Written by Nicola Griffith
Review by Ray Thompson

In an isolated wilderness in Wales, a gifted child is raised by her mother, who keeps her ignorant of ways in the outside world. She nevertheless grows fascinated by that world; leaves her mother to “find her true self” at the court of Arturus, the king at Caer Leon; there meets Nimuë, the Lady of the Lake; and eventually sets out to find the Grail.

This is the story of Perceval, one of the greatest knights in Arthurian legend and the earliest to succeed on the Grail Quest. Here she is named Peretur, and Griffith not only makes her female in male guise, but attracted to other women rather than men. As the daughter of Mannandán, one of the Tuath Dé Irish deities, she is also semi-immortal, with the enhanced speed and strength that make her so formidable a warrior, and the acute ability to sense information from her natural surroundings and so anticipate her opponents’ actions.

While these exceptional abilities mark her as a hero in the romance mode, the author recreates a highly plausible Dark Age/early medieval world. She provides meticulous details of the natural setting, clothing and equipment, and the conditions in which ordinary people struggle to survive in a difficult and dangerous time.

In her insightful author’s note, Griffith offers a helpful survey of medieval versions of the original story, then goes on to explain how she came to choose crucial elements from tradition and history, and why she modified them to create her own tightly structured pattern. She writes in lyrical prose that draws the reader into a fascinating world, as she explores the dangers caused by the abuse of power. An impressive achievement, and a worthy addition to Arthurian tradition. Highly recommended.