Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Book Review: The Excalibur Murders, by J.M.C. Blair

I'm going to start off this book review by totally giving away my feelings on it. I *usually* like, no - love, anything giving a different viewpoint on King Arthur's court. As such, it takes a lot for me to really NOT like one of these viewpoints. J.M.C. Blair's The Excalibur Murders somehow managed to take a fantastic view of Camelot and turn it into a boring, banal, plodding, obvious murder mystery. Which is really sad considering that it's supposedly the "First in a brand new series!" Thanks, but no thanks. The main character of this book, and presumably any follow-ups, is the obligatory Merlin. Blair's vision of Merlin as not a magician, but as a medieval Sherlock Holmes (except not quite that cool) is probably the best shtick that the book has going for it. He's snarky, snobbish, and fed up with the peasants (almost everyone, including King Arthur, manages to fit into this category), but relatively comfortable in his position as advisor to the King. You get the idea that *some* day he might be able to install indoor plumbing or something that will improve the lives of the residents of Camelot, but for now he's perfectly happy to sit around reading books. Merlin gets to play lead detectives after a couple of murders occur and a possibly important relic is stolen. Of course, Merlin doesn't really seem to mind about the relic, nor particularly care about the murders; it is difficult for a reader to want to solve a mystery when even the main character only seems interested as an intellectual exercise! Oh well, Arthur cares (of course, his reason for caring makes him seem like a schmuck), and so Merlin, with the aid of his cross-dressing apprentice Nimue/Colin, and the female knight (how modern!) Britomart, sets out to solve the crimes and save Arthur's kingdom from forces unknown. Unfortunately, the book is weakly spiced with the woebegone King Arthur, the evil dominatrix Guinevere and her numbskulled sidekick Lancelot, the ever conniving queen of illusions, Morgan, and her pimple faced mamma's boy of a son, Mordred, the crazy former king Pellinore (who actually managed to be reasonably interesting).. and some other characters that were almost entirely forgettable. They just can't save a perfectly good story from a perfectly dreadful execution. The Excalibur Murders fails in every way that a novel could: flat characters (who all sound exactly alike after the first 50 pages), poor pacing (stretched out here, too fast there), predictable plot points (Guinevere AND Morgan want to rule the kingdom? Shocking), lame reveals (a talking corpse has SO been done before - better), and a nice, neat ending (so cliche). I can't recommend against reading it enough. If you like Arthurian stories, go read A Squire's Tale, by Gerald Morris, instead. It's written for 8 year olds and STILL manages to be more intellectually stimulating then The Excalibur Murders.


SQT said...

Wow. This must be a stinker. I haven't read a good review of this one yet. I don't know if there is a 'worst of' list for books but I bet this would be on it if there was.

LoopdiLou said...

I don't think it had a single redeeming quality, so yes.. I nominate it for 'worst of'!

ediFanoB said...

After reading your review I looked for other reviews.

It seems this is a book which you either love or hate.

In the end I mostly follow the opinion of the blogs which I read on a regularly base and where I know the blogger share my taste.

In this case it doesn't matter because I'm not really interested in the Arturian legend.

But I appreciate when people explain why they like or dislike a book.

So I think your review is helpful forpeople who are more interested in the Arturian Legend.

carolsnotebook said...

I tend to love Arthurian stories, but it sounds like I should definitely pass on this one. Thanks.

SQT said...


You do know that Harriet Klausner never writes a bad review of anything, right? She's kind of a joke in the reviewing world. She's been the #1 Amazon reviewer for years because she just copies the descriptions from the back cover and gives everything 4-5 stars. Everything. She once put up over 90 reviews in one day on Amazon.

Trust me. If you were inclined to try this book out. You would be better off to trust John or Loopdilou. Klausner is a fraud.

SQT said...

To follow up some more on the Klausner thing, it's kind of a "thing" with me, Sci-Fi Signal put up a post about her recently (they've been following the Klausner thing for awhile) that said that Amazon reconfigured their reviewer ranks in a way that took Klausner out of the #1 position. SciFi Signal speculated that Amazon took all the complaints about Klauner into effect and all the negative ratings her reviews got. Or something like that.

I got into a debate with an editor once over the whole Klasner thing. (Coincidentally that editor now sends me books for review) And the editor wasn't really bothered by Klausner's reviews because they always upped the rating for the books on Amazon's ratings scale.

Avery DeBow said...

Ouch. Remind me to never, ever have you review one on my books. ;)

Seriously, I can imagine the disappointment; I'm a sucker for all things Camelot.

LoopdiLou said...

Hey, Avery, if it's good I'm really very nice. This one was just incredibly dissappointing. Part of it could be because I read Ellis Peters's Cadfael books and Gerald Morris's Squire's Tale right around the same time, and those books do similar things in a vastly superior manner. The biggest problem, which I should have emphasized but I'm still learning this whole review thing, was that every single character had exactly the same speech mannerisms. This meant that no matter how much other characterization that occured, after the first two sentences you totally forgot who was talking. The Crazy King Pellinore was the only one who differed even slightly.

As such, if you like the idea of a medieval murder mystery - read Ellis. If you like new takes on Camelot - read Morris. Avoid Blair because he fails at both.

shaunesay said...

Uh-oh, I picked this up recently I admit, due to the whole Merlin angle. I'll still give it a try though, since everyone's tastes are different, I may love it, you never know! ;)

LoopdiLou said...

Shaun - I hope someone does.. It was *so* close. *sigh* I hate it when good books turn bad ;)

SciFiGuy said...

I like Arthurian fantasies too, but you sure saved us some grief on this one. Sounds bad enough that I am sure Hollywood will be optioning it in no time.