book review

Goodreads: The Betrayal of Arthur

betrayal-of-arthur-2013-cover“This is a wonderfully interesting book that examines history and characters of the Arthurian legend. Written in a very accessible style, Douglass carefully outlines the origins of the legend, especially examining where the various elements came from. The various character analysis are most interesting, concluding that Merlin and Arthur are actually, given what they are commonly understood to be able to do and their role in the legend, rather dismal failures. This fascinating book will interest those with knowledge of the Arthurian legend and an inquisitive mind.”

Review by Ernest on the Goodreads website.

On the 6th of February 1998 Sara wrote on her personal website “I’m working on my non-fiction Arthurian book at the moment. It is a book that investigates the betrayal theme within the legend. Fantastic. All to do with sex and incest and medieval penances. The arthurian tale is a very medieval tale in its images and in its strong moral overtones, and it is fascinating to read some of today’s novels and see how authors struggle to ‘modernize’ an epic that is so medieval it has almost lost relevance for today’s world.”

The Betrayal of Arthur was originally published in 1998. Pan McMillan re-released it on 1st October 2013 in electronic format, you can download it from Momentum here.

Scaryminds: The Hall of Lost Footsteps

 “We have enough to last us another year” – Margery

Quite often review sites become the abode of strange bedfellows, and on the face of it I would have to say one of the stranger mixes is renowned fantasy author Sara Douglass appearing on the pages of ScaryMinds. It’s like either a dream come true for this site, or Douglas’ worse virtual nightmare. Hey Sara, in cyberspace no one can hear you scream.
But if you were to dig a little deeper, as is our wont, you might just be in for a pleasant surprise as Douglass heads off the bright path into the deep dark woods. If you definitely don’t like horror then either Ms Douglass is going to shock the hell out of your expectations, or you might just be pleasantly bushwhacked by what the genre can offer in the hands of a skilled wordsmith.
The Hall of Lost Footsteps is available from most notable Aussie online stores, and a number of foreign sites as well. If needing more information then hit the official Ticonderoga site for all the good oil.

Suzanne Johnson: The Devil’s Diadem


So I was excited to get The Devil’s Diadem by Sara Douglass. First, it’s a standalone fantasy, so I knew I could read it without feeling lost. Second, there’s not a single weirdly apostrophe’d, unpronounceable name. Third, it has to do with medieval plagues and alleged witchcraft and demons and all those historical British things that make my eyes light up like my terrier’s when she sees a new bag of chicken jerky coming into the house. *Nod to Shane O’Mac the Irish Terror Terrier.*

Great characters, crisp writing, and a story that leaves you guessing as it takes twists and turns…all makes for a great read. It’s kind of a sad, thoughtful book despite moments of lightness, but I loved it anyway.

©2011 Suzanne Johnson. Suzanne Johnson is a fantasy author published by Tor in the USA. To read the full review on the Suzanne Johnson’s old blog please click on this link. You can find out more about Suzanne and her work on her official website.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Geeks of Doom: The Devil’s Diadem


Sara Douglass is a master of foreshadowing. The tension is palpable in the very first scene when Maeb meets the Earl of Pengraic, a gruff, most unwelcoming man who immediately regards Maeb with disdain and suspicion, possibly because he walks in on her meeting his devastatingly handsome son, Lord Stephen, while the two are making goo-goo eyes at each other.

A truly gifted storyteller, Douglass paints such lush, vivid descriptions of every scene that intimately connect the reader to the time, place, and people from beginning to end with zero lag time in between. The Devil’s Diadem is exceedingly well-written and extremely hard to put down.

The characters are all richly drawn and endearing, even the background ones, including Maeb’s horse, Dulcette. It’s a magical story with more plot twists and complex mysteries than the Coney Island Cyclone has clackity wooden slats, both being equal in the sheer force of their creation. From one page to the next, you never see what’s coming. While complex and action-packed, Douglass takes great care that the reader never gets lost in the tumult. It’s a true edge-of-your-seat kind of read.

