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5.0 5
by Catherine Fisher

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It starts when Cal gets off the train at the wrong stop in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. He's stranded.

Following a muddy path leads him to a castle that appears to be deserted. But inside is Corbenic, a magnificent hotel filled with rich people preparing for a banquet—and Cal is their guest of honor. During the meal, he experiences


It starts when Cal gets off the train at the wrong stop in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. He's stranded.

Following a muddy path leads him to a castle that appears to be deserted. But inside is Corbenic, a magnificent hotel filled with rich people preparing for a banquet—and Cal is their guest of honor. During the meal, he experiences a disturbing vision, but when he is asked to talk about what he has seen, he denies it. What if he's becoming crazy, like his mother?

When Cal wakes the next morning, the elegant castle turns out to be nothing more than an abandoned ruin. But something inside him has changed—he now knows he needs to right the wrongs in his life. It will be a difficult journey, and if Cal achieves his goal, it will not be without cost. The first step—he must return to Corbenic.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fisher reimagines the enigmatic castle of Grail legend as a roadside inn in this elegiac, mature modern fantasy. Young Cal is leaving his home and his alcoholic mother to stay with his uncle, but gets off the train at the wrong station. Walking through what some local fishermen call the Waste Land in search of a phone, he comes upon Castle Hotel Corbenic, its ominous "vacancies" sign swinging in the wind. Alain Bron, the wheelchair-bound patron of the castle/hotel, befriends Cal, mumbling that Cal is "the one." Bron shows Cal the Holy Grail; only later, when he is back home with his uncle, does he learn the legend, which says if he were to ask Bron about what he saw, the king's wounds would be healed and the kingdom restored. But getting back to Corbenic proves difficult for, as he learns from a ratty man who turns out to be Merlin, "it is not a place... it is a state of mind." Fisher transposes genres to great effect; the opening chapters feel as much like the start of a horror movie as a fantasy tale, with a well-executed sense of dread and mystery. And in a masterful turn, Cal's relationship with his mother is fused with the Grail story into a completely surprising twist ending, one which casts a new, human light on all of the fantasy elements that came before it. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Patricia Morrow
Cal has finally developed the courage to leave his alcoholic mother, for whom he has cared all his life, and move to another city where his uncle will give him a job and a comfortable place to live. Cal has dreamed of a life without constant struggle, illness, and poverty. His train trip through the British countryside is waylaid by a dream and strange adventure in a castle where he refuses to help a strange man. This event begins the story's coming-of-age adventure, fashioned after the legend of Perceval, the Holy Grail, and the Fisher King. Cal starts working for his uncle and relishes the comfortable life in his uncle's house. Through a misadventure, he meets some modern-day Arthurian re-creators and devotees who gradually become his friends and who believe that he has some greater purpose. As Cal fights his personal demons, he is constantly drawn to his new friends and the legend. Readers unfamiliar with this literary tradition might find themselves lost in the imagery, but the central characters are intriguing and the adults are not negative factors. Cal's battles with his desires, his relationship with his mother, his continuing quest, and his confusion about the future are the stuff of teenage life. Readers who like fantasy mixed with the contemporary are likely to find this novel an interesting read, although the ending is rather murky. See how many readers find out what the title means.
First published several years ago in the UK, this dark journey by a troubled teenager, Cal, is in a genre that can be interpreted as fantasy, or as psychological mystery. We aren't sure what is myth and what is hallucination, perhaps even schizophrenia. Cal's disturbed, alcoholic mother sees strange visions and hears voices, so when Cal himself first enters the Waste Land of Corbenic, with a Fisher King, the Holy Grail, and other accruements of mythology, he is horrified, thinking he too is becoming ill like his mother. He is trying to escape his mother and his responsibilities to her, starting a new life with his uncle in a nice suburb, with a promising job and a chance to go to college. It is totally understandable that he is exhausted by caring for his mother, who has been his responsibility since he was a young child. Yes, he feels tremendous guilt that he is relieved to be away from her, to start a life of his own; yet the guilt he feels is crippling. Parallel to his escape is that of the girl he calls Shadow. She has run away from a wealthy home, with parents who support her financially but are distant in every other way that matters. Cal and Shadow join a group of re-enactors of King Arthur's court: we meet Arthur, Gwen, Kai, and a dirty bum named Merlin. Who are these people? Are they immortals, or just New Age types pretending to be immortals? At Christmas time, after he has promised his mother he would return home for a visit, Cal reneges on his promise. She falls apart completely and kills herself. The overwhelming guilt from this tragedy drives Cal on a quest for his own sanity, a journey that takes months of his living on the edge of survival, which ends in the holy city ofGlastonbury. Finally redemption occurs, sanity returns, and we aren't yet sure what is fantasy and what is healing from trauma. The delicious success of this story is the ambiguity of it, looking at it rationally or with the suspension of disbelief. Fisher, author of Snow-Walker, Darkhenge, and the Oracle Prophecies trilogy, is an accomplished creator of such challenging mysteries. KLIATT Codes: JS*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, HarperCollins, Greenwillow, 281p., $16.99.. Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Seventeen-year-old Cal abandons his alcoholic, schizophrenic mother and shabby English town. On the train to his uncle's house in a posh suburb, he gets off at Corbenic, which he later learns is nonexistent. He makes his way to the court of the crippled Fisher King, who knows Cal is really Percival, the last hope to restore the king's wasteland to its former glory. When the teenager fails to identify a vision of the Holy Grail, he is banished back to modern England. Then, as the legend goes, he searches for Corbenic, but can only return when he comes to terms with the mother he's rejected. Along the way he meets Shadow and Hawk, Arthurian reenactors who may or may not be the real thing. The blurring of fantasy and reality is sometimes confusing but helps to sustain the mood of wonder and mystery. Both the real and surreal settings are lushly rendered, and Fisher's physical descriptions are especially evocative. The dialogue is sharp, but while Cal's conversations with Shadow and Hawk are natural and engaging, his inner monologue is repetitive and boring. Cal is drawn with a heavy hand as a materialistic, pretentious whiner, and while this portrait keeps to the myth, he's impossible for readers to care about. Minor characters are portrayed with subtle wit and sweetness and are unfortunately more compelling than the narrator or his quest. Though the plot moves steadily, those unfamiliar with the myth may find the journey tedious.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sullen teen is unwillingly cast as the hero in a modern replay of the Grail Quest. Cal has struggled all his life with his alcoholic, schizophrenic mother, so he leaps at the opportunity to escape offered by his fastidious uncle. But on the way to join him, he accidentally gets off the train in Corbenic, where he encounters a man who calls himself the Fisher King and whose magnificent castle becomes suddenly derelict when Cal refuses to acknowledge the Grail. Fisher ably splices the Arthurian legend into Cal's very modern quest for self-determination, introducing a band of historical re-enactors who claim to be immortal and with whom Cal becomes increasingly involved, as he discovers the sterility that underlies the life he used to covet. It is only when Cal yields to the inevitability of his quest that he is able to free himself from the shadows cast by his mother, his acceptance of responsibility for the healing of the land an expiation of his guilt at having deserted her. The teen's progress is rarely seen in mythic terms, but here it works just right. (Fiction. 12+)

