on March 9, 2004
Lately I've noticed that in the last one hundred years or so, English fiction has certain repeating themes. The Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead begins a series built around one of these "British-isms": ordinary, humble folk from our dreary mundane world stumbling into a magical parallel world quite by accident. Unlike the obvious Chronicles of Narnia-type examples however, this series was written purely for grownup audiences.
Lewis is a graduate student at Oxford; one of those bookish, plain sorts who would never get any female attention if it weren't for his handsome, impulsive roommate Simon. One day they decide to take a road trip north to investigate some paranormal happenings reported in a tabloid. Simon ends up crossing over into the parallel world unwittingly, and a few months later a frantic and confused Lewis follows to "rescue" him. Instead, Lewis finds that Simon has passed four years as a warrior in the fantastic and barbaric Otherworld of Albion and has settled in happily. In order to survive in this savage and beautiful land, Lewis must also undergo an extreme transformation. Meanwhile, the barrier between the worlds is wearing thin and leaking through to England. Disaster for both worlds is inevitable unless Lewis can convince his friend to return with him and find a solution.
Lawhead depicts this alternate realm of Albion as a legendary paradise that is based on a lot of research into Celtic folklore and traditions. I can really respect the labor of love that this kind of world-building represents. The author is also careful to remain true to the harsher realities of survival in a primitive culture; there are battles and grim bloodshed depicted (fans will get their share of this Lawhead staple), almost a surreal counterpoint to the lovely land and peoples he describes. There are also spiritual themes weaving through the plot: the evils of pride and folly, and how these things have far-reaching consequences throughout time and space; providence; and inner transformation being more important than anything physical. Lawhead delivers these messages masterfully and without preaching.
The Song of Albion promises to be a rich, absorbing read if this first book is any example. My reaction to TPW was enthusiastic, even though I do not normally seek out fantasy that involves so much war strategy and action thrills. Despite a few choppy transition passages, the storytelling is solid. I anticipate picking up book two immediately to continue the adventure.
-Andrea, aka Merribelle
on July 22, 1999
Although I am a voracious reader, I rarely read fantasy...I suppose because I am tired of being dragged into "created worlds" that rarely seem to be believeable or worthy of the time involved in figuring them out. This series of books (and I will tell you right now, like previous reviewers, GET THEM ALL, you will want to start Book II the MINUTE you finish the first!) is completely engrossing. I knew nothing of Celtic history or legends, but this author wove the threads of "real" legends and lore into his "otherworld" so completely and so perfectly you never question the reality of it all!! And to be perfectly honest, right up to the LAST sentence of the LAST book, he had me hooked. I am ashamed to say I put off more than one chore/responsiblity to get in ONE MORE CHAPTER before falling asleep at night!! (haha) It is rare that literature of this caliber comes along anymore and I for one cannot wait to read everything else Stephen Lawhead has written or will write in the future!! He has a true gift! Do yourself a favor and curl up with a set of books and a story that is completely sensory and real!!! ENJOY!!!!
on July 5, 2003
You know, I've just read the new Harry Potter. And a couple of other books that I'm not proud of. And I really had nothing to say about any of them, one way or the other. But I wanted to write something about this book. Gosh, ITS SO GOOD! Thats that!
I was so impressed and pleased to have stumbled upon this book.
I just happened to pick it up; I read one of Lawhead's others before and remembered that other reviewers had said that other book wasn't one of his best. So I decided to try it and apparently found his best. Geez.
The ideas that it has, they're so savory. Could it be that the fairy world is just a go around the cairn away?
His logic, argument, writing style, magic, whatever it was, had me convinced that there truly is another world out there. And it is beautiful. Imagine that world----that world with out our modern conveniences---the most profound perhaps, imagine that world with out our modern sound. We are always bombarded with it.
That first part of the book is there to convince us that there is another mysterious realm. Its a fast pace to get there, too.
Simon, the main characters friend, is an intriguing enigmatic fellow. We think we know him so well until the last of the story.
The next part of the book is gaining acceptance and appreciation of that other realm.
And the last part is fighting to keep it whole and sound. It seems an uphill battle---can't wait to find out in Book 2.
You can not die and not have read this! I couldn't believe this book hadn't won any awards---if I had one to give, I would. Perhaps this review will suffice.
On to Book 2! The Silver Hand! Oh, and if you go to Stephen Lawheads official website, you can get a pronounciation guide to all our favorite characters! Yay!
. . .into Celtic mythology -- but certainly not Tolkien.
Stephen Lawhead is a good author and I have enjoyed many of his books. He does his research and has the knack of being able to "get into" other cultures.
