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King & Raven
by Cary James
King & Raven is Yet Another Arthur Retelling, this one through the eyes of Micah, a peasant boy who becomes a knight in his drive to kill the four knights who raped and killed his sister. Despite the unlikelihood of the premise, the story has a certain grim substantiality that makes it believable and compelling.
His sister's death takes Micah from his father's tenant farm to the stables of Camelot, but her killers drive him from the castle and eventually from Britain. In France, some deft knifework and defter lying earn him a position as page to Sir Amaury, a knight of Anjou. When he returns to Britain for vengeance, Micah--now Sir Michel de Verdeur--is swept into the tragedies of the Arthur legend.
If you have the Suicide Hotline on speed-dial, this book is not for you. The tone is grim, the characters unlikable. The men are prone to thinking with their Packwoods, and the women are faithless; there doesn't seem to be an unhorned knight in Christendom. The conflict between love and honor is a central (and tiresome) theme.
But King & Raven somehow manages to be compelling and readable despite the unrelenting gloom. Arthur, Guenever, Lancelot, and the usual cast of characters have motives that are understandable, if regrettable. The description of medieval life is detailed and accurate enough to pass my inexpert scrutiny, but James resists the urge to show off his research by pulling the story to a screeching halt to describe every facet of medieval life in excruciating detail. Except for the occasional appearance of Merlin, there's very little magic.
King & Raven certainly isn't for everyone. Readers who prefer sorcerous fireworks and glowing romance will probably be disappointed, but I think Arthur enthusiasts and readers who prefer "realistic" fantasy will enjoy it.
-- Christina Schulman.
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