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.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reread: The Wicked Day Review

Review number four in SamoaPhoenix and my five part review series of Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy which is actually five books.  SamoaPhoenix's reivew is found here and our discussion of the book can be found here.

~Storyteller Knight

Title: Wicked Day
Author: Mary Stewart
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Pages: 350
Synopsis: (from the publisher) The Wicked Day tells the story of Mordred, Arthur's bastard son by incest with his half-sister Morgause, witch-queen or Lothian and Orkney.  Morgause sent the child to the Orkney islands, to be reared there in secret, in the hope that one day he would become, as Merlin had prophesied, the doom of her hated half-brother

How Mrdred fought to deny that destiny, hoe he rose at length to a position of trust in his father's kingdom, becoming Arthur's regent and eventually his heir, is the substance of this story.  That he did so is not denied even by the romancers who make Mordred the 'black treacherous villain' or the Arthurian legend. The Wicked Day does not make Mordred into a 'hero', but it does show him as a real human being, fallible rather than evil, a powerful and ambitious man whose actions are reasonable, not (as in legends) inconsistent and often foolish.

The Wicked Day comes as a postscript to Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy, and in it, as before, a dark age of history is brought to vivid life, and a tangled mass of legend made plausible.  The story of the hidden prince, the witch's curse, the wild doings of the Orkney princes, the plots and counter-plots of the last part of Arthur's reign, is a colorful and exciting one, moving inexorably towards the climax of the last battle, where 'Arthur and Medraut fell'.  But even this unavoidable ending, as it is handled here, leaves the reader with a sense, not of tragedy, but of tranquil leave-taking.

For thousands of readers who enjoyed Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy The Wicked Day is a magnificent storytelling bonus, a novel of passions and purposes told with the clarity of detail of an illuminated page from a medieval Book of the Hours.  A marvelous book from an enchantress of an author.  

1. I, personally, do not know what the publisher is going on about with the ending not leaving the reader with a sense of tragedy.  I may or may not have been crying at the end of this book.  Just saying.  

2. Slightly different format for the review because this is a reread for me.  Since this is my first reread/review I thought I'd add something about my feelings on the book the last time I read it and what they are now.  It ended up getting pretty personal.  I'm not sure if that's because it's the first one of these or it's going to be a thing.  We'll see.  

3. I also own this cover:
Warning for Spoilers 

The Last Time I Read this Book...

I've always had this sense that it was my mom who pushed me towards Arthurian legends when I was a small child-- that she loved the story and somehow this rubbed off onto me.  I have no idea where this idea comes from because my mother know absolutely nothing about the Arthurian Mythos and the only retelling she's ever really read are the Prince Valiant comic strips.  So somehow as a small child I became enamored with the Great King Arthur, his lovely partner and wife Queen Guinevere and their closest friend and greatest knight Sir Lancelot.  Then, as a tween, I learned what really went on in the legend and it completely shattered me.  I swore off the legends and promised to never, ever go back.  But that's a part of growing up.  As a child the world is all sunshine and roses and the hard part of being a teenager is learning what a dark place the world actually is.  And the important part of becoming an adult is realizing the sunshine and roses of your childhood and the bleak despair of being a teenager and finding a balance between the two.  We learn that the world is not black or white but spans a whole spectrum of gray.  The character of Mordred is the gray that made a bridge between the white of my childhood and the black of my tween years.  

I started getting back into the legends when I was fifteen-- mostly through internet research and learning about the characters that way.  When I was seventeen I actually took the plunge and started reading retellings that were favorable towards Mordred's plight and of course Mary Stewart's The Wicked Day was one of the first I read.  I remember being unimpressed with Stewart's writing style-- a problem that remains all these years later as she tends to summarize actions and her omniscient narrator leads to a lot of telling over showing.  And after the first three books in this five book trilogy I was expecting to be even less impressed with The Wicked Day than I was when I was seventeen.  What I was reminded of while reading this is that even though I have vastly expanded my library and am willing to read any Arthurian book put before me, favorable retellings of Mordred's acts will always have a special place in my heart because of everything the character represents to me personally.  He is the bridge between the naive child and the angry tween.  It is because of my understanding of this character that I started taking steps from being a young adult to a full adult.  And what I realized while reading The Wicked Day is that while my initial impressions of the book where 'meh', it left a longer lasting impression than I ever could have anticipated.  It was one of the first books to go into my Arthurian collection before I even knew I was collecting King Arthur books.  It is the only book I own two copies of because I consciously decided to buy a second copy (unlike the others which were either mistakes or gifts).  While crying over the ending of this book I realized that even though it's not one of my favorites-- even though I don't really even like it because of Stewart's writing style-- this book means a great deal to me.  It was an important stepping stone along the way and for that it has earned my admiration.

