SELECT * FROM uv_BookReviewRollup WHERE recordnum = 1165 The Greenstone Grail, by Amanda Hemingway Book Review |

The Greenstone Grail, by Amanda Hemingway cover image

The Greenstone Grail, by Amanda Hemingway
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2005
Review Posted: 4/14/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

The Greenstone Grail, by Amanda Hemingway

Book Review by C. Dennis Moore

Have you read this book?

About a year ago, I received a book in the mail. It was a ragged thing, an advanced reader copy, with the cover missing and what looked like ferret bite marks along one corner. It was called "The Sword of Straw" by Amanda Hemingway, whom I'd never heard of, and was the second in a trilogy. Well, what the hell was I gonna do with a second part when I'd never heard of the first part? Review it, I guess. Far as I could recollect, part one of the trilogy was never offered on the list from which I had apparently chosen part two. That is, if I chose it at all. So I read it. Loved it.Upon completion, I learned parts 1 and 3 of the trilogy were also available. Kinda wished I'd known that in the first place. But, neither here nor there. I said yes and soon the books came in the mail (along with a finished, official copy of "The Sword of Straw," sans ferret marks).

I wouldn't have figured it to be the case at first, but in hindsight, I'm glad I read "The Sword of Straw" before The Greenstone Grail. It's not that there's anything at all wrong with The Greenstone Grail, but for me, "The Sword of Straw" was simply the better-written book. And I think that level of enjoyment in that novel just may have played a part in my enjoyment of The Greenstone Grail, which is the first part of Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal Trilogy. Looking back and comparing the two, it's really no contest which was the better novel. I'm not talking story here--I loved the stories presented in both installments--I'm talking strictly about craftsmanship. "The Sword of Straw" was simply better written. It was funnier, lighter, more clever, definitely more quotable in a review. And you don't need to have known anything about the story previously to enjoy it. Whereas The Greenstone Grail does a good job of introducing the characters and the situation, but I think it was my familiarity with the world already that allowed me to enjoy it as much as I did. That being said, on with The Greenstone Grail.

Thirteen years ago, Annie Ward was on the run one winter afternoon from some unknown force, a creature perhaps, or creatures, when she found herself on the doorstep of Bartelmy Goodman who took in Annie and her newborn son Nathan, no questions asked. Annie and Bartelmy became fast friends and he was soon adopted as Nathan's "uncle." He gave Annie the business of running a used book shop he owned in town, with an attached apartment and whatever money she made was her own. The mysterious forces chasing Annie that dark afternoon are put away in the back of her mind, and life goes on. Thirteen years later, the Wards' adventures begin.

Nathan is, for all intents and purposes, a normal kid. He's tall for his age, and pretty bright (attending a private school on a scholarship, because there's no way Annie could afford the fees), he's got his two best friends, Hazel and George, his mother and Uncle Barty, and, on occasion, he dreams himself into other worlds.

In one of these worlds, where dinosaur-like creatures roam the skies, Nathan spots a man drowning in the sea. Acting on instinct, he rushes to save the man, waking soon after he pulls the man from the water, to find himself alone again in bed. A few days later, however, he sees the man he rescued, on the news, being fished out of the sea.

As Nathan begins to further explore his power and this new world, he and everyone he knows is slowly, but very tightly, wound up in a plot that's been going on for thousands of years. This other land Nathan's dreamed himself into, where the man Eric comes from, is dying. The people live for centuries, but they are all sterile. And the air itself is so toxic, no one can go outside without a full-body protective suit. There's a spell, legend says, that can be performed to maybe reverse this process and save the dying land. But if the spell is done wrong, it could mean the destruction of everything. So, to protect the land, three powerful items, a grail, a sword, and a crown, have been scattered to the other dimensions.

Now, the grail has been found, in Nathan's world, and while some want it back, others just want to keep it away from unworthy hands. Nathan, meanwhile, just wants to be a thirteen-year-old boy.

There's no doubt that while Hemingway is first and foremost a great writer, more importantly, she's having a blast writing these stories. When you're able to combine a sci-fi other dimensional world with wizards and trolls and dwarfs and objects of power and water spirits and place it all in a very modern and realistic world with characters you not only identify with but also like and root for, well that's what it's all about, isn't it? Lots of authors try to just toss in a bunch of stuff and hope it all makes sense and I suspect, more often than not, this is a way of overcompensating for some inherent flaw the author suspects in either their plot or ability, but with Hemingway I get the feeling she does it because she knows she can. And it works.

Hazel broods in her room, drinking Coke and listening to CDs while denying her great-grandmother was a true witch like the old woman claimed, and wondering if Nathan is going to be able to dream himself into another dimension, find the Grail again, and bring it back to this one. Such an insane amount of cross-genre story elements is a hard sell and should be so easy to pull off, but Hemingway's Sangreal Trilogy definitely makes it seems like a walk in the park.

My only complaint, and this is a small thing, is that, at times, in the middle of a scene, Hemingway changes characters. The scene will start with Nathan as the focus, but she reaches a point in the scene and the next paragraph switches to Annie's POV for the remainder. It's not as if she accidentally switched POVs for a sentence or two, I mean she just totally changes the focus of the scene without a break like most authors. And this confuses me most because the book is filled with standard scene breaks. But every so often we change mid-scene with no warning.

But, like I said, it's a little thing. It's certainly not big enough to cause me to stop enjoying the book. I'm glad I agreed to read the rest of the series and I'm now very eager to get on to part three. As far as I'm concerned, The Greenstone Grail works on every level and I proudly recommend it.
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