©2011 The Book Slave / Geeks of Doom. To read the full review on the Geeks of Doom website please click on this link.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Ranting Dragon: The Devil’s Diadem

2011-devilsdiadem-us-coverThe Devil’s Diadem, the latest offering by popular Australian author and historian Sara Douglass, is a stand-alone historical fantasy set in mid-twelfth century England. Douglass has described The Devil’s Diadem as “everything she always wanted to put in a fantasy novel but never did”. She has also stated that it could quite possibly be her last ever book. If this is indeed the case, many fans will be eager to know whether it is a worthy farewell from such a great writer. The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding yes.

Why should you read this book?
Overall, The Devil’s Diadem is thoroughly enjoyable saga of love, loss, political maneuverings, friendship and betrayal that successfully combines believable characters, historical detail and romance with aspects of myth and horror. I found it to be well plotted, intelligent and enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys good, character driven fantasy. Additionally, if you have ever read and loved any of Douglass’s work in the past, as I have, perhaps we owe it to her to at least try the one book she “always wanted to write”.

©2011 Michelle / The Ranting Dragon. To read the full review on the The Ranting Dragon website please click on this link.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Karen Brooks: The Devil’s Diadem

2011-devilsdiadem-au-coverDouglass’ latest book, a historical fantasy set in mid Twelfth Century England is a fabulously woven, intricately plotted tale of love, loss, familial relationships, courtly politics, religion and faith. Powerful, moving and surprising, it unfurls slowly, almost languidly, steeping the reader in the period and the life of the heroine, the astoundingly lovely Maeb who, when her father returns from the Crusades and dies, leaving her with nothing more than a few rags and her good name, is forced to join the household of the most powerful noble in the land, the Earl of Pengraic, Raife.

Incredibly beautiful, frank and quite feckless in many ways, Maeb is content to serve her kind mistress, Adelie, and care for her sweet children, only when a dreadful plague from Europe sweeps the country, forcing the family to flee to Pengraic castle in the Welsh borderlands, Maeb quickly discovers that someone or something else has other, much bigger plans for her and those she loves.

What follows is an adventure like no other, filled with real characters, heart-ache, beauty, humour and disaster, all against a background of an emerging London, the kingship of Edmond and deadly tensions between the aristocrats, the Church, the Old People and the sacred and profane.

Told in the first-person, this is a hard book to put down – frankly, I couldn’t bear to set it aside. It sweeps you into the past and the lives of the central characters. It’s filled with fascinating factual and imaginative recreations of life in that period (Douglass is also a renown historian), never mind being a rollicking good tale.

As a stand alone, it’s a tour de force for Douglass, as an addition to an already remarkable canon, it’s a triumph.

I know that I could be accused of bias as the book is dedicated to me – a privilege I am so humbled by I honestly cannot express how I feel – but I could not ask for or wish for a greater gift from a wonderful, loving and beloved friend.

Read The Devil’s Diadem and share the experience. You won’t regret it!

©2011 Karen Brooks, reproduced with permission. This review originally appeared on Karen Brook’s blog.

Click here to see more reviews of books by Sara Douglass!

Locus: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-1steditionSara Douglass’ ninth novel and first in a new trilogy, The Nameless Day, is a slight departure from her highly successful Tencendor series, setting aside the more obvious tropes of fantasy, and concentrating instead on Douglass’ background as a historian.

The way medieval Europeans understood the world is starkly different from how we understand it today. People believed that they lived in a world of evil incarnate, where demons and angels walked the streets, and where God and Satan were in preparation for the final battle. Douglass carefully couches her story in terms of this worldview, which effectively blurs the boundaries between history and fantasy, making it uncertain as to whether her characters are really encountering angels and demons, or simply believe that they are.

This medieval worldview clashes with modern sensibilities, something that Douglass exploits.

At one point Douglass shows us the family of a talented woodcarver who has been required to work on a cathedral in Paris for a year, all unpaid and leaving his family to depend on the charity of his Guild to survive the honour. It’s an effective moment that clarifies just how different the world was.

