cover image One King, One Soldier

One King, One Soldier

Alexander Irvine. Del Rey Books, $13.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-345-46696-9

More what-if fantasy than secret history like his well-received debut, A Scattering of Jades (2002), Irvine's literate second novel asks some provocative questions: What if centuries of retellings of ancient myths actually convey disguised truths? What if the Holy Grail was really a piece of the Ark of the Covenant? What if the Grail controls much of human history? In 1953, wounded Korean War vet Lance Porter meets poet Jack Spicer in San Francisco. Spicer sees Lance as the Fisher King, destined to regain the Grail, heal himself and restore the land. The poet tells Lance he's""a serious monkey wrench in a very old plan"" involving the Grail. Nothing in his life is as it seemed and people want him dead. Two subplots involve barnstorming baseball player George Gibson, who becomes the bearer of the Grail and undertakes a journey across Africa, and Arthur Rimbaud, past his days as a youthful poet and now a gunrunner in Africa. Irvine mixes myth, history, baseball, poetry, several belief systems and clear prose for an enchanting read. Sketchy characterizations are more symbolic than substantial, but they don't distract from the magic of the tale. FYI: Irvine has won Crawford, Locus and International Horror Guild awards, all for best new writer.