Tuesday, January 06, 2009
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.