Book Review: Taliesin (Book 1 of the Pendragon Cycle)

Title: Taliesin

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

Star Verdict (out of 5): **

Princess Charis lives in the beautiful land of Atlantis, where peace has reigned for years and (in her opinion) nothing exciting ever happens.  Her boredom is quickly shattered, however, when the country erupts into civil war and a wild prophet arrives, claiming that the end of Atlantis and everything the Atlantians love is at hand.

Far away from lovely Atlantis lies the rough and uncivilized Isle of Britain, where the unlucky heir to one clan’s throne, Elphin, stumbles upon a baby abandoned in a salmon weir.  His luck begins to change from that day forward, and the bards prophesy that the child will be great and herald in a new age.

After tragedy strikes Charis’ family, she begins to believe the prophecy that Atlantis is soon to be destroyed, and begins to try to convince the rest of the Atlantians that they need to flee their home.

I have to say that I really didn’t enjoy this book.  I probably wouldn’t have finished it at all, except that it was recommended to me by several people.  My main complaint about it is that the character development is either non-existent or utterly unbelievable.  Charis, throughout the book, inexplicably changes from a bored little girl to an emotionally dead warrior woman to a fluffy, swooning, docile lover.  I found it very hard to care about a character who, as Atlantis is sinking and “dragging screaming thousands with it…watched it all with cold and ruthless objectivity, feeling nothing” (p. 306).  And then to expect me to believe that she suddenly turns into a love-sick, sweet, sensitive wife was ridiculous.

In another rip-my-hair-out bad character switch, a king is about to have Taliesin’s tongue cut out when Taliesin starts singing, and the king instantly melts into a puddle of remorse, banishes his own priest, and all but hands his kingdom over to Taliesin.  I could go on with several other examples of inexplicable and unbelievable character shifts.

In addition to the dismal lack of believable character development, I found the plot to be jarring and full of too-easy solutions to problems.  It was grating to make the jump back and forth from mythical Atlantis to Britain during the dark ages; it felt like I was reading Hercules and Arthurian legend at the same time, and the two story lines just didn’t combine well.  Also, every problem the characters run into is solved almost instantly.  For example, (spoiler warning🙂 when Charis and Taliesin begin to fall in love, she first protests that there is no way they can be together because of their different lineages, their responsibilities to their people, she’s not sure she’s in love with him, etc.  Then, suddenly, without any resolution to these issues, they run off together.  With, of course, zero negative consequences.  (End spoiler.)

Last but not least, at least half of the book consists of long descriptions of pagan rituals, including human sacrifice.  I found these to be both disturbing and boring, and do little to advance the plot.

One positive thing I can say is that Lawhead writes beautiful prose.  His scenes are richly described, vivid and often poetic.  If only his plot and character development matched his prose, this could have been a much better book.


One thought on “Book Review: Taliesin (Book 1 of the Pendragon Cycle)

  1. Thanks for the report. The cover makes the book look interesting. I’ve found Lawhead’s books to be unpredictable in quality. Some have been very good; others so-so. It’s good to know in advance your take on this one.

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