From the blurb:
It is the sixth century. The classical world is dying, rapidly being replaced by the world of the Christians.
Prince Mordred is the son of Morgan le Fay, the witch-queen devotee of the Great Goddess, who rules Wales. Morgan and her fellow cultists have for years nurtured a plan to regain control of England, the Christian country ruled by Morgan’s brother, King Arthur, and to destroy everything Arthur has built. And Mordred is key to their scheme. But he has plans of his own.
On a hunting trip to the border of Wales, Arthur and his party lose their way and end up in Morgan’s realm. Visiting her castle, Arthur is glimpsed by young Mordred, who falls instantly, hopelessly in love with him. In no time Mordred begins to plan to escape from his mother and join Arthur in England.
But before he can act, his mother carries him off on an odyssey that crosses the breadth of Europe. Everywhere they witness signs of their dying civilization. Finally they arrive at ancient Colchis, center of the Goddess’ cult, where Mordred encounters a mystical age-old evil that changes him forever.
As someone who loves Arthurian legend, requesting this book from Netgalley was a no-brainer. After reading, I had to mull over this review for a while, because I wasn't quite sure how to rate this or how to put my thoughts into words.
The author did his research, that much was clear. The Arthurian legends are alive and well in this book, as far as the important characters are concerned. Arthur, Morgan le Fay, how Mordred came to be, the widening gulf between the old faith and the Christians, the landscapes - all of it was the way I remembered it from my previous reads of books based on Arthurian legends.
And this author included additional information, such as the travels Morgan undertakes while dragging Mordred with her, and the education he receives at the hands of Geoffrey, his tutor.
I'd have to do more research of my own to verify if India was known to the people in England and the countries surrounding the Mediterranean during the ending of the 6th century A.D., because that seemed a little far-fetched (wasn't it Marco Polo who first traveled that far East?), and if the travels undertaken by Morgan would have been possible for a female, even if the boat hugged the coast lines. There is no mention being made of other wars going on during this time, and they don't seem to encounter any other warring armies. Again, possibly a little historically inaccurate, as Rome had already fallen at that point, and the Vandals, Goths and Franks (and others) were warring with each other, if my history lessons don't fail me.
I liked the inclusion of the legend of the Hydra, and the effects of the bites. The author also did a great job delving into the suspicious mindsets of the bishop and his underlings, and the gradual but unstoppable spread of Christianity which wipes out most, if not all, of the old religions and casts Arthur as a tragic hero caught between what he promised to do to gain the throne and what he must do to keep it.
Mordred, from whose POV the entire book is told, comes across as a whiny, naive and foolish boy, who hates his mother and wants nothing more than to escape her clutches. There is very little growth for him in this book, and very little initiative to change his situation. It's almost as if he allows these things to happen to him, instead of growing into manhood and taking charge of his own destiny. He sounds like pathetic a lot of the time, not like a man who during that age would have been trained to fight and expected to perform and act like a man. This is possibly due to his upbringing at Morgan's court, and could thus be excused. Still, I felt nothing for him, nothing at all, because he let everything happen to him. He just took it. There are instances of defiance, but they are short and fleeting, and it's only because of Geoffrey that Mordred eventually escapes his mother's clutches, if only for a time.
If you are familiar with Arthurian legend, a lot of the happenings in this book will come as no surprise, though I was pleased to see that the author has chosen to interpret them slightly different on most occasions.
The sexual encounters are somewhat glossed over, and there is no explicit language used for any of the encounters.
It was an interesting read, definitely, albeit one that seemed to drag on occasion. The inclusion of the old religion's mysteries was nice, and I appreciated that the author chose to cast Mordred in a very different role than the one he's usually given. Even though the sexual relationship between an uncle and his nephew is perhaps a little squicky for some readers, especially considering what we find out later (again, no surprise to me), it allowed the story to unfold in a different way, even if it met the same tragic ending.
The writing style suited the story extremely well. It was sweepingly descriptive, and on many occasions I felt as if I was right there in the thick of things.
This is the author's debut novel. I look forward to more from him.
I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return.
Available now from Riverdale Avenue Books
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