Reminiscent of a rich blend of the historical fantasies of Mary Stewart and Guy Gavriel Kay, The Nameless Day is a strong opening to what should be an interesting and rewarding series.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan / Locus. This review originally appeared in Locus but can be found on To read the full review on the Online Reviews website please click on this link.

OzLit: Pilgrim

pilgrim-1stedition-ausIf there is one thing a reviewer can confidently state about the work of Sara Douglass it is that it does not disappoint. Douglass has once again produced a novel of epic and fantastical proportions. Pilgrim, the second instalment in The Wayfarer Redemption teases, beguiles, shocks, gladdens and saddens: she drops her readers into an emotional chasm and doesn’t release them – she taunts them with, of all things, lilies!

So what can readers expect from this book after Sinner promised so much. Pilgrim fulfils the promises of its narrative predecessor and then offers all sorts of other imaginative treats and sombre repasts for the reader’s delectation. The TimeKeeper Demons have exploded from the Star Gate into the land of Tencendor and commenced their frenzied feeding, sucking the life and soul out of the land and its unwitting inhabitants. Faraday, Drago, Askam, Leah, Zared, Caelum and the once were gods – Axis and Azhure – appear helpless to prevent the destruction of all that they have nurtured and loved. They watch from the shadowy protection of the sacred trees and the inhospitable mountains as the Demons unleash their malignance on the seemingly unprepared world of Tencendor… but is the land the really the victim the grotesque Demons and the hapless StarLaughter believe it to be?

As the survivors of the Demon plague journey across the land to find a means of destroying the unwelcome visitors, so too the Demons attempt to fulfil their own frightening task: to bring their horrific master Qeteb back to life. Their journey is literally a soul-destroying event for the land while, paradoxically, being a soul-reclaiming journey for their master. Running parallel to the Demons disruptive and disgusting adventures throughout the land, are those of the principal protagonists. The main characters divide into a series of groups and begin a desperate search for solutions. Their search, whilst based primarily in the physical world, comes to represent an inner journey as well. The internal seeking is often as difficult, unpleasant and dark as the outer one. Some of the characters grow and metamorphose as a result of their pilgrimage; others do not but one gets the feeling that a suitable fate awaits all the individuals who dare to become pilgrims of their own souls.

Readers should take note that Douglass introduces some new elements into her tale confounding and fulfilling generic expectations. Science (fiction) is given a strong role within the tale as is mysticism and didacticism and, for the reader, these additions are more than satisfying and add an extraordinary dimension to an already magnificent tale. There is even a strong religious motif running through the book of death and rebirth; though to attribute this motif to any one religion would be to do the novel itself a dis-service. There is a sense in which the powerful forces of life, death and rebirth transcend any religious affiliation or, indeed, any essentialist interpretation. Douglass uses this motif to enhance and disrupt the gloom and doom of the book after all, promises of life-ever-after are difficult to keep and this sort of passport to immortality is not meant to be available to all. The question then arises – who will be granted access to such a sanctuary and all that it offers and under what conditions?

New characters are, once again, introduced. The cover of the book, which, I must admit, on first glimpsing seemed disappointing, becomes all too apparent and very relevant. The reptilian centrepiece of the jacket is an inspirational creature that wreaks both magic and mayhem on the various inhabitants of the suffering land. His bright coat and crystalline claws remind the characters (and the reader) that amidst the greatest darkness there is light and laughter. The Demons themselves become fleshed out as characters: vicious, maniacal and unrelenting – Douglass’ villains are always a Machiavellian delight. Old characters reappear and, it is at this point, that potential readers should be warned: Douglass shows no mercy. Those that sinned in the past finally pay for their crimes. The retribution that Wolfstar’s receives for the cold-blooded murders of his wife, child and the hundreds of Icarii children is unforgettable. It occurs as a series of unspeakable acts that ooze horror, violence and abhorrence that will leave readers feeling as though they too have been contaminated by the grey miasma that roams the land. Misery, in this novel, is all but unrelenting arising as it does out of actions, consequences and some very interesting secrets to which the reader is finally made privy. Drago also suffers physically and psychologically as a consequence of his earlier crimes. Drago’s punishment for crimes unproven and known is not surprising but, when it arrives is swift and, in true Douglass fashion, extraordinary. I think it would be very interesting to study Douglass’ novels as a commentary on dysfunctional familial relationships – she works family dynamics very well and makes no apologies for either the lack or excessiveness of parental and sibling love that permeates her work.

