All the names are here, the storylines that everyone knows, but it’s all been slightly shifted, given a modern grittiness even as everything charges f...more All the names are here, the storylines that everyone knows, but it’s all been slightly shifted, given a modern grittiness even as everything charges forward to the inevitable conclusion. (less)
M'eh. Skimmed. It was trying to be too many things at once - historical fiction, fantasy, King Arthur story, Dark Ages story, mystery, secret princess...more M'eh. Skimmed. It was trying to be too many things at once - historical fiction, fantasy, King Arthur story, Dark Ages story, mystery, secret princess, blah, blah, blah. It never draws you in - too much stiffness from the characters and not enough setting, like an 8th grade production of Our Town. (less)
Most mystery series will have a serial killer pop up at some point or another. This one is particular gruesome – and particularly obvious. If I could...more Most mystery series will have a serial killer pop up at some point or another. This one is particular gruesome – and particularly obvious. If I could figure it out, well, then it MUST have been obvious. (less)
For a long time in King Arthur retellings – roughly from the 14th century to the 1960’s – Christianity was the de facto religion of the story, there w...more
For a long time in King Arthur retellings – roughly from the 14th century to the 1960’s – Christianity was the de facto religion of the story, there wasn’t even a suggestion of other possibilities. Even characters like Merlin and Morgan Le Fey used their magic within a Christian context. But, as counter culture was embraced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, so did the Other come to the forefront in Arthurian legend, starting with the Mists of Avalon as the ladies grooved to the Goddess, and a whole new subgenre was off, featuring awesome pagans and evil, dirty Christians, howling, foaming at the mouth mad dogs that needed to be put down.
Only very recently ha the pendulum swung towards a more grey approach – stories featuring good Christians, bad pagans, as well as bad Christians and good pagans. Hays makes a good point that at least the Christian religion doesn’t require slitting someone’s throat on a marble alter to ensure a good harvest. Also, he shows a true 5th century Catholic Church – one without a LOT of the bad stuff that got added on over the centuries. People forget that there was a reason Christianity first spread – they were actually doing/saying/offering some good stuff.
Still, for all that, Hays chooses to have his narrator be fairly firm in his Spock-like I believe-in-the-scientific-method approach to ALL religions, so he can describe everything without much bias, summing up a lot of the squabbling over which direction Christians want to take the Church with a modern liberal American attitude of seriously guys? You’re fighting over this? (less)
In King Arthur retellings, there are two main versions that almost all of the stories fall into: a high medieval never-never land of an England-that-n...more In King Arthur retellings, there are two main versions that almost all of the stories fall into: a high medieval never-never land of an England-that-never-was-and-always-will-be of dragons, wizards, damsels in distress (in 15th century costumes) and knights in shining plate armor, or a gritty post-Roman England with barbarians at the gates, lots of blood, mud, and enough realism to satisfy the most nit picky of historical purists.
Tony Hayes Arthurian Mysteries series falls squarely in the second camp. He’s done a lot of research on what England was like in between the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages and he loves to show it. He tells a good story – interesting mystery, a deadly deadline, lots on the line, an engaging main character, and a slew of fairly well developed secondary characters, but [i]wow[/i] does Hayes love to explain all sorts of Latin and Saxon and Welsh [i]stuff[/i] to the reader – titles, weapons, clothes, vocabulary, drinks, architecture, etc – sometimes it felt less like a mystery story and more like a heavily guided tour of one of those historical reenactment museum villages. (less)
Twice, TWICE, in this book, a sort-of-innocent character is mere SECONDS away from being beheaded and then a rider gallops in with Very Important Info...more Twice, TWICE, in this book, a sort-of-innocent character is mere SECONDS away from being beheaded and then a rider gallops in with Very Important Information at the LAST MOMENT that frees one character and condemns another. Tony Hays - this is getting old hat.(less)
Warning, this story gets dark very fast. The body count piles up quickly; lots of people die in a variety of nasty ways while a lot of other people ge...more Warning, this story gets dark very fast. The body count piles up quickly; lots of people die in a variety of nasty ways while a lot of other people get away with it.
Vivian Vande Velde has taken the King Arthur mythos and crafted a story that is entirely originally, new adventures, new characters, new twists and turns to the legend, yet brings it around to incorporate all the elements of the foamier tale. Once again, this is a king Arthur story, so there is no other possible ending besides tragedy, but she brings high tension to the inevitable, making eh stakes higher and higher, and then, once the final battle, finally, finally breaks, she drags it out like one long piercing note on a violin, high and disconcerting, leaving the reader breathless as just when you think things can’t get worse – they do.
Despite the title, Mordred is not quite the main character – his story is revealed by his actions around others. So, from this outside POV, we watch as a young, idealistic knight becomes a bitter tyrant. It’s a heartbreaking fall to see, and yet everything he does feels so inventible –surrounded by betrayal and treachery and stupidity and violence and injustice Mordred’s actions are understandable, to the point where he becomes not the antagonist or even anti-hero but simply a protagonist whose choices, meant to do good, or at least try and undo bad things others did, just make things worse as we watch a while country goes mad and turns on itself. (less)
**spoiler alert** So, Mordred is born and Merlin declares, ‘he’s evil and he’s going to kill the king.’
Mordred spends the next 200 pages saying: ‘I’m...more**spoiler alert** So, Mordred is born and Merlin declares, ‘he’s evil and he’s going to kill the king.’
