Sunday, 25 March 2012

Pendragon Princess: reviewed by Sue Purkiss

Sword of Light, by Katherine Roberts: Book 1 of The Pendragon Legacy
Published by Templar @ £9.99

I wonder what it is that has made the legend of King Arthur endure for so long? Is it the romance? Is it the quest at the centre? Is it the fighting? Is it because the central battle is between good and evil, the Dark and the Light? Is it the relationships - between Arthur and Merlin, between Arthur and his knights? Is it the magic? Could it even be the clothes? (Those beautifully cut mediaeval gowns - SO flattering!) Or is it the compellingly attractive notion that somewhere, in a well hidden cave, the King lies sleeping, ready to wake and save us all when no-one else can?

Whatever it is, the magic shows no sign of fading - just look at all the versions of the legend that have appeared in the last fifty years. There's T H White's great classic, The Once and Future King and Kevin Crossley Holland's beautifully written Seeing Stones trilogy. Michael Morpurgo had a go at it too, as no doubt have countless others. Then there are the books in which the legend plays a significant walk-on part: Susan Cooper's brilliant sequence The Dark Is Rising, Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Then there are the film and TV versions - Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, Camelot with Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Harris, King Arthur with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley, and on TV the very popular Merlin. The Grail has its own fan club: Dan Brown for one.

So is there really room for a new variant? Well - yes, there is. Katherine Roberts has brought something entirely new to the Round Table  in the form of a girl with bright copper hair and plenty of attitude - meet Rhianna Pendragon, daughter of Arthur. She has been hidden away on the magical Isle of Avalon in the care of its king, Avallach, but at the beginning of the book, after Arthur's death in battle against his nephew Mordred, Merlin comes to Avalon to tell Rhianna of her true identity and her destiny - which is to collect the Four Lights - the Sword Excalibur, the Lance of Truth, the Crown of Dreams and the Grail - in order to save the world from the Dark.

So, together with her friend, Elphin, the son of Avallach, and her magical horse Alba, she leaves Avalon. On the way through the mists which separate the two realms Merlin is waylaid; but Rhianna soon meets up with and gains the loyalty of the knights who were with Arthur at his death - and at this point, as the companions head for Camelot, the adventure really begins.

This is an enchanting re-imagining of the Arthurian legend, with a strong, charismatic heroine, a new quest and a generous sprinkling of magic. Katherine Roberts has taken on board the notion that if Arthur really existed, he was probably a sixth century warlord fighting against the Saxon invaders; this is a Dark Age Arthur, rather than a mediaeval one. There are references to the former glories of Rome, traces of which remain, like the mosaic floor which Rhianna notices in the woods.

She uses the notion that Arthur's heir could be a girl to explore attitudes to warfare. Like the real-life Alfred two centuries later (for an account of whom you might like to see my own book, Warrior King), at two crucial points in the story Rhianna chooses to take the more peaceful of two options open to her - even though the instinct to avenge her father is hard to resist.

The book ends with a preview of the next one, and Katherine Roberts leaves her readers with several pressing questions regarding the fates of the characters she has introduced which readers will surely be eager to have answered. The book is altogether as intriguing, as colourful, and as charming as its young heroine.

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1 comment:

Susan Price said...

It's very entertaining, even when you're as old as me!

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