The Iron Lance - The Celtic Crusades: Book 1
by Stephen Lawhead (HarperCollins Voyager, £6.99, 582 pages, paperback; published 16 August 1999.)
There has always been a fine line between fiction about historical times, mythology and fantasy. In some ways, fantasy has often (too often, perhaps) been merely over-cooked stews of history and mythology viewed through a bright and rosy glass.
Stephen Lawhead's previous works all seem to inhabit a Celtic twilight that is part-myth, part history. With his new trilogy, 'The Celtic Crusades', of which The Iron Lance is the first volume, Lawhead seems to be moving more firmly into historical fiction, specifically the time of the Crusades. That's fine by me, as I like a good, well-worked out historical fiction.
Trouble is, The Iron Lance seems to want to be rather too many things. Would ardent fantasy readers coming to Lawhead's work via his Arthurian 'Pendragon' series find much to satisfy their needs in this vigorous but rather over-played stew of historical fact and heavily Christian mythology? I'm not sure. I certainly found myself inclined to skip through the book, rather than endure too much of Lawhead's impressive but rather turgid detailing. Wonderfully researched, I'm sure, but Lawhead seems to want to use every note he's ever made. The dialogue, in particular, is rather heavy going, leaden and with little character.
Would that Lawhead could write as well as he can research, for then this book would be that much easier to read and to like. As it is, it falls between too many stools for me: too mundane to be a fantasy, too heavy to make an interesting historical, and lacking in resonance to work as a mythology. This is a trilogy I shall joyfully pass by in future.
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© John D Owen 15 January 2000