Mordred spends the next 200 pages saying: ‘I’m not evil and I’m not going to kill the king.’
He says this over and over to himself, the reader, other characters, all while drifting though life at Camelot as pretty much The Only Sane Man ™ and shaking his head, all, damn, what is up with all the fights to the death with each other and the raping unarmed women?
Then Merlin shows up again and says, ‘no, seriously, you’re evil and you’re going to kill the king,’ with a pretty graphic vision to back it up.
So Mordred shrugs and says, ‘well, guess I’m evil and going to kill the king.’
So he does.
I would have loved a Camelot story from Mordred’s point of view – something that gives his actions justification, something that showed why he made the choices he does, and how he gets to the final battlefield – but this, no, did not do that. (less)
**spoiler alert** This is very different from Mercedes Lackey usual style. Sure, there are the usual grand feasts with each dish described in succulen...more**spoiler alert** This is very different from Mercedes Lackey usual style. Sure, there are the usual grand feasts with each dish described in succulent detail (drool) and there is one major costume scene with the main character being trussed up in clothes designed to create a female shape not found in nature, but other than that, this book is quite, quite different from her usual frothy Edwardian magical romances.
I honestly had to double check the back flap jacket at one point early on in the book to see if this was really a Mercedes Lackey book and I hadn’t accidently picked up something by another author in the L section.
Lackey tackles the Arthurian mythology with the determination to do something different – and she does. The first major change she brings to the table is giving King Arthur three wives, one after another, all named Guinevere. Apparently, in 6th century Britain, Guinevere was as common a name as Jennifer is today.
Lackey – as she explains in the author’s note – stumbled across an old, old, King Arthur ballad that refers to him having three wives named Guinevere, plus one “false Guinevere,” which, she says, was a total light bulb moment for her to explain why most of the early stories have Guinevere doing so much, and having so much of it being contradictory – she has twins / she’s barren, she has lovers / she’s raped, she runs away / she’s kidnapped, she fights in battle / she’s a dainty flower who can’t pick up a knife, etc, etc.
So, we are plunged into England, a few generations after the Roman Empire has complete collapsed, and the Christian religion is spreading – but it doesn’t yet have a straggle hold on Europe – and get this – the Christians? Not the bad guys. The monk characters are all truly committed to Christ’s message of peace and love thy neighbor and charity and chill out man and all that other genuinely nice and good stuff that got forgotten somewhere along the way.
A bishop is introduced and, by the way he’s glowering, you think he’s going to be standard Evil Medieval Christian ™ BUT, turns out, he was just having a bad day, and, he actually apologizes for glaring at the main character, shows an open and working mind, does some really good diplomatic work, and later on turns out to be truly awesome in his actions.
Meanwhile, we’ve got most of the characters worshipping the Celtic gods, with some tapping into actual magic. We see people who genuinely believe that people’s actions are tied firmly to the weather and seasons and that almost any action is justified if it will benefit The Land.
Morgan le Fey’s charter is told mostly from outsiders’ perspectives, and her choice of using magic selfishly is an interesting flipside to the characters who see magic as a genuine good method of agricultural care. Merlin is a minor character, which was too bad, because I would have like to have seen more of what he was up to. Most of those using magic are seen infrequently, since the main character has decided she wants to be a Warrior rather than any sort of magician/druid/priestess/etc.
And so Lackey dives into what 6th century warfare was like, and spares us no details when it comes to the sights, sounds, and smells of battlefield. It was, again, so not her usual style, and very well done.
Also, a lot of the Usual Suspects of the King Arthur stories are either seen from a distance, or only talked about around the fire as people discuss the latest news from the capital. This version of the King Arthur mythos becomes a view of the story from the lower decks – and it’s awesome. Mostly because a LOT of those characters, in all the stories, are pretty full of themselves, and it’s nice to see other people not taking them of so very seriously for a change.
Being a King Arthur story, the reader goes in knowing its all going to end in tears, which it does, but wow does Lackey ratchet up the tension levels with several characters acting as living ticking time bombs, and there is a gory pleasure in watching, fascinated, unable to look away, waiting to see just how bad the damage is going to be when the timer gets to zero.
This is a good book - except for the fact it is just so very British.
And by British I mean White-man's-burden, port swilling, condescending, smug, nob...more
This is a good book - except for the fact it is just so very British.
And by British I mean White-man's-burden, port swilling, condescending, smug, noblesse oblige, tweed wearing, inbred, go-back-to-the-kitchen-and-make-me-some-tea, Cambridge don, Edwardian British
TH White, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling – yeah these guys could all tell a good story, but its kinda hard to enjoy them with all the ancient patriarchal, sexist, classist, racist dust swilling around in them. (less)
Most people think they know this story - but they don't - they just know the fish-out-of-water story that is just the surface of this book; this is r...more Most people think they know this story - but they don't - they just know the fish-out-of-water story that is just the surface of this book; this is really a story of about the biggest problems Mark Twain observed in his time period, including slavery, abuses of political power, unchecked factory growth, child labor, and frightening new war technology. The final battle scene eerily predicts World War One. While the book has many funny moments, it's really a somber, reflective, sad story. (less)