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One King, One Soldier by Alexander Irvine posted 23 March 2005 in ReviewsOne King, One Soldier by Alexander Irvine by Alric, Auditor

As I mentioned to a few people in passing, I've been reading Alexander Irvine's One King, One Soldier, on Locus' 2004 Suggested Reading List. Well, I finished the book a while back, and I've spent some time thinking it over. So, my review:

The elements are all here, the puzzle awaits. Magic and poetry are at once in tension and one the same. Irvine's novle tackles the myths, themes and mysteries that others have tackled, most notably Umberto Eco in Foucault's Pendulum and Tim Powers in Last Call. This is the story and secret history of the Fisher King (Osiris, Arthur, etc), and it blends african, egyptian, arthurian legend, as well as the grail, the ark of the covenant and the Knights of the Temple (templars). This mix is both familiar and suprisingly new and interesting.

The book is really found in the intersection of the stories of 3 different people, ranging from the late 1800s to the Korean War.

Lance Porter, a young American wounded while in combat in Korea, finds himself out of the army and adrift in San Francisco, with nothing but a few hundred dollars and a mysterious and disturbing letter from his girl friend... and a bunch of odd people seeking him out.

Arthur Rimbaud, a 30 something Frenchman, a one time solider, poet, explorer, is caught up in race to find the grail in imperial Africa in 1890. Following in his father's footsteps, he is about to play the game for himself, and cross both the templars and the heirs of King Soloman.

George Gibson, a young American baseball player barnstorming across Nova Scotia in 1890 waiting to be called to the professional league. In a small game on a farm, he decides to go treasure hunting, and finds something that will forever change his life and the entire world.

One King, One Soldier is Irvine's second novel, and he has shown growth in his style and voice from his first, A Scattering of Jades. However, where as this novel is better shaped, and paced, it lacks some of the vivid creativity of the first. Also, Irvine opted for an ending that did not bring complete resolution. In fact, the resolution of the book leaves room for a possible sequel... not that I've heard of anything being planned. What it does have is vision and character. While you're never on firm ground as to what is exactly going on behind the scenes, you are alway on the edge as the reader.

At 335 pages, Irvine manages to pack in a very dense and entertaining story in a relatively thin book. The climatic scene of each of the different stories, is powerful in an odd way, combining both belief and image into something that is compelling for both the characters and the readers. While the final resolution definitely is left in the air, Irvine does achieve a definite sense of completion and completeness.

If you enjoy a creative mix of world myth, mystery and conspiracy, as well as reading fantasy books that include real places and events... George follows the Stanley expedition across the Congo... this book is more than worth a read. As is the case in this style of book, be prepared for alternate reasons for Franklin D. Roosevelt's illness, Italian interest in Ethiopia, the design of the Chartes Cathedral, etc. Are gay men the greatest magicians? All in all, this was a fun read.

If you find yourself out on a desert island some time, One King, One Soldier by Alexander Irvine, would be a nice change of pace from a Martin, Erikson, Bakker, Simmons, Vance. It's not the perfect book, but it is something worth reading. view post


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