I don’t like religious fiction much. Novels such as The Silver Chalice are the reason why.
Thomas B. Costain’s implausible tale has only minimal connection to the Bible and only slightly greater connection to psychological reality.
The richest man in Antioch adopts the fictional hero, Basil. When his foster father dies, the father’s younger brother contests the legality of Basil’s adoption and succeeds in having him disinherited and sold into slavery.
Joseph of Aramethia purchases Basil. Joseph wants to have a decorative frame made for the cup used by Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper. Basil is to make it.
Basil’s frame for the cup is to be a picture of the participants at the Last Supper. Researching his subjects, he travels the Bible lands, meeting the disciples, Paul, and even Emperor Nero.
Old Joseph has a wicked son in league with the Jewish leaders and a beautiful young Christian granddaughter. Basil antagonizes the son and captivates the granddaughter.
Before the book ends, Basil has won the fair Deborra, regained his inheritance, and become a Christian—and I have been alternately bored and nauseated.
This is a good book to let alone.
The Silver Chalice
Thomas B. Costain
1952 Bestseller #1
My Grade: C-
The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay is a fictionalized biography of the man known to most readers as Richard the Lionhearted, leader of the Crusades.
Maurice Hewlet’s narrator tells readers in the first chapter that Richard had two natures, one deeply spiritual and the other beastly cruel. The novel elaborates on that theme.
Richard Count of Poictou is one of two living sons of King Henry of England. Richard loves Jehane Saint-Pol but his father wants him to marry to further the Angevin family’s political future. Richard agrees, then backs out on suspicion that his father is dallying with his intended bride.
Brilliant as a military strategist and battlefield leader, Richard treats his allies with less respect than he accords his soldiers. Before long, Richard has offended most of the European nobility. When he succeeds to the throne, his allies are all his enemies.
But for Jehane, Richard would have died even earlier than he did at the hands of enemies in the camp of his allies.
Hewlet’s narrator is a 12th century contemporary of Richard’s. That pose adds verisimilitude to the tale, but it makes for hard reading: familiar words are used with unfamiliar meanings, unfamiliar words pepper the prose, and critical passages are in French.
What interest there is in the novel is in the historical details, such as the fact that Richard of England didn’t even speak English. On the whole, contemporary readers are not likely to find much in this novel to capture their interest.
Michael Karvajalka is a disillusioned Finn making a pilgrimage from Rome to the Holy Land in 1527. Wimpy Michael and his muscle-bound half-brother, Andy, are born victims. Michael’s dog, Rael, is brighter than both of them together.
En route, Michael falls for Guila, a woman with one blue and one brown eye who tells fortunes. She says she’s an innocent virgin, and Michael believes everything he’s told.
When their ship is boarded by Turks, Michael and Andy convert to Islam to save their necks.
Michael, Andy, and Guila end up as slaves in Algiers.
Michael, who is as honest as he is naive, becomes a yes-man the Grand Vizer Ibraheim of the Ottoman Empire. Andy capitalizes on his wrestling and artillery skills, while Guila, now Michael’s wife, schemes her way into the Seraglio.
All three are caught up in the European conflict that spilled over when the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope struggled for domination.
Mika Waltari muddles through which what could have been a Middle Eastern perspective on Renaissance history unaided by either a plausible plot or plausible characters. He seems to have just recycled his earlier bestseller The Egyptian by advancing the calendar a few centuries.
Don’t bother going after this wanderer.
by Mika Waltari
Trans. Naomi Walford
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951
My grade: C-