Welcome All- A Few Things to Know

Welcome All- A Few Things to Keep In Mind:

1. Hi all. I'm Storyteller Knight. You can find me on Fictionpress where I write novels about King Arthur, Superheroes and Vampires (but not at the same time) and at Pardon My Sarcasm where I rage about how the republicans are ruining all things.

2. Here is the Master List of books read, books owned and books needed to complete a series. Superscripts next to title links to reviews on this site. Or you can search using the lables.

3. I'm approaching this blog with the assumption that everyone reading already knows the ultimate spoiler of the King Arthur Legend: Everyone Dies. Those who read King Arthur books do so to see different interpretations of the characters and the stories. My goal here is to analyze the effectiveness of those interpretations. Thus, all my reviews will include spoilers.

4. This is not an Arthurian 101 blog. As I said above, I'm assuming that everyone reading already knows the legend and is looking for different interpretations of that legend. Therefore, I'm not going to take time to explain who the characters are and what roles they traditionally play. Links to Arthurian Encyclopedias at the bottom of the page.

5. These reviews are my opinions of the books. I may hate a book you love or I may love a book you hate. If you have a different opinion, write it up. I'd be more than happy to have some guest posts.

6. Please don't ask me (or any of the guest bloggers) to do your homework for you. As I said above, this is a blog dedicated at looking at these books from an Arthurian perspective. If you comment on posts asking us what the theme is or such, we're just going to screw with you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

King Maker: Knights of the Breton Court I Review

Title: King Maker: The Knights of the Breton Court I
Author: Maurice Broaddus
Publisher: Angry Robot
Pages: 385
Synopsis: (from the publisher) From the drug gangs of downtown Indianapolis, the one true king will arise.  The King Arthur myth gets dramatically replayed through the destiny of street hustler King, as he tried to unite the crack dealers, gangbangers, and the very real monsters lurking amongst them, to do the right thing.  This is an edgy, fantastical debut, genuinely unlike anything you've ever read before. 

I feel the need to add this disclaimer: I spent a lot of time while reading this book examining my privilege as a white, middle class female.  A lot of times I had to stop myself and ask ‘Is this character really as horrible as I think or am I just making bad assumptions’.  A lot of times, I concluded the later.  I changed my mind a lot when it came to my sympathies for character (you will not see that change reflected in the review because it mostly happened with characters not related to the legend).  That said, I still didn’t like this book. 

Warning for Spoilers and a 3000 Word Review

The Twist

Like it says on the blurb, this is a reincarnation tale set among the street gangs of Indianapolis.  King (Arthur) is a young man who, with the help of his friends Lott (Lancelot) and Wayne (Gawain), fight to protect their small neighborhood from the drug war between Dred (Mordred) and Night (Barant?  The King of 100 Knights?  But he’s also Percival’s father so maybe Pellinor?  I don’t know).

The problem with this book is that it doesn’t know what it is.  Is it a commentary on gang violence using the Arthurian myth as a metaphor?  Or is it a reincarnation story that happens to be set among gangs?  I know what it wants to be—the reincarnation story.  But it spends so much time naval gazing into the back stories of the characters (all the characters—whether they’re ultimately important to the plot or not) that the reincarnation plot is completely lost (On page 150, Lott gets attacked by magic.  On Page 286, the main characters finally have a conversation about this attack—we don’t even see Lott in the interim).  And because so much focus is put on the real life hardships of the characters—the magical attacks they suffer (trolls who eat people, a tree man, dragons, zombies) seems silly and out of place.  The climactic battle is King vs. a dragon and I just couldn’t care because the dragon was so non-threatening and the stakes just weren’t high compared to everything else.  

The Plot

Oh!  I know the answer to this!  Um... there are gangs and drugs and, ah... life is hard on the street?  And there are trolls.  Who eat people.    

The problem here is the pacing.  If there was a plot to this story, I lost it in the (you guessed it) naval gazing into the character back stories.  Here is a list of all the characters to whom we are treated to an in depth look at their history.

