the Little Red Reviewer

The Paradise War, by Stephen Lawhead

Posted on: April 3, 2010

This review originally appeared on Worm’s Sci Fi Haven. It’s a book I read and reviewed a few years ago, see the bottom of the entry for some later notes on this series.

This book was supposed to be an escape. It was supposed to have nothing to do with science fiction, or fantasy, and I wasn’t planning to write a review of it. But before I knew it, I was sucked into the story, impatiently trying to get to the next page, hoping no harm would come to anyone I cared about. This isn’t science fiction, and if you think fantasy has to involve magic or elves, then this wouldn’t qualify as fantasy either.

From reading Byzantium, and the Pendragon Cycle (King Authur & Merlin), I know Lawhead to be a superb history fiction/mythic fantasy writer. He leaves no stone unturned in his quest to bring the myths of human history to life. The Paradise War is no different.

The story starts in a most unexpected way – with two graduate students at Oxford. Lewis, an American, is thankful for every pound of grant and scholarship money he can get to keep himself in his studies, and Simon, who is at Oxford because that’s what rich British boys do before living off their families fortunes. Through an odd course of events, Lewis and Simon find themselves at a gateway during the times inbetween times. Falling through the gateway, they end up in the archetypal Celtic mythic world: Albion.

Even Lewis says it’s rediculous: walk through a dumb gateway and end up in Albion? In another universe? Another time and place? Whatever. Lewis spends a few days trying to convince Simon that they don’t belong there, that something is very wrong, and they need to try to find a way home, right now. But as the months and years go by, Lewis realizes that Albion isn’t all bad, in fact, it’s quite nice. As he begins to forget about the “real” world, Lawhead’s readers do too. As this new way of life becomes perfectly natural to Lewis, it all becomes perfectly normal and natural to readers the readers too. This is what I love about Stephen Lawhead. When he tells a story, it becomes real. Lawhead is a talented bard of his own right, and I believe every word he tells me because it adds that much more beauty to my life. And Albion has it’s own collection of bards, who sing the lives and legends of their people, and hold the power of kings in their hands. Along with traveling bards and warrior schools, Albion also has it’s fill of feuding kings, political intrigue, jealousy, and betrayal – many things not unfamiliar to our world, and Lewis and Simon get dragged into all of it. Simon is himself, a spoiled rich boy. But Lewis much choose between his best friend, doing the right thing, and leaving the only world he’s ever felt at home in.

Lawhead easily brings Celtic legends to life, the powerful Dagda, the beauty of the bard’s life and passion, and the filth of those who would seek to destroy it all through the monstrous Coranyid. Through his words, I could have been there. Through his words, I was there.

I did not expect this book to sing to me, but truly, it did. Lawhead may be the most skilled story teller among us right now. The Paradise War is the first book in the Song of Albion trilogy, all which have recently been re-published by WestBow Press. One of the best things about this edition is that it’s got a great little afterward by Lawhead, and the transcript of a short interview with him.

*** Notes from a few years later:  After reading this book sometime in 2007, I marched myself back to the library to got the rest of the books in the series:  The Silver Hand and The Endless Knot. Unfortunately, the series went downhill as it progressed.  I think that Lawhead wanted so much to mirror a specific myth that he painted himself into a corner regarding Lewis’ character.   The first book is so worth the read. . . but the rest of the series, not so much.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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