February 23, 2007

Not Your Average Quest/Princess/Witch Story

When you've read a lot of fantasy, you start thinking that you've seen it all, that there's nothing really new under the sun. The idea of a quest for holy relics--a grail, a sword--is hardly original, and the changeling child who's really a prince raised in obscurity is very archetypal and Arthurian as well. But these are the kinds of stories that still resonate in our minds, and when an author can provide a new and unique take on a familiar theme, the results can be powerful, surprising, and riveting.

Amanda Hemingway's first installment in the Sangreal trilogy, The Greenstone Grail (reviewed earlier by TadMack), was one of these new takes on a classic theme. The second book, The Sword of Straw, continues the action-packed story of Nathan Ward and his family and friends. Now that the Grail has been retrieved and hidden for safekeeping, Nathan goes back to boarding school at Ffylde Abbey and things return somewhat to normal--as normal as they can be when you know you're being spied on by someone from another world, a parallel world that you can travel to in dreams.

But the normalcy is shattered by attempted thefts of the Grail from Nathan's Uncle Bartlemy's house, and by inexplicable bullying of Nathan by an older thug at school. Not to mention the fact that Nathan, now fourteen, finds himself traveling to a new parallel world, one with an intriguingly willful and beautiful princess in need of aid. Her kingdom is practically deserted, and her father languishes in bed with a wound that won't heal, dealt by the Traitor's Sword.

Meanwhile, Nathan's best friend Hazel is lonely and feels persecuted at her local public school. Even more isolating is the fact that she can't deny she's sort of...a witch. It's in her blood. So she decides to try to use it to her advantage to get a boy to like her, with unexpected and disastrous results. This is another fast-paced, difficult-to-put-down installment by an author who, I'm sincerely hoping, will keep writing fantasy after this trilogy's done--because I’m officially a slavering fan.

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