The premise of this book: two Oxford graduate students who get transported through a sacred cairn into Another Place -- is an interesting theme and Lawhead works it fairly well. The character development is lacking at times and the development of character motives can be unnecessarily slow but there are moments of brilliance which do make the book worthwhile. (I particularly loved the encounter with the Serbian and his restaurant.)
However, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and even Charles Williams have nothing to fear here -- Lawhead comes nowhere near to their level (or even to the level of Robert Jordan).
Read this book, enjoy the series -- but don't expect "The Lord of the Rings".
As an avid fantasy reader, I was reluctant to try this trilogy because Lawhead is not one of the best known fantasy writers. My husband bought me the book because Lawhead is a Christian and he thought I should try it.
I was very pleasantly surprised! The writing is excellent. The story is interesting, meaningful, and epic in scope while still progressing rapidly enough to finish in three books.
It contains all of the elements I look for in a fantasy: vivid description, many interesting and well-developed characters, problems to solve, quests, romance, war, tension, intrigue, and a happy ending.
I couldn't be happier.
I seem to be reading Lawhead rather in reverse, since I'd never heard of him before reading his latest novel, Hood. Then I started in on this Song of Albion trilogy,(having found the whole trilogy in the earlier Zondervan Press edition) and realized it doesn't matter where you start with him, his stories are timeless. This is a "can't miss it" for the Celtophile, as it details an adventure to the Celtic Otherworld, which is also called Faerie. He has done impeccable research into the Celtic myths and the totality of his vision in weaving all this into a fascinating novel is nothing short of astonishing. Even if you don't have any background in the Celtic past and myths this would be a gripping tale. The pacing just never flagged. In summation, it was totally wonder-full.
on August 12, 2007
Getting lost in Albion is a rare treat. This is the first (and only) book I have read as an adult that made me feel as if I had managed to step into a realm far more beautiful then anything that could be known in this.
This is a book that engages on many levels with a story that can be read as simple mind candy or with a careful disection of symbols, either way the story only disappoints in that it must end.
In fact, I was so engrossed in the story I did not realize the pages were running out! The shock of such an abrupt ending literally made me scream at Mr. Lawhead for leaving me hanging until I could get the next two books (which I read within two days of recieving them).
on September 27, 2010
5 Word Review:
Exciting, thrilling, captivating, inexorable, awesome
The premise for The Paradise War seems to be a familiar one: 2 otherwise normal, decently adjusted people are taken from their average, dreary world and either given extraordinary powers or put into an extraordinary, otherworldly place and left to fend for themselves and start an adventure. That part of this book as a foundation is unchanged from the archetype, I think. That is where the similarities begin and end, though!
Two Oxford graduate students, Lewis and Simon, venture out on a spontaneous road trip to visit a mysterious cairn with possible connections to "The Otherworld", an alternate dimension of Celtic history where the past of our world is transpiring as the present for Otherworlders. Right away you can tell that Simon is the more adventurous, yet more quarrelsome, of the two... Whereas Lewis is reserved and quiet, Simon is outgoing and indefatigable. This disparity ends up playing into several storylines once the boys reach "The Otherworld" and I recommend watching for this theme throughout your reading of the book!
After a really slow start for The Paradise War (About 50 pages or so), the reader will be transported through clever prose and sentence structure into Tuatha de Denann, "The Otherworld" as Lewis called it, there is an explosion of awesomeness not unlike the slow warm-up of an F-16 Falcon fighter jet which appears to be sitting idly thrust all of a sudden into a full afterburner take-off. After those first agonizing 50-ish pages, I found myself having to put time aside throughout my day for The Paradise War, promising to get "at least 2 chapters" at a time read. 2 chapters turned into 3, which turned into 4, and that's when I knew this book was a winner.
Many folks criticize The Paradise War for telling the reader what to think as opposed to letting the reader make up his or her own mind, but I never felt forced in any way while reading this book. I felt that, for something so very, very foreign to me (As both a genre of fiction AND being about complicated Celtic history and myth), Lawhead took the correct approach. Perhaps this would've felt patronizing to someone who was either very well versed with the genre and could therefore easily predict what would happen next, or someone who was, himself or herself, a scholar of Celtic history. Barring those 2 possibilities, however, I can't see how the "told what to think" complaint is truly valid.
A fantastic thing for me in this book was the unemphasized existence of a romantic attachment. It seems like romance, sex and the like is a complete necessity nowadays, but Lawhead wove in a cute, age-appropriate romance for Lewis and a girl he met at a particular school in The Otherworld. Perhaps this was due to his devout Christian faith, but in any event, this romance was never cringe-worthy (Haven't you ever face-palmed at a particular scene in a book where you were just thinking, "NO WAY that actually happened!"? I know I have...) and added to the story, rather than detracted from it.
