“I know what a king is. But even so, it still doesn’t change who I am. I’m still me. And to me, everyone is equal.”
While he’s on an errand, Arthur hears that the Choosing Ceremony is to take place and he goes to see who the new king will be. All of his excitement drops to dread when he, in a try to save his cousin, by accident draws the holy sword Excalibur out of the anvil.
In shock and disbelief, he’s brought into the castle, his relatively safe life turning to a life of hard decisions, vicious nobles and assassination attempts left and right. Will Arthur crumble before his life as king truly begins, or get killed before it happens?
This is the first book in Cara Aisling’s King Arthur series, and it came out earlier this month. The series is a retelling of the Arthurian legends with LGBTQ and coming-of-age themes. The series is young adult, so expect little sexy time, even though the Arthurian legends are far from free of that theme. The retelling remains in medieval times but isn’t as filled with magic as one could expect from an Arthurian series. I pre-ordered the book and sure wasn’t disappointed. Despite being pretty busy, I finished it in three days. I seldom read a book that intensely.
Especially with a three-year-old, work and doctor’s appointments to juggle.
I had read a few excerpts and had a bit of an idea of what I was getting in terms of writing, and that’s where I have no complaints except for this one awkward sentence I needed to read a few times before I understood it. I’m definitely seeing the possibility of it simply being my English, as the sentence was grammatically correct, or it was difficult to read because of the phrasing.
Nonetheless, the writing was fantastic, and the author gets a spot in my fav authors list with this one book. Emotions are well-described and the pacing is very natural, with no too fast or too slow passages. It’s written in first person from Arthur’s point of view, but I feel we’re not too much in his head while getting an appropriate amount of understanding of his thoughts and feelings.
“You could have brought me anything. I would have eaten it. I just wasn’t expecting you to bring so much. That’s all. Are you hungry, Elias? Would you like to eat with me?”
The way his face lost all color so rapidly, it was like I had just threatened him and his family with hanging. I grimaced. Was that not the right thing to do?
Elias looked ready to faint, or cry. Maybe both. “Your majesty, I couldn’t possibly…”
“You can. It’s just the two of us, so what’s the harm?”
He blushed. He didn’t speak then; I had probably traumatized him into silence.
There’s this one thing though, and either it’s on purpose or it’s not: Arthur just out of nowhere has feelings for the love interest(?). Like literally out of nowhere. At least to me. I didn’t see it coming at all. (Nor did Arthur, clearly.) The reason I say it may be on purpose is that this is a series and there are things that hint that the true love interest is a completely different character (or I boarded the wrong ship and I’m grasping on anything to stay afloat). The reason I say it might not is that it’s a goddamn trope that I don’t like but is common, or the author missed building up emotions.
I’ll just continue to hope for a love potion or spell or something. I’m desperate for my ship to stay afloat, okay? I won’t accept any other ship. No. I have my OTP and you can’t change my mind.
But whether this is a flaw or a perfectly executed plan is hard to tell until the series ends. I’m assuming (and hoping from the very bottom of my heart) that this is a plan, not a plot hole.
Without spoiling, I can say that the assumed (current?) love interest is not one I would have picked or even assumed to be the love interest, solely because the original legends put him and Arthur in a very… Different… Relationship. No, not Lancelot. That’s such an obvious choice for a gay love interest.
Overall, I found the characterisations good. Some characters kind of didn’t make much of an impression. Like, I can’t for my life remember who was Galahad and who was Gawain. Since there wasn’t much space in the book, Whatever-Arthur’s-cousin’s-name-was
(brain, please, don’t malfunction right now… but I guess we’ll go with Whatever-Arthur’s-cousin’s-name-was) basically had no character. Then again, he barely had any appearances and then he just died, so… But that also makes it hard to understand his motivations. He’s so important, really, yet… who was he? Like why did he want to pull out that sword? What did he want to achieve by becoming king? Was it just to prove himself better than Arthur, or was it something more deeply rooted? Who knows? I’ll probably ponder on that one for a good while.
