Review: Corbenic

Corbenic
Corbenic by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a modern re-telling of The Fisher King, and Parsifal. Cal, running away from his drunken schizophrenic mother, is on his way to his uncle’s house where his uncle has grudgingly offered him a trial job in his accountancy firm, and he gets to take a course at the university one day a week, as well as a place to stay. But he gets off the train at the wrong stop, in the dark and fog, and finds himself at Corbenic, but there is nothing there. He decides to wait for a later train, but realizes that one may not be coming until morning and it’s cold and drizzling. So he makes his way up and overgrown path, brushing his way past brambles, until he hears voices and sees a light. It is two fishermen on a river, one of whom directs him to a hotel up the road, and tells him to say that he sent him. So Cal forces his way up the path, and finds a broken down sign for the inn/castle, and goes inside. Inside, there is light, warmth, and it’s beautiful to him. Someone greets him, and leads him upstairs to a wonderful bedchamber, and tells him there is no charge, since he is their guest. Cautious, but low on funds, he decides to stay. The bell rings for supper, and from out of the rooms around him come men and women dressed in fabulous evening clothes, on their way to a banquet. Once there, he is told that the Fisher King wants him to sit at the head table. Feeling decidedly out of place in his cheap new clothes, he goes to the table, where he finds “Bron,” the Fisher King, is one of the fishermen he met earlier in the boat. He eats course after course of delicious food, and as the banquet progresses, suddenly the others fade out, and from a door behind the table he is seated at, comes a procession: a boy carrying a spear that bleeds from the tip, then two more boys carrying candlesticks, and finally, as a cold wind blows through him, and pain comes agonizingly, just as his mother has described her visions, comes a blonde girl in a green gown, carrying a large jeweled, but dented old cup. A light shines from the Grail cup, and then the procession moves on into a doorway that wasn’t there before, and afterwards disappears. The Fisher King asks him to say what he saw, to ask him what it means, but Cal, afraid that he is becoming a victim to the same mental disease of his mother, and scared by what he has seen, says he saw nothing. The Fisher King bows from pain, and Cal, unsure of himself now, quickly leaves for bed, with the Fisher King saying it will be a long journey. When he awakens the next morning, the castle is not the same. It is an old ruin, and gone are the people, the beautiful wall hangings, etc. It is an open ruin, with leaves, and mold and vegetation creeping in. Stuck into the moldy pillow is a beautiful sword, with a note that tells him it will serve Cal as he has served the Fisher King. He stumbles out of the castle, and hacks his way through the clinging vines and finds himself not far from a village, where he finds his way to his uncle, and tries to forget about Corbenic. But he can’t forget, and he falls in with a group of motley re-enactors, who call themselves Arthur’s men, but speak as if they really are them. He decides, after trying to rid himself of the sword several times, to try and learn how to use it. But he is torn between the nice, upscale life he has wanted, and the desire to set things right. And the legend plays out. Once again, Ms. Fisher outdoes herself in the telling of a legend. She is masterful at imagery and at feelings, delineating characters with swift loving strokes of words, and by their actions, shows them to be who they truly are. No one is perfect – all have flaws that they must work to overcome. But Cal must follow his path, until he figures out what Corbenic means, and come to peace with his past.

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