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The Black Chalice

by Marie Jakober

The Black Chalice is an intelligent, well-crafted, absorbing tale by Calgary fantasy writer Marie Jakober. Set in the 12th century, and drawing heavily on Grail mythology and medieval Christian philosophy, it portrays a fierce battle between Christianity and paganism following the First Crusade.

An aging monk named Paul begins writing a memoir of the Crusader he once served as squire. A beautiful woman appears to him, and casts a spell compelling him to tell the story as it really happened, rather than how he chooses to remember it.

The former Paul of Ardiun was squire to Karelian of Lys, a lord of a fictional German territory and hero of the Crusade who lost what faith he had in God during the bloody conquest of Jerusalem. He and his company take a detour through an enchanted forest en route to battle, and spend the night in a magical castle, where Karelian falls in love with Raven, the castle’s witch-queen and keeper of the Black Chalice, the Holy Grail of legend. The Chalice embodies all the powers of the earth – sensuality, fertility, and magic – that Christian clerics are trying to repress.

Karelian is drawn into a dynastic dispute when his own lord, Gottfried, decides that he has a stronger claim to the throne of Germany than the rightful heir and begins a plot to seize it. Karelian is sick of wars and turns to Raven to help sabotage Gottfried’s plan. However, Paul – jealous of Raven and terrified of the power she wields – betrays them to Gottfried. The conflict escalates and Paul gets caught in the middle.

Jakober skillfully weaves together themes of seduction, betrayal, worldly ambition, and spiritual torment with believable characters and realistic battle scenes. Paul is a sympathetic narrator despite his hypocrisy and craven subservience to more powerful men, and Karelian and Gottfried are well-matched adversaries. The historical and mythological elements blend seamlessly, making The Black Chalice a must-read for fantasy connoisseurs.