How could I win the knights’ hearts and loyalty when they simply served out of duty and nothing else? Would I ever know if they were true to me?
No, I will never know. I will simply remain the boy playing king.
What else is there to mention? The best part, of course! The story!
I’ve already mentioned the love interest, but the romance doesn’t get many highlights, actually. That’s just me joining in early on potential shipping wars. The story instead focuses on Arthur. He didn’t want to be king, yet he can’t undo that mistake of pulling out Excalibur. He understands the king’s duty weighs heavily on one’s shoulders, which is why he feels tremendous amounts of pressure. He’s also just fourteen, and if I thought taking care of chores at home and making sure we had cooked meals was rough at fourteen, imagine having an entire country on your shoulders.
On top of that, he’s being attacked, poisoned, cursed and whatnot, and he’s scared for his life. Of course, he is. Who wants to be assassinated? I don’t, thank you very much.
Fear and pressure, I would say, are the main themes in this book. In particular, overcoming the fears that cripple you, and taking on your responsibilities the best you can with the help of those willing to help you. This growth in Arthur essentially is what earns him the trust of the knights who thought him too weak, and, though slow, he shows he’s the one needed for this position.
I really enjoyed seeing him grow. Even if he was still scared, I could see that he was less scared as he grew. I could see he found more confidence in himself. And I truly enjoyed Merlin being there to bow mockingly to him and grin when he thought things were getting good. If Merlin grins, I know some shit’s gonna happen.
All in all, this is a book I recommend. I can say that right away. Even though some might look at my Goodreads page and say “But Anny, you gave it FOUR stars.” Yes, yes, I did. But it’s because of that one thing I mentioned above that is a bit… you know. If it goes one way, then it’s a four, if it turns out differently later on, then it’s a five. So I rated it a four.
I’m not really a fan of high fantasy or lots of extremely supernatural magic. A good example of this kind of lack of magic in use is How a Realist King Rebuilt the Kingdom in which the hero has a practical magical ability that is honestly kind of useless in any other situation. There is some Swish-Swish Whoosh-Whoosh Poof-Poof kind of magic, and Merlin is a mage, but he’s not the old man
(at least he looks nothing like an old man in his open chest clothes that tightly follows his body and shows off both muscles and chest — I can’t get over this, this is pure gold, I was sold immediately) that appears and reappears and takes on random appearances to manipulate people into doing stuff (either for the best or for the worst). Instead, it’s more down to earth and less “let’s use magic to solve everything”. It’s still there — especially with there being a magical sword hanging around Arthur most of the time — just not in your face. Most of the time.
On the other hand, while my knowledge of the Arthurian legends is limited, what I do know suggests that if you’re looking for something very similar to it, you’re better off looking elsewhere. But if you just want some Arthurian or medieval fantasy with a gay ship, this is your thing.
As a bit of an aside, I can (and want to) add that this book (and series) is published by Deep Hearts YA, which is an imprint of Deep Desires Press, both of which publishes LGBTQ+ fiction (though the latter is the older audience who are not Anny or other not-comfortable-with-sexual-content people). The reason I mention this is the very accidental LGBTQ+ theme of my reviews this year, but I also find it very suitable with all that’s going on in the world, you know? The theme, I mean.
They told me the imprint was created to publish works teens could see themselves in. What they look for are stories that you just can’t put down with realistic characters. But it’s also important that it has an authentic and positive LGBTQ+ representation because they wish to promote that being LGBTQ+ is normal and worthy of celebration, love is for everyone, and each individual has value.
And if all books are just half as good as this one, I’d say they’re doing really well. If they’re this good, then it’s amazing. I will definitely not-so-secretly look among their other titles and see if anything catches my attention while I patiently wait for book 2.
Finally, on a scale from 1 to 10 on NSFA? Honestly, it’s like 0.5 or 1. There’s nothing to worry about. Unless you forget what you’re reading and almost choke on your own spit because you were not prepared.
At least I didn’t choke on air. That’s just embarrassing.
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