I just finished reading War in Heaven by Charles Williams, which is now one of my favourite books, so I thought I'd give a brief book review to share what I thought of it and hopefully convince more people to read it. Note that I'm not giving away any major spoilers, and although there are some things I mention that happen later in the book, it won't ruin the story to know them ahead of time.

***


This was an AMAZING book! I'm surprised it isn't more well known. It had an exciting plot, the characters were great, it was very insightful, suspenseful, and it was beautifully written. It blended mystery with adventure and the occult, and the setting of England in the 1930s gave a quaint, homely feel to it that nicely complemented the otherworldliness of the Holy Grail and the strange occult rituals Gregory and co. were engaged in. The whole story, in fact, was a blend of everyday reality with a supernatural world that lies both hidden within it and beyond it. Most of the characters worked at a publishing house, and besides Gregory and the Archdeacon, none of the main characters had any connection to the supernatural before the events of the story began. I didn't find the book at all creepy or over the top in any manner, but there were definitely uncanny parts to it.

Although the book itself wasn't creepy, the villains-- Gregory Persimmons, Manasseh, and the unnamed "Greek"--were all extraordinarily creepy people. I liked how Gregory became one of the main characters though, because although he really has no morals, he is still a fascinating character. It was just so fun being in his head as a reader and seeing him plot out his evil plans while others remained unaware. The fact that he isn't as powerful and vindictive as Manasseh and the Greek makes him a more realistic and multi-dimensional character and so is probably the most interesting character in the book. Other than him, I really liked Kenneth Mornington, and one of my favourite parts with him was when he confronted Gregory and was going to resign from his job at the publishing house. That part went: "Kenneth had an impulse to say that he resigned, and another to knock Gregory down and trample on him." The Archdeacon was also a great character, at the same time sublime and at peace with the universe but also getting flustered at hilarious trivialities. Also the way he would leap out and snatch the Grail and somehow get away with it was priceless. The inspectors were great fun too, in all their bafflement at solving the murder case and how Gregory, Lionel, etc. fit into it.

Besides the characters, the story was very unique and the writing and descriptions often made me pause and think. It wasn't difficult to understand, but there were some amazing comparisons and descriptions that made me wonder "How did he think of that??" For example, describing the Archdeacon "glinting like a small, frosty pool" when he is acting cold and reserved. Also the quest for the Grail was not at all typical: the chalice they're all after was suspected to be the Grail but it isn't until later on in the story that anyone finds out that it definitely is. It was mentioned in the manuscript of an unpublished book and everyone really went off from that. And throughout the book, it is not the Grail itself that is important, but the connection with the divine that it represents. Hence why both Gregory and the Archdeacon are loathe to bring the police into the case, and why, at one point, Gregory, Manasseh, and the Greek work to destroy it remotely through some supernatural power.

There were also many philosophical ideas about religion, predestination, and the connection one can obtain with higher powers. Gregory was a particularly philosophical character in his own evil little way, well, I shouldn't say "little" because he really takes the whole universe into consideration and tries to connect with some dark demonic power (his "master") which he sees as someone/thing that will allow him to become a greater being. Lionel also had a very peculiar mentality. We saw more of him at the beginning of the book but then he fades to a more minor character later on. He has a deep-set fear of some unnamed horror that might emerge from the world around him and snatch his life or the lives of his family. It's as if he feels he needs to be prepared for a god to swoop down and blot them out of existence. He can never shake of the unearthly dread which for him seems to creep at the edge of ordinary life. When there is a murdered man found in his office and when his wife seems to be possessed, these fears are only confirmed. I feel like there could be a sequel with him as a main character because despite his odd ways of thinking, he's a very captivating character.

Prester John (who is the caretaker of the Grail and somehow also the Grail) is also an interesting character. He is more remote and has a strange effect upon everyone who meets him. He seems to amplify the qualities in people that might have been hidden but that nevertheless define them. For those who are immoral (Gregory, his servant Ludding, etc), he seems to make them besot with hatred or revulsion, though it was very subtle so that didn't seem "magical" at all. As for those who are good, he amplifies those good qualities, or certain peculiarities like the talkativeness of Mr. Batesby. John is like a mirror that reflects one's spiritual condition and makes it clear to others, though the person in question might be unaware of how they appear themselves. Though I wouldn't call John a moral character himself. He's not human (at least, not any more, because I assume he's based on the actual Prester John) and so is beyond human morality of good and evil, which ties in to the predestination theme, in that he does what must be done in accordance with the order of the universe, and will not step up to save a life, for example. He is not a god who will fix their problems, but he will help them see more clearly so that they can choose the right path to follow. How he is related to the universe at large and if he is aware of the future (if it is even set) is not clear though.

All in all, it was a great book, but although it was my cup of tea, I can understand that it might not be everybody's, so I wouldn't generally recommend it to everyone. However, I do think a lot of people would really enjoy this and that it is a delightful masterpiece.


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"A Soul Wanderer never knows. He wanders; he makes his own path through the
heights of the universe."

-Sio Larwick


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Mary-Jean's books

The Printer's Devil
The Crystal Cave
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Lost Prince
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Hobbit
Rise of the Darklings
The Fire King
Clockwork Angel
Jane Eyre
Wuthering Heights
The Lost World
Around the World in Eighty Days
The Sum of All Men
Brotherhood of the Wolf
Wizardborn
The Lair of Bones
Sons of the Oak
Worldbinder
The Wyrmling Horde


Mary-Jean Harris's favorite books »
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