I picked up Marie Jakober's The Black Chalice at When Words Collide back in August. I started reading it shortly thereafter and I made steady progress on it. For me, this book was not one that I had a problem putting down, and it cost me no more than a few minutes of sleep most nights. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it immensely, just that the rise and fall of the tensions of the book did not grip me so fiercely that I needed to know what was coming next.
Set in a fictional region of medieval Germany, after the First Crusade, the Black Chalice deals mainly with Karelian, the Count of Lys, and his squire, Paul. The book, however, is written mostly from Paul's viewpoint, many years in the future from the events the book describes; sorcery, love, betrayal and civil war. This was a most effective storytelling method, because when the story is not told from Paul's point of view, we see events very differently and that reveals to the reader the way interpretation of events can alter how history is told and judged. History may be told by the victors, but it is also told by those who care to write it.
Character is one of the strongest and most enjoyable elements of The Black Chalice. Jakober did an excellent job of giving her characters believable desires, needs, and viewpoints. Villains, such as they are, are in fact merely people driven by their own beliefs, rather than evil for its own sake. Though you might not end up wishing these characters well, their actions are believable and logical. This was a book I enjoyed foremost because of the strong, dynamic characters, who grew (or fell) during the telling.
The theme of Christianity versus paganism was a constant one in this book, and Christianity was not portrayed well. Certainly, this may have matched the viewpoints of people deemed heretics, witches, and blasphemers, many of whom found themselves burned at the stake or suffering similarly gruesome deaths. It is true that Christianity has a bloody past, so I did not find Jakober's harping on this theme to be overwhelming. However, it felt very forced at some points.
Overall, the Black Chalice struck the right balance of history, fantasy, action, drama and strong character and it was well written and well told. I enjoyed it and I'll be looking for more books by Marie Jakober in the future.