Friday, April 25, 2014

She Knows Not What the Curse May Be...

Expected Publication:  May 8th, 2014
Camelot Burning (Metal & Lace #1)
By: Kathryn Rose
ISBN-13:  9780738739670

By day, Vivienne is Guinevere's lady-in-waiting.  By nigh, she's Merlin's secret apprentice, indulging in the new mechanical arts and science of alchemy.  It's a preferred distraction from Camelot's gossipy nobility, roguish knights, and Lancelot's new athletic squire, Marcus, who will follow in all knight's footsteps by taking a rather inconvenient vow of chastity.

More than anything, Vivienne longs to escape Camelot for a future that wouldn't include needlework or marriage to a boorish lord or dandy.  But when King Arthur's sorceress sister, Morgan Le Fay, threatens Camelot, Vivienne must stay to help Merlin build a steam-powered weapon to defeat the dark magic machine Morgan will set upon the castle.  Because if Camelot falls, Morgan would be that much closer to finding the elusive Holy Grail.  Time is running out and Morgan draws near, and if Vivienne doesn't have Merlin's weapon ready soon, lives would pay the price, including that of Marcus, the only one fast enough to activate it on the battlefield.


     People who read this will most likely fall into two camps - true enjoyment or the deconstructions of an angry/annoyed, Arthurian purist.  I will admit that I have things I am a purist about and would absolutely abhor to see retold, or altered in any way whatsoever; for me, Arthurian legend is NOT one of these things!  I am usually not a fan of steampunk at all, which was my initial hesitance at reading this book.  I am glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone, because I truly enjoyed it.  I definitely needed to read an Arthurian retelling that departed from the original legends in more than just minor details.  I feel like most of the stuff I've experienced based on Arthur's legends has been a rehash, just told from different points of view, in a different time period, sympathetic to a still-evil Morgan, etc.  I was getting bored with it all.  This book is a game changer, to be sure.
     The book is told from the perspective of teenaged Vivienne, who is nobility of Arthur's court and the lady in waiting to soon-to-be Queen, Guinevere.  She knows it is her destiny to be a wife and mother, lady of the court and to stay in Camelot for all her days.  However, Vivienne is working to change her destiny by being Merlin's apprentice in alchemy and the mechanical arts.  The former magic-addict/sorcerer has been dedicating his life to bringing Camelot into the mechanical age, and reshaping his talents towards inventing useful things.  But things begin to get dark again when the King's sister, the evil sorceress Morgan Le Fay, returns to Camelot seeking to destroy everything Arthur has built for himself and his people.  Their twisted relationship will be Arthur's undoing, unless he can break free of her influence.  Also, what secrets are Lancelot, Guinevere, and Lancelot's squire, Marcus, hiding?  Will their price be higher than any of them imagined?  It's up to Vivienne and Merlin to save Camelot (and its royals) from ultimate destruction at the hands of an abomination, with a mechanical invention the likes of which has never been seen.  Can they manage before its too late?  And can Vivienne fight against her own forbidden love for Marcus?
      The difference in Merlin's backstory I think was the clincher for me.  It intrigued me to the point of needing to finish this book, to see what would happen!  And also, I loved that the author didn't shy away from the nastier, darker aspects of the usually dreamily portrayed Camelot mythos.  Lots of retellings find some way to skirt around the fact that Morgan is Arthur's half-sister - and they happen to have an illegitimate child together!  Mordred was the product of incest, yo'!  Squicky, but a truth of Camelot.  The portrayal of Viv didn't give her overmuch personality, but I did enjoy her as a character.  All she wanted was something more from life than domesticity - she wanted adventure and freedom!  Plus, she has no problem getting down and dirty, not to mention putting her brother and his asshole friends (fellow knights-in-training) in their place!  The whole conflict with magic being outlawed has been mentioned in Arthurian legend, but usually Guinevere is a devout Christian and a root cause of the phenomenon.  In this, she is from a kingdom called Lyonesse that was destroyed down to every last person (except for her) and doesn't seem to be quite as religious.  Lancelot and Guinevere's affair was played off as a curse on the part of Morgan, when Arthur foolishly let her inside the city.  I did like the slight vague, iffy nature of it though.  From their interactions pre-curse, you could tell they had a history.  How much of their adultery was magic and how much was real?
     The dark magic, mutated soldiers that Morgan used were described so realistically that it was downright horrific to think about!  Also, the only thing I have to say in regards to Mordred is "Poor Mordred!"  Those are two words I NEVER thought I would put together in my entire life.  But dear God, his mother sure does a number on him in this version.  That is all I will say for fear of spoilers, needless to say it isn't pretty.  The book leaves off with Merlin becoming something completely different than they ever imagined and going away to reclaim himself, Camelot basically being demolished, everyone dying that originally died (trying to avoid spoilers) Guin going to a convent, and Lancelot taking over what's left (i.e. not a whole helluva lot).  It's up to Vivienne to use what Merlin taught her as his apprentice to help the Knights on their continued quest for the Holy Grail, which is about the only thing that could ever restore Camelot.  Overall, this book has a great twist on a familiar mythology, some kick-ass action scenes and battles, a sweet romance, interesting steampunk elements that add to it without dominating everything, and a great direction for a sequel.  I'd highly recommend it, if you don't mind your Camelot doused in mechanical parts and grease.  It's definitely not for everyone!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received this book from Flux, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication is May 8th, 2014.*

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