The Twist

One of the aspects I have always loved about this book is Mary Stewart's notes at the end where she states (and I may be paraphrasing here a bit) 'if the events of Arthur's demise really happened as Malory described, all of the characters would have needed to be high'.  Okay, I paraphrased a lot, but that's really what she meant because in her notes she gives a detailed list of every event concerning the death of Arthur as described by Malory and points out how absurd that action is.  This list includes Arthur leaving Mordred as regent even though Mordred is supposed to be EVIL and Mordred sending himself a letter proclaiming Arthur's death even though he knew Arthur was alive and had a giant army at his back.  Stewart admits that she found the story so silly she almost went against her own canon and realigned Mordred as Arthur's ally who died beside him at Camlann in a battle against the Saxons.  I don't understand why she didn't do this because we already suffered through Morgian/Morgan and now apparently Benoic is in Less Britain instead of North Britain and just how old is Hoel really?  

So the story is Mordred's and it sticks pretty close to Malory.  But instead of having Mordred be EVIL, he's simply shown to be a young man who loves his father but is ambitious and doesn't see any reason he should be denied his birthright.  But events that usually reflect poorly on Mordred are realigned to reflect well on him.  He tried to stop Agravain and Gaheris from murdering Lamorak at Arthur's request but the twins manage to get away from him.  Instead of being the leader of the rowdy young men who reveal the Guinevere/Bedwyr affair (that never was), he is a spy for Arthur who tries to stop that massacre.  As for Arthur's fake death, Mordred receives a very real letter for Bedwyr announcing Arthur's death and merely does what his father asked to secure the kingdom.  The events that lead the two of them to war are as much Arthur's fault as Mordred's as Mary Stewart proves once again that, in her books, fate trumps all.

The Plot   

We begin with the news that Merlin is dead.  No, not that he finally kicked the bucket after the end of The Last Enchantment.  Book four seems to begin somewhere in the middle of book three-- after Merlin has been poisoned by Morgause, gone crazy and was assumed dead for a year but found but then died again for like a minute.  Since Merlin is not dead, Mordred continues to grow up in secrecy raised by a fisherman and his wife until fate crosses his path with Gawain and Morgause has a good reason to bring him into her home.

The story then weaves its way through familiar plots such as the death of Morgause, the death of Lamorak, the Guinevere/Bedwyr betrayal that wasn't and finally ending with the Wicked Day of Destiny.  What I really liked about the final confrontation between Mordred and Arthur was that Arthur was just as much at fault as Mordred if not more so for things getting so bad.  Upon arriving home from doing battle with the Romans, Arthur is tired and he can feel his fate weighing heavily upon him.  This causes him to jump to the conclusion that Mordred has turned against him leading him to attack when he should really sit and listen.  As for Mordred, his hands are tied by the very actions Arthur requested he do and can do nothing but retreat and hope for a chance to parley as Arthur barrels down on him.  Eventually the two do talk, but it's too little too late as their armies are primed for a fight and proceed to rip each other apart after a knight killing a snake is mistaken for the signal to attack.  

The sticking point as far as the story goes is Stewart's writing style.  Instead of Merlin's limited world view we get an omniscient narrator.  This was actually quite frustrating because it kept all characters except Mordred and Arthur from developing fully.  We spend a lot of time with these two characters so we know their minds pretty well.  So when Stewart tells us what's going on in their heads, we believe her because through sticking so closely to Mordred and Arthur we have been shown that their actions match their thoughts.  Not so for characters like Gaheris or Guinevere or Nimue where we are just suddenly with then as they are doing something and told that this action is totally within character for them.  This move would have worked better if the narrator had been limited and we were only left with Mordred or Arthur's sense of why the other characters were acting the way they were.