Night (Barrant), Dollar, Prez, Dred (Mordred), Baylon (Balin), Junie, Parker, Tavon, Loose Tooth, Miss Jane, Octavia Burke, Lee McCarrell, Omarosa, Michaela & Marshall, King (Arthur), Lott (Lancelot), Wayne (Gawain), Merle (Merlin), Lady G. (Guinevere), Rhianna, Percy (Percival), Luther (Uther)

This pretty much adds up to every character in the book (I can think of maybe five exceptions).  When you have 22 characters, each getting at least 10 pages of back story, you lose the story!  Maybe 75 of this 385 of this book were spent with King—the story’s protagonist!  Most of the story is spent looking into the lives of character who, as far as I could tell, didn’t line up with anyone from the Legend.  Most of the connections were really obvious from the names (Lott Carey, Dred, Merle) to characters naming themselves in secret rituals (Baylon/Balin, Night/Barrant) or had a really obvious trait (Wayne has a scar on the back of his neck).  Dollar, Prez, Junie, Parker Octavia, Tavon—a lot of time was spent with these characters and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they related back to the legend (And all of them, except Octavia, ultimately die what I felt was a useless death for the amount of exposition they received.  Maybe that was the point and it would have worked if the King Arthur thing was a metaphor.  But it wasn’t and so the pacing suffered).  There was also this girl who died in the middle of the book and a big deal was made about her death, except the readers never met her before she died.  And I’m sure it was a commentary about how the media and politicians take these random deaths and makes a big deal about how something needs to be done about gang violence even though they don’t know anything about the life of the person who died.  But at this point, it was our first return to King POV since Lott had suffered that magical attack.  So I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why King was looking after Lady G and taking her to the girl’s funeral as though nothing was out of the ordinary when Merle was just like (100 pages ago with no follow through) ‘Hey, so... magic is real’. 

I think the story is supposed to follow King as he goes from a guy who sits on his front porch and does nothing into a guy who takes a stand against the gang violence in his neighborhood.  Except we spend so little time with King—less than a fourth of the book (And most of that is him wallowing in the Arthur guilt of failing at everything)—that there’s no time to believe in his growth.  One moment he’s sitting on his front porch moping and the next he’s decided to take a stand against Night (And the decision to take a stand doesn’t occur until the last 50 pages of the book).  But I have no idea why he decided to take a stand against Night.  Yes, at this point Night has a zombie army that is rampaging this city, but King doesn’t know that.  All King knows is that he has this feeling that he needs to do something (and Merle has given him a shiny gun).  It rang hollow. 

There is a subplot in the book of the Balin/Balan story that I really enjoyed.  I’m not as familiar with the Balin/Balan legend beyond that they kill each other and Baylon kills his friend Griff (who identified as Balan).  Baylon’s life also seems to be marked with tragedy (the death of Griff, his part in the death of King’s cousin, not respected within Dred’s organization, he’s hallucinating Griff, he’s lost his friendship with King) just as Balin’s life is marked with tragedy (he kills Arthur’s cousin, banished from Camelot, wounds the Fisher King, kills/is killed by his brother Balin).  This really worked and it worked well with what Broaddus was doing with the naval gazing.  It was an in depth look into this character’s back story with allusions to the legend.  It was well done and enjoyable and I wish the rest of the book had been this tight.

Side note:  When the zombies, created when people overdosed on this new brand of heroin, showed up in the last fifty pages of this book, I nearly set it down with the intention of never coming back.  With everything that had happened—even with the trolls eating people—this was just so ludicrous and so out of place with the rest of the story, I just couldn’t.  I kept going cause the goal is to read all Arthurian books ever, but this moment almost broke me.     


There were a lot of characters in this book.  I’m only going to comment on the ones I was able to identify as being from the legend.  There were a lot of characters in this story I enjoyed even though they weren’t tied to the legend at all: Junie, Octavia, Tavon... However, because this is a blog for reviewing the legend, I’m not going to touch on their stories here.