On a more positive note, Urbeth reappears and tells a tale, the Donkeys reappear and lose their tails and an old friend from the Axis trilogy with a long tail trots through the pages to finally claim his long deserved reward for faithfulness. The father of one race introduces himself and the mother of all the races that populate the planet tells the story of her many loves and her wild, unpredictable children. All of these characters add depth and scope to the story ensuring that, unlike the antihero who dominates the trilogy, the reader does not want to leave the narrative maze that Douglass has created. For answers to the puzzles Douglass has left the reader with, like the transformative potential of the land, Drago and the contents of his magical sack, the outcome of romantic relationships and the ravages and anguish of Qeteb and his Demon pack, the reader will have to wait.

Pilgrim is never predictable – except in the way that all good fantasy fiction can and should be. Characters are redeemed, reclaimed, regrown and all undergo transformation in this marvellous bildungsroman narrative. As the story approaches its end, Douglass has set the scene for a marvellous conclusion. This tale has it all: adventure, romance, horror, death, murder, birth, rape, grief, madness, humour and pathos. Where will Crusader, the final instalment in this thrilling trilogy, venture? Knowing Douglass, it will be to places and spaces that no reader has ever gone before.

©1998 Dr Karen Brooks / OzLit. Reproduced in full with permission from Dr Brooks.

OzLit: Sinner

sinner-1stedition-ausSara Douglass has come a long way since her first venture into the world of fantasy fiction with her inaugural novel, Battleaxe. Now, with numerous accolades, the highest sales in speculative fiction in Australia, and no less than five novels she has, God forbid, a reputation to uphold.

Sinner: Book One of The Wayfarer Redemption, the first book in the second trilogy on Tencendor and its troubled peoples, not only secures her standing as Australia’s finest fantasy novelist, it ensures her pinnacle of success remains unchallenged! With the publication of Sinner, Douglass’ star is now a leading light in the Australian literary firmament.

Despite these high praises, I must say I approached the book with caution. Fans of this genre have come to expect trilogies: even decalogies (Eddings and Jordan for example); however, it is a big risk reopening a world and its people to further imaginative exploration. Afterall, readers gain great satisfaction from closing a book and laying its characters to rest. In this instance, Axis beat Gorgrael, Azhure and Axis live happily ever after, and all of Tencendor is united…or so it seemed. Douglass knew better. Even with these happy ruminations, questions remained… what would happen to the wretched Drago and his siblings? What of the metamorphosed Faraday and her son? And what of the “gift” Faraday bestowed on Rivkah? Was it simply a child? Where did Wolfstar disappear to? And what did it mean that Axis and Azhure became gods?

Sinner answers all these questions and more. It is Tencendor: The Next Generation, and it does not disappoint. The children of the War of the Axe are rich in character, full of idiosyncrasies that will amuse and repel, and capable of both enormous courage and incredible stupidity. The title Sinner may refer to one specific character, but the book manages to explore the concept of sinning in all its manifestations. From Drago’s primal sin, to Riverstar’s misplaced desires, to Zared’s treason, sin permeates the book. Old sinners, such as Stardrifter and Wolfstar are again present in all their winged masculinity and with their inherent complexities. Axis and Azhure, newly deified, are exposed in a unique and somewhat unflattering light revealing that they too, despite being gods, are not exempt from human weaknesses. It is perhaps in revisiting these characters that Douglass displays a fault of continuity in characterisation. I am not sure I am convinced by Axis and Azhure’s lack of parental concern and even downright coldness towards various of their progeny, particularly in the light of their behaviour in the first trilogy. This is, however, a minor point, and is more than compensated for by the swiftness of the action and the remorselessness of the narrative pace which has the reader turning pages at ripping-speed.