The Characters

Mordred: I don't know why the summary and Stewart's notes consistently point out that Mordred isn't a 'hero'.  I mean, he definitely saved Gawain, Lamorak and Guinevere's lives at different points which seems pretty heroic to me.  He also openly defied Morgause at a couple points in the story and since she has proven to be nothing but EVIL one would assume these to be heroic deeds at least as far as an internal struggle goes.  Yes, he murdered the man who murdered his foster family but I have a hard time holding that against him.  He is also jealous of Bedwyr's close relationship with his father and in love with Guinevere.  But he never acts on either feeling and when the chips are down Mordred stands beside them as a loyal comrade.  He may be cunning and ambitious, but no more-so than Arthur as the text consistently points out.  The only other thing I can think of is that Mordred isn't really a people person and certainly doesn't understand human nature the way Arthur does.  But, oh, didn't we already suffer through three books of first person POV by character who really did not understand, nor care for other humans?  And wasn't he the hero of his own books?  What gives here, Stewart?

Aside from what I have already said in this review, I really have to give Mordred a shout-out for being the only character so far in this entire series who has called out what bullshit it is to follow fate blindly.  Whenever Merlin or Nimue has declared something to be 'fated', all of the other characters simply go along with their foretold destiny.  Mordred rallies against this-- vowing that he would sooner kill himself than take his father's life (this also seems pretty heroic to me).  He doesn't go through with this upon learning that it is existence that dooms Arthur, not necessarily any action on his part.  While Mordred stops fighting fate after learning this, his determination pushes Merlin/Nimue to try and rally Arthur to fight against fate on the Wicked Day of Destiny.

Arthur remains the awesome character he was throughout the last two books-- a kind, compassionate king who listens to his people.  He spares Mordred and welcomes the boy into his home as his son.  He happily gives Mordred all the chances to prove himself worthy and rewards Mordred with increased status and responsibility until he eventually makes Mordred his regent and heir while he is away fighting Rome.  The only real faults in Arthur this time around is that he seems far less tolerant of Bedwyr and Guinevere's love-- refusing to discuss it when Mordred tries to warn him that the younger knights are using this to plot against Bedwyr and the Queen.  Also, at the end he accepts Mordred as a traitor far too readily.  If Arthur had been more willing to listen instead of launching surprise attack after surprise attack, the two might have been able to reconcile before they reached the snake infested field.

Morgause is still EVIL.  Again, no reason is really given.  She does a good job of pretending around her children that she is wise and benevolent and that Merlin is an evil backstabber who turned Arthur against her (this would have been a far more interesting story).  After making Mordred believe he is a bastard of Lot's and that she has brought him into her home out of the goodness of her heart, it seems the stage is set for Mordred becoming her servant for life.  But she misjudges the amount of power she holds over him and attempts to get... er... sexual cause Mordred to freak out.  This becomes a wedge that Arthur is able to use to pull Mordred from her side to his.  It also seems likely that she was grooming Gaheris for this as well considering his obsession with her.  After coming south after Merlin's most successful death to date, she is banished to Amesbury after Merlin is found to be alive.  She makes one last shot at turning Mordred against Arthur by telling him that he is to be his father's doom.  It doesn't work and Morgause is eventually killed by Gaheris when he walks in on her having sex with Lamorak.          

Gawain meets Mordred after he is injured while trying to capture his own baby falcons.  Mordred rescues him from the cliff face and that's what brings Mordred to Morgause's attention.  Mordred and Gawain seem to strike up something of a friendship, but Gawain first concern is forever his future crown and his second concern is his baby brother Gareth, and that leaves Mordred as something of an outsider.  Gawain seems to undergo a transformation midway through the book from a proud young man with a single goal in mind to a hot-tempered braggart who will murder anyone who offends him.  He and Mordred also seem to grow apart over the years, ending with Gawain being convinced of Mordred's treason at the end.  He is killed when Arthur's ships hit a storm on the way home from Rome and his last words to Arthur are a request that his uncle wait for Bedwyr to bring reinforcements before facing Mordred.  

Lancelot Bedwyr remains Arthur's closest friend who is also in love with Arthur's wife.  Nothing happens in that regard.  Whatever love there is between Guinevere and Bedwyr, it remains a chaste one.  However, that doesn't stop the talk between the young men who are jealous of Bedwyr's position in the court.  This comes to a head when Bedwyr goes to speak with Guinevere about a late arrival letter from Arthur and the young knights spring their trap.  Most of them die due to Bedwyr's battle rage-- including Gareth who was trying to stop the fight (Bedwyr also wounds Mordred who was trying to protect Guinevere from Gaheris).  Bedwyr goes north south to his lands in Benoic to avoid Gawain.  He and Arthur are reunited in the battle against Rome and it is Bedwyr who sends the letter to Mordred in earnest about Arthur's death.  Gravely wounded in the fight against the Romans, Bedwyr stays behind as Arthur returns to Britain but comes at his call during the battle with Mordred.  He is there at the end escorting Arthur to Applegarth for healing.

