Lewis Gillies, Oxford student, is always dragged along by his friend friend Simon to various strange places. Simon's latest obsession is a farm where an aurochs (an ancient Celtic beast) was supposedly spotted. Despite Lewis' protests, Simon brings himm to see the sight; and disappears when they are inspecting a cairn near the farm. As Lewis tries to find out where his friend has gone, he ends up in a war to save another world: the Land of Albion.
This is an obvious and somewhat stupid observation, but it's amazing how much difference reading books in order can make. While the Skin Map series is poisoned for me forever (no matter how good it may be), the The Paradise War and the other books in the series are incredible precisely because of their amazing setup. The unlikely mashup of an American college student, Celtic lore, and a Narnia-like otherworld is amazing, but it's not without a solid ten to twenty pages that get you oriented, first. The resulting combination is a brilliant book that definitely stands out in a world were Narnia ripoffs are all too common. The epic story is engaging, while at the same time planting the seeds for the rest of the trilogy.
I was also surprised to find the writing superb. When I read The Bone House previously, I was impressed by Lawhead's description in particular; in The Paradise War I was simply wowed by the writing altogether. But Lawhead's description in particular immerses you in the story, turning it into a live, breathing tale that you live rather than read. Certainly it is the stuff of masters: any aspiring writer would do well to read this book only for the lessons in description that it holds.
Unfortunately, the book treads on the often-shaky grounds of gods in other worlds (This concern has been growing greater in my ideas of a book, as presented in my review of Till We Have Faces). This is always a sticky subject in fictional books; what is appropriate — and what goes too far? Though Lawhead's land of Albion boasts its own pantheon of Celtic dieties, the main focus of the book, and the God with whom the characters interact is one called the Strong Sure Hand, an Old-Testament-like figure of a God with a chosen people.
As with Till We Have Faces, examining the definition of gods themselves can be helpful in interpreting the author's intentions - Lawhead's definition of gods seems to fall closer to that of an angel (based on certain passages in the second book of the series). But, this is a sticky subject, so judge for yourself. In my opinion, Paradise War balances accuracy to Celtic legend and fidelity to the true God very well.
This book is an excellent read for any teen looking for adventure, epic battles, and history come to life. It is descriptive and gripping, and you will find yourself wanting to get your hands on the sequels as fast as possible. Myself, I'm happy to put the Song of Albion trilogy on my list of Very Good Books - if not favorites, certainly books I will return to again in the future.
~ Andrew J.