Other characters from the first trilogy also make surprising reappearances. Without spoiling the plot, I can say Niah makes a brief entrance and one of the most unforgettable exits in fantasy narratives. Douglass certainly turns notions of matrilinear descent and maternal feelings upside-down! Orr, Spikefeather, the Rainbow Sceptre and the formidable and beautiful Star Gate all reappear and, in some cases, disappear and transform in ways in which will leave the reader astonished.

The mixture of new and old characters that populate this book are fully-rounded and compelling, convincing and dramatic. Surprisingly, for this genre, the people and places encountered are created with pathos and a depth of understanding that is normally sacrificed to action. The book is more sexual than the first trilogy, but necessarily so. Sex, desire, lust, love: all of these emotions and actions permeate the book and become a powerful political statement about interhuman and human relations and their often tragic outcomes.

Readers have come to expect uncompromising monsters from Douglass’ books, but in creating the demons in this novel, Douglass has surpassed herself. Through the interesting intersection of technology, science, astronomy and psychology, the Questors appear and, to the horror of Tencendor, threaten to stay. The Questors are seductive and dangerous. They represent that which is utterly alien and yet, in the drastic emotions they arouse, all too familiar. Whilst travelling through the stars that lie beyond the boundaries of the Star Gate, the Questors have made some powerful allies. Their evil associates have an unquenchable desire for vengeance and their will to live has been maintained by focusing their desire for revenge beyond the realms they now inhabit into Tencendor itself: their former home. It is in the liminal realm of the universe beyond the Star Gate that the once dead and the strangely undead meet in an orgy of unrestrained retribution and power exploding onto an unprepared Tencendor. The finale of this book will leave you astounded and, if this is possible, pleasantly disturbed.

Douglass also manages to plume some Freudian depths with a focus, in this text, on the significance of dreams as an unconscious return of the repressed, and the labyrinth that lies buried under Carlon as a metaphor for the cultural unconscious of Tencendor. The maze, and its deadly centre, haunt the latter pages of the book and its unknown and ultimate purpose spills over into the remainder of the trilogy. Sinner itself reads like the maze at its centre. With each chapter the reader is taken further into its heart and, just when the answer is within reach, the narrative twists and turns into new, dark, and exciting regions.

Overall, Sinner is Douglass’ finest book to date. It has been crafted with flair and imaginative skill. Douglass has taken risks with this book: gruesome deaths, sinful sex, contradictory characters who both disappoint and thrill, and she has daringly introduced science into her fantastical world. For Douglas these risks have certainly paid off resulting in a daring, masterful and ultimately very satisfactory sequel.

Sinner is a breathless rollercoaster of a read… but listen here Pilgrim*… don’t take your hands off the rails, because, thank goodness, the ride ain’t over yet!

* This is the title of Book Two in the Wayfarer Redemption.

©1997 Dr Karen Brooks / OzLit. Reproduced in full with permission from Dr Brooks.

Book Loons: Sinner

sinner-usedition-book4This fourth episode in The Wayfarer Redemption (following Battleaxe, Enchanter and Starman) introduces a whole new generation of actors onto the Tencendor stage. Axis and Azhure have been promoted to be (mostly offstage) deities – ‘God of Song’ and ‘Goddess of Moon’ – leaving their offspring to inherit an empire.

Caelum SunSoar is now Supreme Ruler of Tencendor, with Askam and Zared (son of Rivkah and Magariz) as Princes of humans in the West and North, respectively. The Icarii are ruled by FreeFall, and the Avar by Faraday’s son Isfrael.

As usual, Sara Douglass paints in Sinner a series of soap operatic scenes on a grand epic fantasy canvas, deftly blending together many different textures of story. And, as always, her characters can be relied upon to be neither black nor white, but shades of all the colors of the rainbow.

©2004 Hilary Williamson / Book Loons. To read the full review on the Book Loons website please click on this link.