THE BLACK ROOD
Like its predecessor The Iron Lance this is listed as fantasy although it certainly isn't anything of the sort. Stephen Lawhead has written several fantasy titles and is known as a distinguished writer in this genre but recently he has turned to historical fiction and this is most definitely a historical novel. There are a couple of religious visions as in the first book and this is very much a novel that would appeal to practicing Christians.but then it would also appeal to anybody who likes a jolly good story.
For this novel is a marvelously fast-paced adventure story that Rider Haggard would have enjoyed. Murdo has built his "kingdom" in Caithness and the narration is now taken up by his son Duncan who is himself married with a young daughter. As is peaceful until his uncle Torf-Einar returns from the Holy Land to die and tells the Ranulfssons that the Holy rood has been found and is in the hands of the Templars. Duncan has a vision and desires to go on a pilgrimage to bring it back to Scotland. With him goes Padraig of the Cele De, a secret order which appears something like a cross between the Celtic church and the Freemasons.
Once in the Holy Land the pace hots up and although this isn't a very short book I was left at the end of it feeling that I wished there had been more - I honestly can't remember the last time I felt that with a novel. Hashish-dazed assassins, battles, visions, luxurious eastern courts, terrible hardships, friendships of the true and false variety keep Duncan and Padraig more than busy.
My one criticism of the trilogy is that Lawhead intersperses the narrative with fragments from a late 19th century descendent's diary, telling us of his initiation into the Cele De and a mission that he is undertaking. These scraps are few and far between and when they occur are more akin to the adverts cutting into a thrilling film than any sort of story device. They add nothing and take away something of the dignity of the novel although even this so far hasn't much to do with fantasy.
This minor gripe aside this is definitely one for the keeper shelf. When is the third book coming out?