The Poisoned Crown, Amanda Hemingway's conclusion to her Sangreal Trilogy, is anything but poison. Her tale of magic and a special young man who can travel to many worlds remains fresh, energetic and delightful to read.
Nathan can go through a gate to other worlds in his mind while asleep. The first book of the trilogy,
The Greenstone Grail, took place when Nathan was twelve, when he traveled to the dying world of Eos and retrieved a stone cup known as the Grimstone Grail. In the second book,
The Sword of Straw, he traveled to wooded planet of Wilderless, saving a princess and retrieving the Traitor's Sword. The Grail and the Sword are two of three relics required to work a Great Spell by the Grandir, ruler of Eos. All that remains is the Iron Crown.
Through his recent dreaming, Nathan, now 15, has discovered that the Crown is held on the world of Widewater, a planet completely covered by the sea except for a polar ice cap. The demon/goddess Nefanu rules this world and guards the Crown. Nathan meets an albatross and a mermaid on Widewater
who become his allies. With the help of his best friend, Hazel (who happens to be a witch), he overcomes his fear of water to undertake the endeavor of retrieving the Crown.
Events come to not one but two climaxes in this wide-ranging adventure story. On Widewater, Nathan finds himself involved in a war between the cold bloods (sea creatures) and the lung breathers (birds, seals, half-human-half-seal selkies). Once the conflict concludes, the story of the Great Spell is still in the balance. Nathan's mother, Annie, his Uncle Barty, and Hazel all play vital roles in helping Nathan in his task.
Although things turn out in predictable ways overall, the events getting to that point are surprising and the resolutions satisfying. Nathan's coming-of-age story is one of bravery and resourcefulness. He must choose whether to give in to forces greater than himself or to fight those forces because he knows it's right. It's lovely that he is also smart and handsome, but he never comes off as egotistical; in fact, he's always been an unusually loving and thoughtful person.
Hemingway expects her readers to be smart too. She does a great job of acknowledging other fantasy fiction, such as
Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings; and she keeps her tongue firmly planted in her cheek at appropriate times. She alludes to science and physics that give her universe plausibility, if not probability. She also manages to weave in English folklore into the mix, in particular with the use of the traditional ballad, "Scarborough Fair."
Those who would be concerned about another magical-boy-finds-himself story need not worry. Amanda Hemingway builds on the fantasy worlds that precede here in a unique way. The series and its finale are wonderfully enjoyable reads, recommended for any age reader who likes fun and absorbing stories.