This is, I think a lesser work of Williams’. In a sense it is more like War in Heaven than his later works, in that though it involves the intrusion of the supramundane into the mundane world, it is much more about the machinations of various people in the way they respond to this than it is about the supramundane itself. So, whereas, say The Place of the Lion confronts us with the ultimate reality and forces a complete revaluation in its face, and Descent into Hell shows us the total disintegration that follows from giving way to selfishness, here, rather than being central, the supramundane thing is more of a mcguffin.
Now, that’s not to say that is a bad thing. The problem is, though, that while War in Heaven had a very clear plot, and benefited from the fact that we all know what the Holy Grail is, here the plot is more a series of sketches, showing human cupidity in response to the sudden promise offered by the Stone of Solomon,and in addition, the Stone itself is never very clearly defined. And so the climax, where one character achieves the end of desire that the Stone promises, is not as stunning as it could be, partially because of this lack of clarity, but also partially because for reasons that are not entirely clear, Williams chose to represent it from outside, so we have, and never have, any idea what it was that actually happened.
So, I see this novel as transitional for Williams, shifting from the theological thrillers of his earlier work to the deeper philosophical novels of his later work. We begin to feel the touch of the numinous, and there are some very successful scenes, for example, Sir Giles Tumulty’s final confrontation with the Stone, where he does pull off his later trick of making all of us experience, however much at a remove, something of transcendence, but too much space that could be taken up with philosophical exploration is filled with (albeit rather good) satire at the expense of politicians and trade unionists.
One final thing: Williams suggests a fascinating and, I think, unique theory of time travel in this book. It’s unlike any other I’ve read in that it removes entirely the possibility of paradox, but it has a rather startling consequence that I will not reveal for fear of spoiling the joy of discovering what is, in spite of all I’ve said, a very fine book. It may not be Williams at his best, but it is still far, far better than Lewis and other religiously-inspired writers could ever hope to achieve. Williams’ great achievement is to make the supramundane seem real and inevitable.