Chalice of Roses
by Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Karen Harbaugh, Barbara Samuel
(Signet Eclipse, $15, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-451-22902-1
****
The recent trend in romance towards fantasy has been hard for this phlegmatic Scot.  Vampires and werewolfs and fairies and magical spells are not really my cuppa.  But when given the opportunity to review a fantasy anthology that featured a number of my favorite authors, I decided to suspend my disbelief even more than usual and give it a go.  I was not sorry that I did, because I enjoyed all four stories for one reason or another.

The unifying element in all four tales is the power of the Holy Grail, the legendary cup supposedly used by Christ at the Last Supper and featured in poetry and prose and even movies over the centuries.  The four stories herein deal with the magical powers of the chalice and the struggle to keep it from evil doers who might use its power to do harm.  This task, according to these stories, has been through the ages the responsibility of Grail guardians and knights who are called to service when the chalice might fall into the wrong hands.

Jo Beverley’s story, “ is set in twelfth century England, towards the end of the struggle between Stephen and Matilda.  The truce agreed to between Stephen and Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou promises the ravaged country peace after years of warfare.  But Stephen’s evil son Eustace, having already gained possession of the magical spear of the Templars, is searching for the Grail.  It falls to two young Guardians to foil his plot and save the country.

Lady Gledys has spent her life in the secluded convent of Rosewell.  She has been happy with her life, having known no other, but recently her sleep has been disturbed by dreams of a handsome knight.  Sir Michael de Loury spent his childhood in a monastery but convinced his parents that he did not belong there.  His dying mother made him swear that he would remain chaste until his marriage and hinted that he had some special mission to perform.  Michael has likewise been having dreams and visions of a lovely young woman and knows in his heart that she is his true love.  The two come together magically to defend the Grail from Eustace and to save England.

Mary Jo Putney offers “The White Rose of Scotland,” a tale set against the darkest days of World War II.  Canadian RAF ace, David Sinclair is on leave and touring Scotland when he is called by a power he does not understand to fulfill a mission he cannot fathom.  He is led to seek aid from Jane Macrae, a member of the magical Guardians.  When he tells Jane how he came across an injured man in an old chapel and was sent to seek her, she realized that the chalice has been stolen by a Nazi agent.  Should he succeed in taking it to Hitler, the war might surely be lost.

Jane and David pursue the thief through the wilds of Scotland.  It requires all of Jane’s magic and David’s skills as well as the grail magic to defeat the evil sorcerer who seeks to capture the cup’s power.

“The English Rose: Miss Templar and the Holy Grail” is Karen Harbaugh’s contribution to the anthology.  Arabella Templar has come to London to find a husband.  To please her recently widowed mother, she has put aside her unfeminine pursuits such as shooting and fencing to behave like the perfect lady.  Then, one night outside of Almack’s, she is accosted by an unknown gentleman who thrusts a cup into her hands with the words, “You are the Guardian of the Grail.  Keep it safe.” Nonplussed, she thrusts it into a pocket in her cloak.  Shortly thereafter, Lady Cowper introduces Mr. William Marstone to her as a suitable partner.  Arabella recognizes him as the man who gave her the chalice.  She also realizes that he is wounded, so she takes him home.

Arabella knows well the legend of the Grail; her father lost his life in its service.  She finds it hard to believe that she has been named its Guardian and the William is a Knight of the Grail.  But she understands the danger of its falling into Napoleon’s hands especially since his agents have obtained the Templar’s spear.  Before the quest to ensure the safety of the chalice is done, Arabella will find adventure and love.

The threat to the Grail in Barbara Samuel’s “Eternal Rose” comes not from earthly tyrants but rather from the evil Fairy Queen.  Centuries ago, William of Knotfield had prevented the queen from obtaining the chalice.  As a punishment, he has been imprisoned in “Fairy Land” as the queen’s plaything.  Every twenty years, he is allowed to return to the mortal world.  During that time, should a woman from faraway find the Grail, find her way to the world of the fairies, and give him a drink from the cup, he will be freed.

Alice Magill, a scholar from Chicago, has come to England to study at the Foundation for the Study of English and Scottish Ballads.  She has taken a flat in the old manor house and is beginning to grasp that there is something strange about the place.  When a handsome man appears to her in her dreams, she begins to make the connection between her present circumstances and the old ballad that she believes has clues about the location of the Grail.  Is Alice the one who will finally rescue William from the curse?

As noted above, I enjoyed each of the stories but for reasons that were not necessarily based on the fantasy element.  I liked Beverley’s way of combining realistic aspects of 12th century history with magic.  I enjoyed Putney’s World War II setting, a time period that should be more prominent in historical romances.  I loved Harbaugh’s technique of telling her story through Arabella’s and William’s diary entries with all the rhetorical flourishes early 19th century writing.  I found Samuel’s academic heroine and her dependence on research to find out how to save her lover charming.

Still, each author used the Grail theme and its magic effectively.  Readers who are bigger fans of fantasy romances than yours truly should have a simply wonderful time with this anthology.

--Jean Mason


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