The Traitor's Sword (Sangreal Trilogy)
by Jan Siegel
Review by John Berlyne
Voyager Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0007153880
Date: 21 November, 2005 List Price £12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
I enjoyed The Greenstone Grail, the first novel in Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal Trilogy very much indeed, just as I enjoyed her previous fantasy trilogy (written under the name Jan Siegel) which comprised of Prospero's Children, Dragon Charmer and Witch's Honour (click on the titles for my reviews). There's a gentle magic in Hemingway's work, both in the subject and in the execution and she is an author that I firmly believe will endure as one of the most elegant in the genre.
Hemingway writes of a magic born of myth and fairytale, that touches and often invades our present day world, and in doing so the very essence of fairytale bleeds through in the process. Her work therefore touches the child in us, and her novels leave the reader with same sense of wonder and "what if" that those stories we read in childhood also left. This is perhaps due to her protagonists often being children or teenagers, but it is interesting to note that she is not expressly marketed as a Young Adult author - and nor should she be, for there is a level of artistry and sophistication in her work that puts her far above many writers in that field. She sits, therefore, on the same branch of the fantasy tree as such writers as C.S. Lewis, J.M. Barrie and even Tolkien, all of whom have clearly influenced her work, and yet her voice is very much her own, and an admirable and original voice it is too.
The Traitor's Sword forms the second book in the Sangreal Trilogy and picks up the story a year or so after the end of The Greenstone Grail. Not much has changed following the events of that occurred in that novel, and the police remain utterly befuddled as regards an explanation - the sleepy country village of Eade continues in the timeless way of English villages. Young Nathan Ward, having secured the Greenstone Grail safely into the stewardship of his "uncle" Bartlemy, finds himself once more abroad in his dreams, but now his mysterious destiny points him towards the second of the three items needed for the great spell that will save the universe. The Traitor's Sword is hidden in another world, and he must find it and bring it back.
There's a lot going on in this novel - fiendish plots are afoot and magic flows throughout, but though the piece holds together on its own merits, it will not work at all for readers who have not first read The Greenstone Grail. Much of The Traitor's Sword concerns the growing pains of Nathan and his close friend Hazel - she begins to experiment with magic and witchery in order to attract the attentions of the school heart-throb, the consequences of which threaten to get dangerously out of control. Nathan on the other hand, finds himself falling for a princess who only exists in his dreams. Thus there is much teenage angst in this novel, but in truth it is so wonderfully written that rather than alienate older readers, it produces a sense of nostalgia - we've all been there, after all!
With so many smaller plot threads in this evocative mix of fantasy and science fiction, it's not unfair to suggest that The Traitor's Sword suffers a little from "middle novel syndrome". It's a busy book, jumping around from thread to thread, each advancing the story, but not necessarily being resolved. For that we must await the third novel in the sequence, presumably due next year and I have every confidence that a satisfying conclusion to Nathan's adventures will be offered. In spite of its choppiness, you'll enjoy The Traitor's Sword hugely if you were hooked, as I was by The Greenstone Grail, and you'll delight in this instalment of Hemingway's haunting and lyrical tale.