Tag Archives: Jane Yolen

Rewind and Review (1): The Sword of the Rightful King

2 Feb

Sword of the Rightful King

by Jane Yolen

(First published August 1, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin)

Perhaps it’s not too much of a secret that I LOVE all things Arthurian. I read books about Camelot and the Arthurian legends, I’m PLANNING on reading MORE books about it, and I fangirl the TV show, Merlin. I love how Arthurian stories straddle the line between historical fiction and fantasy with their elements of magic and politics, and I’m on a mission to find a book about this world that knocks my socks right off my feet. I had high hopes for SWORD OF THE RIGHTFUL KING, and while it was fun and scratched my Arthur-nerd itch, it kind of let me down, and left me a little confused about what little I DO know of the Arthurian legends.

So this book is basically the story of how Arthur, newly crowned King of Britain, must somehow gain the love of his people, who are still hesitant to accept him (although we never really see this, we are only told), possibly because another man has an equally legitimate claim to the throne: his knight, Gawaine. PROBLEM, though, because Gawaine’s mother is the nasty witch Morgause, who will scheme and kill her son’s way to the throne of England so that she may exert power over the realm herself. Merlinnus–her sworn magical enemy–is determined to see that no one take the throne from Arthur, and so he devises some shenanigans involving a sword and a stone to solidify Arthur’s rightful place (with the shenanigans referred to in the book as “legerdemain.” Without question, this is the most I’ve ever encountered this word EVER.) Alllll of this takes place under a cloud of suspicion over Gawaine and his brothers (including Agravaine, who I did not realize was related to Gawaine in any of the Arthurian tales) because everyone knows that Morgause has sent a spy to Arthur’s court, and he must be uncovered before TREACHERY STRIKES. *Gasp!*

I’ll start with the good things about this book. It really was fun to read. I’m currently REALLY nerding out over Merlin, so it was incredibly enjoyable to see lots of those characters in a different light. (Also, because who would not want to picture Arthur like this, or Gawaine like this?) But I love the characters in this story: Arthur and his brave chivalry, Merlinnus (Although, why the extra “nus”? This drove me a little batty) and his sneaky, secretive magic. We meet Gwen but not in the way you might think. Morgause is vindictive and power-hungry, which makes for great drama. In fact, she was probably my favorite character because she seemed the most fleshed out. All very good things.

Also, the story moved quickly. Things happened without much lagging at all, and the whole sword in the stone “legerdemain” (UGH!) was actually really great, probably because it was the storyline that seemed to be the most developed, what with Arthur demanding that all of his knights attempt to pull out the sword before he does. PLUS, we get to see some of the actual business of the knights meeting at the Round Table, and that was very cool. That’s such a foundational part of the whole Arthurian legend, and it was fun to imagine it in action.

But despite those things–or maybe BECAUSE of those things–the story also felt a little scattered to me, like hopping from one thing to the next without much smoothness. The reveals of certain things were kind of predictable, like the deelio with Gwen and the identity of the spy. (Speaking of Gwen, an aspect of her storyline here felt incredibly rushed, and I wished that we could have seen it fleshed out a little more.) And I was slightly confused about the ages of people, although this could certainly come from my perception of these characters as their Merlin counterparts: Arthur is a young man, but Merlinnus is VERY old. Gwen is young also, but Lancelot is described as having some gray hair. I don’t know. I’m not an expert, but some of the details like this didn’t jive with the way I thought the legends went.

We are also introduced to some things that would have been REALLY interesting to pursue (for example, when Lancelot goes to attempt to remove the sword, he actually kind of pulls it out a little bit. With magic? Don’t know. But I think that could have been a juicy little plotline), but are kind of just left hanging, leaving us hoping for a little more detail. This happens quite a bit, actually, although I have to say that the legends themselves are so rich and so varied that you could write HUGE books about Arthur and Camelot (called Cadbury here. Not sure why, but I dig it because it reminds me of Cadbury chocolate) and still not delve into every detail or examine every thread of the story. It’s something good AND bad about Arthurian legend.

In the end, because I find this topic endlessly interesting, I liked reading SWORD OF THE RIGHTFUL KING. It reminded me of why I love these stories in the first place. But the book left me wondering how much more awesome it could have been had it been a 100 pages longer, with more room to explore some of the plotlines. *SIGH*

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