King (Arthur): What can one say about a protagonist who isn’t even in the majority of his own book?  I’ve talked in some of my other reviews about the Arthur Guilt—a commonly used archetype for this character where he feels terrible for all the bad things he’s done in his life but never makes any move towards amends (usually because it would end up hurting more people).  King has guilt—but it’s really more along the lines of MANPAIN than Arthur Guilt.   

Now, I know that MANPAIN is usually reserved for the white male hero (this sadly being the standard for heroes), but I feel comfortable placing King in here because of what he’s wangsting about.  It’s not that his mother and younger siblings froze under a bridge the first year King cut them loose.  It’s not that his daughter is growing up without her father (No, what he wangsts about here is that the mother is seeing another guy and won’t let King meet him).  It’s not the loss of his father who died when King was a baby.  No, the crux of all of King’s pain his the death of his cousin, Michelle, whom King was in charge of protecting (She had a hit out on her.  Why?  It’s never said.  Not like it has anything to do with her death anyways—she dies trying to stop Griff (Balan) from raping her).  He failed in his duty as the male protector of the weak woman—HEAR HIS MANPAIN!  Never mind the deaths of his mother and siblings—he left them so his mother could get it together and do her damn job.  She didn’t, so that’s not on him, that’s on her.  Never mind his daughter—her mother left him after all.  If his daughter is screwed up because of his absence, that’s on her mother—not him (But heaven forbid any other guy try to take his place—it’s either his or its empty).  His father got himself killed on the streets—who cares.  No, the important thing is that KING FAILED TO PROTECT HIS COUSIN.

Add to this that King referred to his daughter’s mother as his ‘baby’s momma’ (the poor woman is never named) and telling Lady G that he’s only been in love once before but he doesn’t remember the girl’s name, our hero came off as a total wangsting creep.

Lott Carey (Lancelot):  I actually really liked him (I don’t think I’ve ever before read a book where I liked Lancelot more than Arthur.  Kudos to that I suppose).  This poor guy was trying to make a better life for himself only to have his family pull him back down or the world shove him down.  But he was making it and was optimistic about his future and happy with where he was (Which was a nice change from the normal Lancelot archetype where he is the greatest at everything but forever angsts over how much his life sucks).  Not much happens with Lott in the book and none of it really connects him to Lancelot beyond him being King’s best friend and an amazing fighter.  I’m actually looking forward to the Lance/Gwen betrayal in this series because Lott is awesome and King is a creeper.

Wayne (Gawain):  I really liked Wayne too.  He worked in an outreach program trying to help young adults get off the street.  This is the good Gawain archetype—the stalwart friend, a great fighter who looks out for everyone, the Lady’s Knight.  He even has a scar on the back of his neck and faces the Green Knight at the end (But Merle defeats Green—which was kinda lame).  Like Lott, we don’t really see much of him so I’m hoping for more in the next book.

Merle (Merlin): My absolute favorite character of this book with his tinfoil hat, pet squirrel that he blames everything on, ‘These are not the droids you are looking for’ comment and general genre savvyness (There's a scene after Lott gets attacked by magic and King asks Merle what’s going on and Merle says he doesn’t want to tell King because heroes can only be told as much as they’re ready to believe (which is the best reasoning for the mentor being evasive ever).  When King promises he’ll believe, Merle tells him magic is real and King responds with a ‘you’re crazy’.  And Merle’s like “This would be you still not quite ready” (pg 153).  Love love love).  But, as with Lott and Wayne, there was not enough of him in this book.

Dred (Mordred): I appreciated him from an Overlord standpoint.  He’s smart.  He follows the rules of the list and he’s like five steps ahead of everyone (I especially liked the part where it was described how Dred is involved in all these community service projects so the people view him more like a Robin Hood and less like a drug lord).  He spends this book wheel chair bound but at the end of the story performs a ritual to regain the use of his legs.  I hope he plays a larger role in the later books, but if his defeat is totally contrived and flies in the face of his brilliance and is done only so the heroes can win, I’m going to throw a fit.  This is far too good of a villain for a Disney death.       

