Sunday, November 21, 2004

Book Review: A Prince in Camelot by Courtway Jones

by Courtway Jones

This book is told from the point-of-view of a Cornishman named Dylan the Orphan who, we find out quickly in the book, is actually Mordred, bastard son of King Arthur and his half-sister Morgause.

There are several positive elements in this book: neither Mordred nor Morgause are inherently evil; they are practical and pragmatic people, but wish the King no particular harm. Mordred is desperate for Arthur to acknowledge him as his son; but even though he realizes this can never happen, he is still hurt by Arthur's neglect. Gareth is also an interesting character in this story, the giant with a heart of gold. Most of the book revolves around Mordred, Gareth and the Pig Girl, aka Lady Mal, a damsel Mordred rescues and who becomes his steadfast friend.

While Mordred is not a bad guy in this tome, Lancelot surely is. Sir Lancelot, while still the greatest knight in the land and best friend of the King, is a whiny, self-important jerk...and a closeted homosexual jerk at that. Guinevere seems oblivious to the fact that Lancelot isn't batting for her team. Her petty jealousy for Mordred and anger at her unrequited love for Lancelot lead her to be a general bitch for most of the novel. The true nemesis in this book, however, is the scheming Sir Kay, who hates Mordred and seeks his downfall.

The daily lives of young men and nobility of Camelot are well portrayed here, and you get a real feeling of what it must have been like to live in Jones' vision of Camelot. The clash between Celtic and Christian traditions is well researched, and I particularly enjoyed the strong female roles in the personages of Lady Mal, Nithe, Morgause and Samana, Arthur's true love and Mordred's foster-mother.

On the down side, Mordred is nearly devoid of emotion, sounding more like a Vulcan from Star Trek than a medieval knight in many scenes. What he does choose to have strong feelings about (Gareth, Samana, Lady Mal, his true love Viki, his hurt feelings towards his father) almost seem hollow, as he is so ready to discard those feelings whenever they become inconvienant.

A great deal of the novel is concerned with Mordred's obsession for a game called "hurley," which is played with several boys, all naked, and sounds like a cross between modern curling and rugby. So much of the book is filled with this game, and I was quite bored with it. Some Arthurian novels give you long, drawn-out battle scenes: this one is like Medieval ESPN, with blow-by-blow reports of game after boring game.

The end of the book is well-written, and you're left wondering what really happens from here. I won't ruin it by going into detail, but it is one of the best Arthurian endings I've read in some time.

All in all, this is a good, but not great, book. But in my opinion, if you want to read an Arthurian tale from Mordred's perspective, skip this one and choose Mary Stewart's "The Wicked Day" instead.



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