Spear • 2022 • Fantasy novel by Nicola Griffith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis: The story follows the coming-of-age of a nameless girl becoming a fierce warrior and companion of king Arthur. She is a child of two worlds, the Irish Tuatha Dé Dannan with their magic on the one side and the Arthurian companions on the threshold to Christianity on the other side.

Her mother Elen stole one of the Irish Tuatha Dé Dananns’ famous treasures, Dagda’s Cauldron, as a revenge and payment for getting kidnapped and raped. To protect both herself and her daughter, she had to hide in the Welsh wilderness and surround their cave with mighty geas magic. As the story starts, they use the magic cauldron as a plain normal cooking bowl, eating every day from it. The girl has got no name, because names give magical leverage, but her mother calls her Tal for “payment”.

The other world, yet unknown to her, is the court of king Arthur where she wants to become one of his companions, disguised as a (male) knight. 

Just before leaving, the yet unnamed girl asks her mother for her name (please note how she uses singular-They in the following internal monologue):

A name, she thinks, is what makes a person who they are. A name is how they know themself.

Unwillingly, her mother gives up the protection of having no name, and she is known as Peretur

Arthur’s companions and Arthur himself don’t welcome her with open arms, because they feel something uncanny about her, and she doesn’t reveal her parents to them. She has to prove herself as a protector of the farmers, gets rid of bandits, faces many trials, and finally defeats the Red Knight. Her chosen weapon are two spears which she found on the way. 

Arthur’s companions are fully convinced now, but Arthur himself needs yet another great deed to accept her: His wife can’t become children, and she needs to be healed by drinking from the Holy Grail. Peretur knows exactly where it is – back in her mother’s cave!

Review: Now, look at this awesome cover by Hugo winner Rovina Cai! She captured the novel’s essence perfectly – there’s the magical cauldron as a hanging bowl, the red rider, a wooded thicket, and a wooden fort wall. Also, the typescript resembles those early medieval manuscripts. But wait, there are more of those great illustrations coming, as one can see at Tor.com. Those illustrations are yet another reason to get the hardcover edition! 

I didn’t go unprepared into this novel, already knew that it is set in 6th century, embracing magic and the Arthurian legends. The first 20% of the novel really got me involved, it was pure immersion, in the same narration style as Hild

The magic is not the fireball wielding one, but a far more soft version. It’s the magic of knowing, feeling, which makes Peretur understand why the horses are nervous or how her foe will react. Or small thinks, like guiding lost sheep to better places:

She was smiling to herself about the foolish old sheep, and sending it news of where it might find tender grass suitable for its mouth.

Griffith is a big fan of Arthurian legends, and it shows. She did a genius cover by combining Irish mythology with the Arthurian: all four treasures of the Tuatha Dé find their way into this story. Of course, there is the sword Excalibur, addressed with its Welsh name Caledfwylch which stuck in the Stone of Fal. The Holy Grail is combined with Dagda’s Cauldran in an absolutely fascinating way. and finally the Spear of Lugh also appears. You won’t miss anything Arthurian, as the companions are all around, including the Lady of the Lake and Myrddyn/Merlin. 

This integration of two legendary settings doesn’t hinder Griffith at all to also include a modern touch of storytelling. First of all, her protagonist Peretur is a woman disguising as a knight. She is also a lesbian, enjoying some juicy encounters not only with farmer wives. Lancelot is great on horse, but is disabled with a lame leg, and he is a people of colour with his Spanish origins. As Griffith explains in her longer afterword:

Crips, queers, woman and other genders, and people of colour are an integral part of the history of Britain.

Enough praise, you really should buy and read this book!

Meta: goodreads. isbn 9781250819321. Published at 19.4.2022 by Tor. 

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10 Responses to Spear • 2022 • Fantasy novel by Nicola Griffith

  1. Oh, I’m tempted, very, very tempted! And you 5-star rating make this one even more intriguing!
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so glad I scored an audio copy of this now – it sounds incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sahi says:

    Great review!! I’ve never read the author before but definitely enjoyed this one..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Which would you recommend to read first, for someone who’s never read Griffith – Spear or Hild?


  5. Ola G says:

    A second great read from Griffith, nice! I’ll give her a chance one day, though I’ll probably start with Hild 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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