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By Catherine Fisher

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Catherine Fisher
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060724706

Chapter One

His mother kept him there and held him back . . .
Conte du Graal

Very far away, the voice said, "Who drinks from the Grail?"

Jerked out of a doze, Cal opened his eyes. Then he tugged the earphones off and rubbed his face wearily. The woman who had been sitting next to him must have gotten off at the last station; now her seat was empty. A man in uniform was wheeling a trolley down the aisle of the train; it was crammed with crisps and sandwiches and piles of upturned plastic cups around the shiny urn. The man caught Cal's eye. "Drinks? Tea? Coffee?"

It would be embarrassing to say no, so he muttered, "Tea," knowing it would be the cheapest thing. Then he dragged some coins out of his pocket and sorted through them, trying to look careless, as if money didn't matter.

The train was a lot emptier now. It rattled viciously over some points; the trolley man swayed, balancing expertly in the aisle as he filled a plastic cup under the tap, the trolley rocking so that a small packet of biscuits slid off onto the empty seat. Chocolate digestives. Cal scowled. He was so hungry he almost felt sick. "Those too."

Outside, wet fields flashed by, and some houses in a scatter of dead leaves. The man leaned over andflipped down the small table at the back of the seat, clipped the lid on the tea and put it down. A tiny bag of sugar. Milk. A plastic stirrer. The train clattered; Cal grabbed the hot cup in alarm.

"One pound thirty, sir, thank you."