Progressing through the book, the reader WILL experience a variety of emotions: Hope, intrigue, sadness, agititation, excitation, and anticipation. The plot unravels in a seamless fashion, moving inexorably from one plotline to the other, wrapping things up nicely... Which is a huge "plus" for me. Not everyone cares for the "happy ending" and the neat bow-wrapped story lines like I do, and if you're one of those, then perhaps that might be annoying for you. But it was great for me!
There are glorious fight sequences, wonderful best-friend altercations (Isn't it so human to argue with your best friend once in a while? So many books neglect this!), cute romances, and generally just an epic feeling about this book. The Paradise War has puzzles to solve, problems to overcome, quests to complete, and sides to root for - It is just amazing and I have a hard time finding anything particularly troublesome about the book, besides the slow introduction and progression into "The Otherworld", where the bulk of the story takes place. At one point, Lewis, who you'll recall was the less adventurous of the two, is transported back to "our world", to find out that only a matter of days transpired, despite him having experienced years of combat and training!
on March 10, 2010
So begins the The Paradise War, the first book in the Song of Albion trilogy by Stephen Lawhead. Cynical Oxford grad student Lewis Gillies is convinced by his roommate Simon to drive to Scotland to investigate the truth behind a tabloid photo of an long extinct type of oxen. Upon arriving, they make several discoveries, including an ancient mound known as a cairn. But before Lewis can stop him, Simon goes into the cairn and disappears. Believing that he has fallen victim to one of Simon's pranks, Lewis returns home. Very quickly however, strange events begin to overwhelm him and Lewis learns that he must find Simon and bring him home before the whole world is threatened. This launches him on an amazing adventure that continues in The Silver Hand and The Endless Knot.
This hidden gem was introduced to me by a friend's wife and has turned out to be among the best fantasy literature I've ever read. Lawhead is an adoring anglophile as evidenced by his other major works, the Pendragon Cycle (his own retelling of the King Arthur legend) and The King Raven Trilogy (a retelling of the Robin Hood legend). Steeped in Celtic mythology, Albion is no different. In fact, Lawhead's expertise is such that it is nearly impossbile to tell where facts and history end, and fantasy begins.
The trilogy is written in first person which has its strengths and weaknesses. Seeing and experiencing everything through the eyes of Lewis really makes you feel a part of the story. However, as time goes on you want to respond to the story in your own way rather than being told. A narrator change in the second book is a nice touch and allows you to experience the world from a new perspective.
The setting is richly told. The plot is well-crafted and full of layers. The prose and dialogue are excellent. But Lawhead's greatest strength is his characters. From heroes to villians and everyone in between, Lawhead peoples his world with distinct, interesting and sincere characters, giving each an opportunity to show they matter.
Even more impressive, is Lawhead's powerful, yet nuanced inclusion of Biblical themes. There is too much to give it justice in this short review, but through the plot, parables, prophecies, character arcs, and imagery, Lawhead explores the corruption and redemption of creation, good vs. evil, providence, and liberation from sin. All of this is done with the right amount of thoughtfulness and subtly.
My only real criticism is with the ending where things seemed a bit rushed and incomplete. All said however, The Song of Albion is an outstanding fantasy series that has found itself among my favorites, and placed Lawhead firmly in the tradition of Tolkien and Lewis.
on June 13, 2015
I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the originality and concept of this book is unparalleled and extremely well polished. During my time reading this novel, I was overcome with nostalgia from Guardians of the Flame and Dark Age of Camelot and I was more-or-less engrossed in the story.
However, the author was very fond of exposition in the form of dialogue; the main protagonist, Lewis (or Llew), was a Celtic major who apparently knew nothing about Ancient Celtish culture and, as a result, was given quite a few lectures. Unfortunately, many of these lectures were quite long, and pretty boring. In addition to this immersion killing tendency, the author tried a little too hard to be authentic; the way the people spoke read very Old Testament and was more than a little off putting given how much of the plot was advanced through soliloquy and dialogue.
Furthermore, while Lewis developed pretty well, the supporting characters simply did not. Inexplicably, Tegid became a whiny little priss and Simon became a domineering, evil, criminal mastermind without much explanation (even through exposition and long winded lectures) as to why. The reader was simply left to understand that Tegid is useless and Simon is an entitled evildoer, and that's just the way it is.
This, combined with the rapid advancement of the plot in many places (this 400 page novel spans something like 12 years), let me more than a little confused and off put in several instances. I can overlook these gross negligences though, because it's an introductory novel that is more focused on building the world than creating a full-circle plot.
And Lawhead's world is nuanced, authentic (if pretentious), and worth exploring. We'll have to wait to see how the second book plays out before we can make any conclusions about the readability of the saga, but this would be far from the first book I've suffered through to uncover a remarkable trilogy.