The Black Chalice
Paul von Arduin, now a monk, is compelled by sorcery to write the truth of his adventures with his former master, Karelian Brandeis. In Paul’s story, Karelian, the youngest son of a German nobleman, has just returned victorious from the Crusades. Karelian insists on passing through the forest of Helmardin en route to his wedding, despite warnings from his comrades that sorcery awaits there. In fact, an enchanted, pagan castle lies within, and its owner, a beautiful half-human, half-veela female named Raven, has deliberately lured Karelian there. Karelian, whose sexual attraction to Raven cannot be denied, must decide between Raven and his vows to his feudal lord. His choice eventually embroils him, Raven, his overlord, and all of Germany into near civil war.
The novel jumps occasionally between Paul’s recollections and his current monastic life. Though these transitions are handled well, it jars when the novel leaves the point of view of the supposed narrator to recount events and secret conversations where he was not present. The author has deliberately chosen an imagined setting within a specific timeframe of medieval Germany, but populated it entirely with fictional characters – from Karelian and Paul to the Holy Roman Emperor himself, here named “Ehrenfried.” This left me with an unsettled feeling. Paul, also, is a rather weasel-like character, accomplishing mostly trouble, and never sure of his own loyalties. In my opinion, the novel could have been better grounded in either history or fantasy if either true historical events were more central to the story, or if the novel were set in a medieval-style world similar to, but not quite, our own. Overall, an entertaining tale with a number of distracting elements.