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Stephen Lawhead – The Paradise War

December 5, 2007

118. The Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead (1991)
Song of Albion, Book 1

Length: 410 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 29 November 2007
Finished: 5 December 2007

Summary: Lewis, an Oxford graduate student, follows his impulsive friend Simon on a trip to Scotland to investigate a tabloid report of an aurochs turning up in a farmer’s field. Simon thinks the animal came from the Otherworld, and while they are investigating a Celtic mound, Simon too gets pulled into the Otherworld. Lewis realizes the barrier between the worlds is weakening, must enter the Otherworld himself to save Simon and prevent disaster. However, once there, Lewis realizes that there is more at stake: dark forces threaten not just the Otherworld, but the entire fabric of existence.

Review: The first quarter of this book was very enjoyable – Simon and Lewis tooling around Scotland was interesting, there was sufficient mystery and fantasy elements cropping up to promise good things to come, and it was subtly snarky and rather funny. However, at about page 100, it gets to the chapter when the Professor explains the philosophy and metaphysics of the Otherworld, and I started to get worried (and bored), and then once Lewis enters the Otherworld for himself, the entire tone changed and my interest just dropped straight off. When the characters are actually doing things, it’s okay, but there’s a lot of standing around and praising how wonderful the Otherworld is. By the halfway point of the book, I was thinking “yes, yes, I get it, in the Otherworld, men are real men, women are real women, the sky is blue the hills are green, the water is clear, can we please move on?” But no, no, we couldn’t. The plot of the last half of the book (the forces of Evil are loose in Albion) is seemingly completely divorced from what came before it (weakening barrier between our world and the Otherworld), and while I hope this will be reconciled later in the trilogy, it made this book feel like reading two separate books – the first of which I enjoyed, the second of which spent too much time on heavy-handed description and relied too heavily on fantasy cliche. 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This book was obviously based on a lot of very detailed and well-research Celtic mythology, and it might be worth picking up for that, but overall, I was unimpressed, and unlikely to pick up the sequels.

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  • p. 18: “Nor did the regal appointments end there; we had a meticulous scout, good meals in the dining hall fortified with liberal doses of passable plonk from the college cellarer’s legendary cellars, modest use of student assistants, library privileges undergrads would kill for – all that and a splendid view across the quad to the cathedral spire.” – inferior or cheap wine.
  • p. 18: “This is why I resented taking this absurd trip with Simon. I was neck-deep in my thesis: The Influence of Goidelic Cosmography in Medieval Travel Literature.” – Gaelic.
  • p. 25: “It was all about the Channel tunnel and a landscape awash in Eurotrash, and French fashion victims, and acid rain, and lugubrious Belgians, and Iranian language students, and lager louts swilling Heineken, and football hooligans, and holes in the ozone layer, and Italian playboys, and South American drug lords, and Swiss banks, and AmEx Goldcards and the greenhouse effect, and the Age of Inconsequence, and so on and so forth.” – mournful, dismal, or gloomy, esp. in an affected, exaggerated, or unrelieved manner.
  • p. 56: “I don’t know why she put up with an unregenerate rogue like Simon, or what she possibly saw in him.” – not reformed; wicked; sinful; profligate; dissolute
  • p. 101: “One bowl held a greenish mush, over which oil and paprika had been drizzled, and the other something swathed in a towel. ‘Bulakki!’ he announced, and left.” – Serbian dish, possibly similar to hummus?
  • p. 224: “The lorica of Ollathir’s invocation had halted the thing’s foul advance, but lacked the power to banish it.” – a hard protective case or sheath.
  • p. 246: “Our horses were put up in a dingle, where Tegid had left them to fend for themselves.” – a deep, narrow cleft between hills; shady dell.
  • p. 272: “On the morning of the eighth day I rose and went to the river to fetch fresh drinking water in a leather cannikin.” – a small can or drinking cup.
  • p. 330: “The stink was almost stupefying; a stomach-churning fetor that caused the gorge to rise in our throats.” – a strong, offensive smell; stench.
  • p. 359: “I heard the wild skirl of pipes, and the charming enchantment of harpsong: ten thousand pipes, a thousand thousand harps!” – A shrill wailing sound.
  • p. 359: “I heard the clarion call of the carnyx, and the sharp blast of the hunting horn.” – a wind instrument of the Iron Age Celts; a kind of bronze trumpet, held vertically, the mouth styled in the shape of a boar’s head.
One Comment leave one →
  1. wadingacross permalink
    November 10, 2010 9:04 am

    You’re probably one of the few – if not first – persons I’ve come across to have such a negative review of Lawhead’s book. I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of his other works – but I suspect that if you haven’t – you’ll probably not like any of his other books.

    I agree that some of his books didn’t garner my interest. He’s a mixed bag. But I have found that I like his use of language and descriptions.

    I’m actually in the middle of re-reading Paradise War – read it 15 years ago.

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