gwalchavad, but the interesting parts of the story went with Arthur and the others. Thus, most of the story was filled with bits of mystical action meaningful to the character himself, but not as much to the overall story, which weakened the overarching story.
That being said, the ending to the quest was, in fact, done pretty well, even if it ended up whisking away much of the dramatic power of the earlier books. But the last stand and how it related to the Grail itself was very well done, and the tricks used to defeat Morgian’s powers, and the redemption of Llenlleawg works, but the story would have benefited more from his interactions with Morgaws, so that we could see his struggle and seduction so that the change of heart would have had more meaning for us, and we would have hoped more for that all along. A third-person perspective would have allowed for this while still keeping the situation obscure and hidden, while the first-person didn’t allow for that. If he had been executed, most readers would have had little reason to think anything other than that he got what he deserved.
Ultimately, it wasn’t a bad book, but it’s not as good, in my opinion, as “Pendragon” or most of the others. Lawhead does still manage to provide an interesting twist on the legends, but here the Grail quest is too different from what happened to really preserve that link, and the replacement story, in and of itself, isn’t as interesting as the actual legend. Except for the ending.