Gaheris and Agravain are twins in this and a rowdy pair who cause trouble.  They are nasty to their baby brother Gareth and attempt to beat up on Mordred when he joins their household (he kicks their asses).  They are tamed somewhat in Camelot until they visit Moraguse at Amesbury.  Gaheris is put fully under her spell again and continues to visit her after that.  This is how he finds her in bed with Lamorak and promptly murders her (likely he would have killed Lamorak too if Mordred hadn't gotten the knight out of there).  He flees but is eventually found by Agravain and Mordred with a pardon from Arthur but instead goes off with Agravain to murder Lamorak.  Agravain is killed by Bedwyr when he tries to prove the knight was sleeping with Guinevere.  Gaheris manages to escape with a wounded and delusional Mordred but dies from the wounds he received in that fight.

Guinevere isn't seen much in this book.  Mordred mentions her as welcoming him into her home like a son and promptly develops a crush on her.  She doesn't come off as that bright in her decision to summon Bedwyr to her chambers alone over Arthur's letter (especially since Mordred is co-regent with Bedwyr at that point).  At the end of the story she is fearful of what will become of her after Arthur's death and Mordred promises her she'll be well taken care of.  When she receives news that Arthur is alive and marching against Mordred, she flees to Amesbury.

Nimue makes a few brief appearances in this book.  She is first seen near the beginning having gone to Luguvallium to to retrieve Caliburn from Morgan Le Fay who had stolen it in the last book.  She senses Mordred, who fears that Arthur intends to kill him, trying to escape Arthur's escort and order's Morgan's husband to double the guard on the Orkney household.  She also counsels Arthur not to let Morgause see her sons again after she has been banished to Amesbury.  He doesn't listen and that's how Morgause and Lamorak end up dead.  She speaks with Mordred when he seeks her out at Applegarth and tells him that there is nothing he can do to avert the prophecy so he may as well live his life to its fullest.  Last, she goes to Arthur and begs him to parley with Mordred and listen with an open mind even though she knows that their fate is upon them.

Cei is seen ones at the beginning taking over the care of the Orkney boys.  At Arthur's request, Mordred sends him to Less Britain with reinforcements for the fight against the Romans and Cei dies in that battle.  Merlin isn't seen at all (is he really dead now?  I have no idea) except in a dream of Arthur's where he tries to get Arthur to rally against fate.  Lamorak is part of the escort that brings the five Orkney boys to visit their mother for the last time and promptly falls in lust with Morgause.  He intends to marry her and plans to ask for Arthur's blessing but Gaheris walks in on their love making and murders Morgause before that can happen.  Lamorak flees to avoid Gawain and is eventually killed by Gaheris and Agravain.  Gareth is the youngest of the Orkney brood and the best tempered.  He stands against his brothers in their murder of Lamorak.  He is killed by Bedwyr trying to stop his brothers from attacking the knight and the queen.  Morgan is seen right after she stole the sword from Arthur and is fretting over her future-- especially since her husband is trying to put her away.  She initially tries to be banished to Amesbury along with Morgause but Arthur is wise to that and she is sent to a different convent.  She is with Nimue at Applegarth, offering her service as a healer for her brother after the battle.


So I really enjoyed the story told here, but the writing style keeps me from loving it to pieces.  However, it is definitely the best of the Merlin Trilogy so far.  4 Stars.

On the Rape (Trigger Warning)

Not much to stay here.  When Arthur and Mordred go to less Britain to fight the Romans, they first have to deal with the abduction of the niece of King Hoel of Brittany.  They don't find the girl until after she has been raped to death and swiftly take vengeance against the bandits who killed her.  I don't know why this story is in here-- it adds nothing to the tale and it's a poorly contrived rape trope where the stories of women aren't our own and instead only add to the angst of men.  And with the poor history this series had with its treatment of women and their agency... I was definitely making some faces.

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