REVIEW: The Grail King by Joy Nash

Dear Ms. Nash,

I keep trying your series set in Roman Britain because I love the time period. “Celtic Fire” had some problems for me and unfortunately so does “The Grail King.”

Owein (the brother of the Celtic heroine in “Celtic Fire”) lives alone in the ruins of his village. He had come to live here several years after the events of “CF” and had at one point been a slave for years. Two years ago the village was attacked by Roman legionaries, his wife was killed and most of the rest of the villagers were rounded up and herded to the fortress town of Isca.

Owein has always had the Sight but the price of his Druidic gift is high. After a vision he is crippled by headaches and lethargy. The Horned God always demands a price for the gift. It is after a vision that Owein comes across Clara Sempronia, alone and collapsed in the snow. He takes her back to his house where she eventually reveals her quest. Her father is dying and she needs find a stolen cup to help save him. It belonged to her mother and drinking from it helped her sick father. But now it’s been stolen and she wants Owein to use his Sight to locate it. When she learns just how much Owein loathes the Romans, including her father who is the commander of the garrison, Clara keeps that bit of information a secret.

Owein finally agrees to help and the two head out into the forbidding winter weather. Meanwhile, a Rhys, wandering Celtic bard, arrives at the home of Owein’s sister shares with her Roman husband, their daughter and his son. Lucius Aquila is now a farmer, his son a blacksmith who spends all his money buying then freeing slaves and Breena appears to have inherited some Druidic power herself. Rhys’s secret mission has been to seek out and bring to Avalon all who have the power of the Old Ones. Rhys learns his grandfather is dying and heads off to Avalon while Owein and Clara discover who has the grail cup.

The situation at Avalon is grim. Rhys’s twin sister Gwendolyn is under an enchanted spell, Cyric is close to death and names her to succeed him and someone is calling the Deep Power, the power of the Old Ones which no mere mortal can hope to control. Will anyone survive the cataclysmic events about to unfold?

There’s a lot going on in this book and you juggle that well. For the most part, you also convey a strong feeling for the times. But then it’s not so much the plot or atmosphere that I have problems with. The first half of the book is taken up by Owein and Clara’s formulaic romance beginning. They spar, they kiss, they come close to sex then back off and we get another book which seems fixated on the status of the hero’s penis. For half the book, virgin Clara is little more than an unintentional cocktease. “Ooooh, it’s so big and I can’t help staring at it but don’t you dare touch me with that!” And while you keep their encounters relatively pure, the villain sex is skanky and gets skankier.

Then there’s Marcus who was being raised a Roman noble son in “CF” who is now a blacksmith. A blacksmith? Even if Lucius Aquila owns a farm now, he and his family would still have enough status and wealth that I have trouble seeing Marcus have to take up this profession. And why the faux PC bit about him spending all the farm’s income buying then freeing slaves? You also have him pronouncing them to now be Roman citizens. Is this possible? I thought freedmen had to earn their citizenship? Maybe later in the declining days of the empire this could have happened but I don’t see it at this point. I realize you’re setting up more books and have to suppose that all this has a purpose but in this book, it totally pulled me out of the story wondering about it.

So, why did I keep reading the story? Because I admire your creative blending of Druids, Grail Mythology and Roman Britain. It’s inventive and makes the second half of the story take off. I just wish the first half could have been a little less standard romance fair. But at least your cover is a lot better than the last monstrosity. C+ for this one as well.