Lady G (Guinevere): Not much to say about her at this point.  She’s a street kid and she and her cousin Rhianna (I haven’t figured out who she is supposed to be yet—my best guess is either Elaine (as Gwen’s cousin) or Beaurepaire (because she and Percy seem sweet on each other)) stick together for the most part.  Lady G doesn’t really like men because of abusive suffered before the book (But that doesn’t stop her from getting all moist and tingling in King’s presence- ugh.  Because that’s a totally believable way for a romance to begin).  She and King meet near the end of the book and are ‘drawn’ to each other.  I’m not really interested in this romance at all because again: King=Creeper.  But I look forward to seeing more of Lady G in the next book.

Percy (Percival):  Oh, Percy.  He broke my heart every time he appeared.  Percy is everything King isn’t.  His mother (Miss Jane) is a prostitute and a druggie (and later a zombie) and Percy is still living with her and his younger siblings—doing everything in his power to help his younger siblings (hiding food from Miss Jane so she doesn’t sell it for drugs, skipping school to earn money so they have a place to stay for the night).  At the end, Zombie!Miss Jane tells him that he was destined to follow the Pendragon and decides to kill Percy to protect him from that (Like Percival’s mother lying to him about courtly ways so he can’t be a knight).  More Percy too, please.

Green (The Green Knight): I spent the entire book trying to figure out who this character was (one would think this was self explanatory).  I think Broaddus did a wonderful job in shrouding this character in mystery which made the reveal of who Green actually was totally and completely awesome.  Still bummed that Merle beat him instead of Wayne, though. 

There’s not much more I can say about Baylon (Balin) than what I sad above about his subplot.  Like I said, his sections were tight and I wish the rest of the book had read like that.  I can’t really comment on Night(Barrant) either because I don’t know much about the legendary character except that he kept flipping sides (Night starts as Dred’s friend, then his enemy and then his friend again before Dred poisons his crew with zombie heroin).  Also he summoned the dragon at the end... but I’m not sure what that had to do with anything.  Luther (Uther) was Uther.  A ruthless leader who couldn’t keep it in his pants (Merle abandons Luther because of this).  He’s set up by Morgana and killed after sleeping with her. 


Two stars for this book.  There were some points that were fabulous and well done (the Balin/Balan story and Merle) and the premise is definitely new and original.  But it was like the book was trying to tell two stories—one was about the hardship of life on the street where the Arthurian myth is a metaphor and the other was an Arthurian reincarnation story with magic and monsters.  Alone they would have been wonderful stories—together they hurt each other.    

On the Rape (Trigger Warning)

I find it interest that of the 40-odd Arthurian retellings I’ve read and the 8 rapes that have been in those books, three have been males raped by females—Mordred, Galahad and now Percival.  Of course, they’re never referenced as such (this book probably comes the closest) or show any consequences, but they’re there.  And that gives people a chance to talk about and discuss the problematic aspects of how male rape is portrayed (or not portrayed). 

In this book, Percy has an erection after his mother forces him to break into an apartment which happens to be where Rhianna is staying.  He watches her while she sleeps (creepy creepy creepy) and then bolts from the apartment.  His mother, Miss Jane, sees the erection and calls in a friend of hers (also a prostitute) to ‘help’.  The woman gives Percy a blow job.  His mother undresses him.  He’s crying and upset through the entire thing.  So, I think it was Broaddus’ intention to portray this scene as rape, so I definitely applaud him for taking that route and not glossing it over as something else.  However, the other half of this is realistic consequences of the rape.  I’m not saying the character needs to shut down and never get over it—but you also can’t hand wave it away and have the character go on like nothing happened (or have sex with Lancelot heal all).  So far, Percy has gone on as if nothing happened, but I’m willing to let this slide for now because so little time was spent with Percy (as with every character).  I’m reserving judgment on how this rape was handled until the next book.

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