As soon as I opened the packaging containing this book I was spellbound. It is gold, matt gold with a black bird on the cover. Glorious. If ever you want to judge a book by its cover, this is it.
This is a re-telling of the story of King Arthur from the point of view of Lancelot, a figure that the author is adamant is much overlooked, and tells his story from his childhood in Armorica to Camelot and beyond.
Lancelot is a child when we meet him, the night a rival king attacks the court of King Ban, Lancelot's father, and sends the family and those retainers who are not killed on the run to the court of the Beggar King, a place they would not choose to go but they are desperate. All Lancelot takes with him, short of the clothes he is wearing, is a sparhawk, young, untrained and angry. The court of the Beggar King is treacherous and Lancelot is helped to escape a massacre over dinner instigated by his uncle, by a large warrior and his mysterious lady. He is taken by boat to an island off the coast of Britannia, Kerrek Loos yn Koos, today's Mount St Michael. There he grows up surrounded by martial young lads, great warriors of legend and the Lady Nimue. Soon Lancelot learns that he has a gift from the gods for war and fighting.
This novel is very hard to put down. This is said of many novels, most in fact, that please their reader, but this really is a treat. The prose is rich and detailed, filled with colour and texture, but never heavy and ponderous. The set pieces of the novel, a foot race, battles, duels, skirmishes, are all described in flowing detail, vivacious, exciting, vibrant and truly accomplished. They are an absolute joy.
Lancelot himself is very human and real, written in the first person the reader comes to know him so very well. A hero who can do anything, who never loses, but who sees it not as something he is proud of as such, but necessary and useful. He knows he is the best but is never boastful, it is something as natural and mundane as the colour of his hair.
This novel is a labour of love, the author's note is poignant in that regard, and so to say anything negative about something that is a piece of the author's heart, seems, well, heartless, but I did feel that the friendship between Arthur and Lancelot is not well expressed. We are told they are friends rather than witness anything between then to confirm it. Even the gift giving seems strained and filled more with tension than love. And this makes the final betrayal a little hollow and sympathy for Arthur doesn't come. Lancelot therefore emerges through the narrative as a lonely person who has suffered loss at a young age and has never really replaced those he loved; war with the Saxons and Picts filling his life and being his natural state of being. He is not a home body and will never settle into a life of quiet. He wears his scale armour as naturally as he wears his skin.
A fantastic book, not without fault, but if only for the stunning cover, this volume will make a pleasing addition to any bookshelf.
© Nicky Galliers
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