The Black Chalice by Steven Savile

November 25, 2011

Son of a knight and aspirant to the Round Table, Alymere yearns to take his place in the world, and for a quest to prove his worth. He comes across the foul Devil’s Bible – said to have been written in one night by an insane hermit – which leads and drives him, by turns, to seek the unholy Black Chalice. On his quest he will face, and overcome dire obstacles and cunning enemies, becoming a knight of renown; but the ultimate threat is to his very soul.

It’s typical isn’t it? It turns out that stories about knights are like buses. You wait for one to arrive and then two appear at the same time. No sooner had I finished King Death by Paul Finch, I then noticed that the next book on my TBR pile was The Black Chalice by Steven Savile. (Possibly not the best planning in the world on my part but we’ll gloss over that shall we?).

The Black Chalice is the first in a series from Abaddon Books called Malory’s Knights of Albion. The premise of this series is outlined in the novel’s introduction and describes the set-up perfectly.

Found in a church vestry in 2006, the Salisbury Manuscript is the only existing copy of The Second Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. Apparently a sequel to Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, the best-known and most influential version of the story of King Arthur and his Round Table, the Second Book has caused enormous controversy throughout the academic world….The Black Chalice is the first title to be released to the public.

Alymere is dragged through the physical and emotional ringer in this story. He starts as a wide eyed innocent, and by the novel’s conclusion he has been exposed to more suffering than most see in a lifetime. He is stuck between two opposing forces, both keen to own him body and soul. There is some nice natural feeling character development on display here. We get to see Alymere’s first impetuous, and youthful forays into knighthood. They tend not to go exactly as planned, causing outbursts of his fiery temper. Initially, Alymere does come across as a bit of fool. He makes rash decisions without considering the consequences.  As he learns what it means to be a knight, his character changes and becomes more introspective and thoughtful.

The other characters are just as well drawn. Sir Bors de Ganis, the first knight that Alymere meets at Camelot, is like a living embodiment of the knight’s code. He exhibits an air of chivalry and fair play, but there is also a cheeky glint in his eye, and a gregariousness that makes him immensely likeable. If anything I found myself hoping for Sir Bors to appear more often as the tale unfolded, not that I didn’t enjoy what I was reading, I just think it would be fantastic to have an entire book dedicated just to his story. He was a particularly memorable addition to the cast.

Blodyweth, a mysterious woman that Alymere meets while on his travels, is also suitably intriguing. She appears to know far more about the young aspirant than she is letting on, and brings a nice supernatural air to the proceedings. Like Sir Bors, it would be interesting to learn more of her back story.

King Arthur’s appearance is only in passing during a few key scenes, but this seems entirely appropriate. A few other famous names are also mentioned but remember, these are the second chronicles of Thomas Malory and are focused on introducing a new cast of characters while enhancing what a reader may know about existing ones. The Knights of Albion, as a series, is about letting the reader meet a host of hitherto unknown Knights of the Round Table.

The Black Chalice is pitched as an introduction to the series. The central story explores what it means to become, and to be, a knight. It examines the themes of self-sacrifice, loyalty, chivalry and the cost of giving up your life to the greater good. If you are familiar with the old legends then this novel will no doubt raise a smile. It covers the same motifs that feature so heavily in the originals texts. For me the Arthurian legends have always been about blending the supernatural with the internal struggle of good versus evil that exists in everyone. I enjoyed reading The Black Chalice and I’ll be reading the next novel in this series very soon.

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