The book in question: Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead. It's supposed to be book one of the Pendragon cycle, in which our author (described somewhere as having done expensive research into mythology, mind) takes on the legend of King Arthur, more or less. This book functions as sort of a pre-prequel. But none of that mattered to me. I read this entirely because it was entitled Taliesin.
Now, I am in no way claiming to be some expert in Welsh history and mythology, or on the times of King Arthur. The King Arthur legends all conflict so much anyway that authors writing about them can be rather free with how things go. But I do know a little bit about Taliesin, both the mythological figure and the historical poet/bard. One, I studied a lot of British and Welsh history and mythology in college, and two, I researched that figure in particular when I was making up my twins.
I also know a bit about character development.
I say 'didn't' because this was one of his earliest books, and maybe he's learned something since then. I'm not reading any more to find out, though.
So, now to break down the rant...
1. The book concerns the adventures of Charis, princess of Atlantis. Yes, Atlantis. It also concerns the adventures of Elphin, a British king who finds a baby (Taliesin) in a seal-bag in the sea (this is in accordance with the myth of Taliesin, incidentally). It only starts concerning Taliesin, like, more than halfway through the book, and Taliesin and Charis don't meet until there's, at most, a fourth of it left, which I find problematic because theirs is supposed to be a GREAT ROMANCE and it's barely in there at all. Now, Charis is important to the whole Arthur thing for two reasons: one, she's the Lady of the Lake, as becomes clear near the end, and two, she's Merlin's mother. She is also the only character who is remotely well-drawn or compelling and in more than a like, a fifth of the book. So answer me this: Why the fuck is this called Taliesin? Taliesin barely does anything!
2. Well, he does do something. But it's be self-righteous and insufferable. Taliesin's supposed to be all Mysterious because he's a Powerful Druid Bard and Also the Son of a King, but all he does is sit around, sing, and make speeches at everyone about how to live their own lives. Now, historical Taliesin was a poet and a bard, and mythological Taliesin spent a lot of time singing poetry at people, so that's accurate. But Taliesin has no depth at all, which doesn't bode well for being the freaking titular character. It took me awhile to realize it, but he also has NO FLAWS, which basically turns him into the teeth-grating male version of a Mary Sue. There's another thing about him that irritates me, but that's for point 4.
3. Clearly this is supposed to be mythological Taliesin, what with the whole seal-bag thing being part of the book. But the beginning of the myth is completely ignored, as is the entire last half of it. Mythological Taliesin is supposed to go, to put it simply, fuck with this neighboring king who starts something with Elphin. But this Taliesin doesn't, in favor of being annoyingly perfect instead. But not having any of that happen is like deciding you can just leave Lancelot out of Arthur's story entirely. The author is not weaving Taliesin into the legend of Arthur in a new and interesting way (usually, if Taliesin's made part of Arthurian legend, he gets conflated with Merlin, as opposed to being made Merlin's father); he's butchering the myth in favor of, I don't know, using a name that's part of mythology instead of making his own damn character up. But I suppose not many people KNOW that legend, so he gets away with it. (I'd have honestly been all right with tweaking the legend if Taliesin hadn't been such fucking irritating character. But he is, so I'm bitching.)
3. But that's not what annoys me most about him and the book in general. What really gets me is that, while fucking around in the Other World (Annwfn of legend) because he's a Speshul Druid OMG!, Taliesin meets JESUS. Who then turns him in a slavering, drooling Christian drone. Now, I do know that Christianity had made its way into Wales and Britain prior to 597AD, no matter what Bede says (historically Arthur is supposed to be king roughly around 500AD, making this book theoretically in the 400s sometimes, which incidentally doesn't mesh with the real Taliesin, who was born around 534, but I've already established that this is myth-Taliesin). However, I find it hard to believe that a druid of that early in Wales (400s sometimes) would turn into such a Jesus freak. I mean, the druids were not exactly fond of Christianity when it did trickle in prior to 597, and it wasn't exactly prominent, like, AT ALL. If it had just been Taliesin, maybe. But it's like every damn character, including all the people from Atlantis (Atlantis sinks and the survivors end up in Wales, basically), get converted in the course of the story, most of them because of Taliesin's didactic blatherings at them. Charis even gets turned to Jesus in the stupidest way possible, which involves being mistaken for Mary; there's this section where she's thinking to herself, "Do I love the Jesu [yes, he's called that]? Is that why I get all shivery whenever I hear His name?" I just... I don't mind Christianity in fiction, I really don't. I love historical fiction, after all. But I do I find it supremely irritating that the author is trying to make me believe that Christianity had that much of a foothold then and is using this legend which isn't supposed to concern Christianity as a blatant mouthpiece for Jesus, and two, that every 'good' character gets turned to Christianity by the power of Taliesin's singing and/or love, and all the 'bad' characters don't.
5. Speaking of the characters, I've already said Charis is the only one who's done reasonably well, but that's being nice. Most of the characterization doesn't even deserve to be called that. Aside from Perfect Taliesin, the best example is Charis's half-sister. Her half-sister is introduced when she's about four, about halfway through the book. Pretty much all she does in that intro is wander in, look at flowers, and be like, "Hi, I'm your half-sister." The next time we see her is MUCH later, and she's suddenly eeeeeeeeeeevil and HATES CHARIS OMG and is trying to fuck with Taliesin for no discernible reason except that I suppose she's sensed the Great Contrivance of Taliesin and Charis's Love. This character's name? Morgian. Of course. Now, the idea of making Morgan le Fay the Lady of the Lake's half-sister and therefore actually Merlin's aunt and not Arthur's sister is interesting (real legends do conflict on that point, so it's not like raping the legend of Arthur), but there's absolutely no REASON for her to go evil like this. Nothing. Morgian is not the only example of such piss-poor characterization, but she's the one that annoyed me the most.
6. I also have to rant about the Taliesin/Charis romance, because it's handled so BADLY. Charis is being the typical, "OMG I have had so much loss in my life that I can't give in to romance!" stereotype and thus running, and Taliesin basically follows her around spouting lines about how gorgeous she is to win her. Then, after Morgian finishes attempting to ruin their relationship for no reason, she runs off with him and then they're OMG IN LUUUUUUURVE. This applies more to relationships in books in general rather than to this book, but: I am so SICK of the man wooing the woman by telling her how gorgeous she is! For example, Taliesin tells Charis his name when they meet and what it means ("shining brow") and then asks her name. When she says, "Charis," he responds something like, "A name which clearly means beauty in your tongue." Why is that considered romantic? If he REALLY loved her, he'd come up with better reasons than, "Your hair shines like gold!" or whatever clap it is he's spouting. Like, Charis is smart and resourceful and soon after that meeting beats the crap out of these barbarians trying to steal her horse, which Taliesin witnesses. He should have fallen in love with THAT, not with her goddamn beauty.
In conclusion, this book sucked and not even my unreasonable affection for the name Taliesin could save it. Hell, not even LESBIANS could save it!