The Greenstone Grail by Amanda Hemmingway is a delightful novel, one part science fiction, two parts mystery, and three parts fantasy. This smart, self-aware, magical-boy-discovering-his-power story is not Harry Potter meets King Arthur, although there are elements of those stories and more.
Nathan is an unusual boy with brains and heart. His dark skin looks nothing like his mother, Annie's (who does not really remember how she became pregnant with him). He is extremely intelligent and kind, and his two best friends are local oddballs, even though Nathan is the most popular kid in his grade in his remote English village home.
When Nathan reaches adolescence, odd things begin happening to him. His vivid dreams of another universe become real, strange creatures appear, and people die. In addition, the Grimthorn Grail, a cup that once belonged to the local Thorn family and renowned for its magical powers, returns to the village. Nathan and Annie both know different things about the peculiar happenings in their town, but rather than share with each other, they confide in their mysterious friend Bartelmy, who knows many unusual things but not the true nature of the cup. As the narrative moves on, it becomes clear that the grail is central to everything, and Nathan seems to be bound to it.
Of the three aspect of Nathan's tale, Hemingway gives shortest shrift to science, having Nathan's friend Hazel explain, "I don't believe in magic... Other universes--that's different. That's science." The multiverse theories found in theoretical physics are never discussed, just
alluded to, but they ground the story in potential truth rather than fantasy alone.
The mystery aspect--it even has its own detective, named Pobjoy--propels the narrative, giving it great energy. Its weakness is that the reader has an omniscient point of view; we are privy to the secrets that the characters are keeping from one another, which can be a little confusing. I lost track of who knew what at some points.
But magic dominates The Greenstone Grail. Aside from a cup with vast power, we have the "Gifted" (i.e., witches and wizards), "werefolk" (beings alive but not human), and spirits of all kinds. The magic begins where science leaves off. As Bartelmy explains, "the dimension of spirit ... exists outside scientific laws." Science and magic are connected, however; magic is the means to reaching the alternate universes postulated in physics, which is an interesting take on the subject.
Indeed, The Greenstone Grail is interesting throughout. The story feels fresh but gives a nod to many well-known fantasy and science fiction works (the Star Wars franchise makes an hilarious contribution, for instance). The references are sprinkled sparingly through the narrative, just enough to remind the reader that Hemingway knows full well the tradition she is building upon. Even so, Nathan is a unique fellow with a unique story.
The Greenstone Grail is the first work of The Sangreal Trilogy, and they great arc of the story has just gotten started. One mystery has been deciphered, but many, many plot points remain unresolved. I look forward to seeing what happens next.