Sir. For a moment he thought the joker was making fun of him and glared up, but the man's face was closed and polite, and once he had the money he trundled away up the carriage resuming his smooth, "Tea? Drinks?"

Cal leaned back and looked at the plastic cup with distaste. He hated tea. Coffee was more upmarket. He unclipped the lid and stirred the tea bag gloomily. When he'd made some money he'd really spend; travel first class where they had white china and linen, everything of the best. They'd call him sir and mean it then. He peeled the metal top from the milk and it sprayed everywhere. He swore aloud. The woman opposite glared at him. He glared back, scrubbing his jacket. This had cost. It wasn't designer but it looked it. Or he hoped it did. The momentary fear that it looked cheap slid under his guard, but he squashed it hastily. Pulling the earphones back on, he let the music blast out the train noise, dipping a biscuit in the tea and watching the landscape through his own reflection.

He'd been on this train all day. It had left Bangor at nine that morning, late, so that his mother had lingered on the platform, tearful, her hasty makeup a mess, telling him to phone, going on and on about how much she'd miss him, couldn't manage without him, about coming back for weekends, about keeping his room the same. His room! He thought of the little box with its grubby paper and the neighbor's baby wailing through the walls. He was well shot of that.

Uncomfortable, he shifted. Why had she had to come? Anyone might have seen her, and as usual she'd been barely sober from the night before. He'd gone to find a seat long before the train started; still she had tapped on the glass and waved and cried at the window. Remembering her crumpled misery and runny mascara, his hand clenched on the empty cup; he felt the plastic crackle and then crushed it slowly. His face was hot. But the weak tea had made him feel better, and the biscuits. He hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, and he'd gotten that himself, as he always did.

The train slid into a station, brakes screeching. Cal rubbed a circle of damp off the glass and looked out. Craven Arms, the sign read. Another place he'd never heard of. Mountains, a few people running under umbrellas, the bare platform plastered with clotting autumn leaves. Like all the rest of the stations that day.

As they pulled out, the carriage lights went on. All at once, outside it seemed dark, the early dusk of November. Hills closed in as the train ran below them; odd craggy ridges, tree-covered. Most people had gotten off; no one had gotten on. Once, a mobile phone burbled stupid music; far down at the end the refreshments bloke was reading a paper with his feet on the opposite seat.

Cal leaned back, yawning. He was so tired of sitting still, so stiff. The music was tinny, the batteries fading; he flicked it off with a groan and immediately the rhythmic clatter of the train came back, rocking him, comforting. He had at least another hour till Chepstow. Through the steamy windows he could only see himself, looking crumpled, and then very faintly a line of high forestry dark against the twilight. In a farmhouse the windows were lit, looking warm and snug. A girl walking a dog waved to the speeding train. He wrapped his coat around him, and closed his eyes. As the train roared into the blackness of the tunnel, he put his feet up on the seat, leaning awkwardly with his head against the window. It would be all right now. He'd planned this for years; he'd made the break. Life would be different. His uncle would meet him in some big, flashy car. He wouldn't have to see her anymore. He wouldn't have to hide the knives and the bottles ever again.

He woke abruptly. A voice was crackling over the PA. Somewhere in his head the echo of what it had said was just out of reach, but it had been Chepstow, he was suddenly, coldly sure. The train was already stopping; outside, a lamp loomed close to the window.


Excerpted from Corbenic by Catherine Fisher Copyright © 2006 by Catherine Fisher. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Catherine Fisher's acclaimed works include Darkhenge, Snow-walker, and The Oracle Betrayed, which was a finalist for the Whitbread Children's Book Award. She lives in Newport, Wales.

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Corbenic 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though Catherine Fisher's writing is sometimes abrupt, it's concise and gets the point and the feelings of the character across loud and crystal clear unlike many other books. Within the first few pages, it was obvious that the protagonist Cal had a strong, recognizable personality that I instantly liked. My heart really went out to him since he had to fend for himself for many a year because his mother was usually drunk and overlooked his existence, until he decided to go live with his uncle. When Cal stumbled upon the Castle Corbenic and witnessed the supernatural I was just as awestruck and mystified as he was. This entire novel emanates with a wonderful, mysterious aura that I just drank up as I read it. Even as I became more and more convinced of his madness, I kept silently rooting for Cal in my head and I sincerely wished that he would find the Grail.
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