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Book Review: Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg

You all know my Arthurian legend obsession, right? It’s all-consuming and the mere mention of a character from the Arthurian legend or a simple sniff of Camelot will get me to at least take a first glance at a book. So, when I stumbled across Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg and read the blurb I had to check it out. Mordred is a pivotal character in Arthurian legend and is credited with the death of King Arthur himself. He’s often the villain but he is also one of my favorite characters. I was very interested in seeing Clegg’s version of the myth.

Mordred emerges as a heroic and romantic figure, torn between his powerful mother’s desire for revenge against Arthur, his own conflicted feelings toward the father who betrayed him, and his passionate love affair with a knight in King Arthur’s court. From his birth into his youth, Mordred’s soul is forged by the great forces of the Arthurian world – and of the shadow legend of a father who has sought the death of his only son. This is the legend like it has never been seen before; showing a take upon the familiar characters that has never been seen before and giving us a unique look at Mordred.

I’ve found mixed reviews for Mordred, Bastard Son, most of them slightly negative. I can’t completely disagree with them. The book is well-written but well-written does not necessarily mean good story telling. If I wasn’t an Arthurian legend fanatic I probably would not have finished the book and as it is, it took me almost a month to wade through it. The writing is poetic and flowery and I often found the dialogue annoying. I found most of the characters themselves annoying as well, which is not a good thing for a book. The plot is also slow and, for the most part, nothing happens until the very end. Mordred, Bastard Son could be condensed into half the size and retain the same amount of important information.

Logically, based on the legend, you know Mordred must end up in Camelot and that hope can carry a person through the slow ebbs of the book. However, disappointment will be your only reward, as by the end of the book Mordred is just leaving his childhood home. It’s very frustrating to read a book and not get anywhere. Mordred is passive and Morgan, his mother, just makes me angry and annoyed. I feel slightly guilty for this because the legend of Morgan is rather heartbreaking. Arthur rapes her, his half-sister, and then tries to kill her and their unborn child because of a prophesy that a bastard son of Arthur’s will kill him. Morgan basically stops functioning and by the second time she tries to kill herself, I’m ready for her just to die so we can move on with the story already. This seems horrible of me but Mordred spends the whole book damning his own soul in repeated attempts to save Morgan, who plainly just wants to die. I’m all out of sympathy. Sorry.

I’m always looking for something great when I pick up a book based on Arthurian legend and while I will be checking out the sequel to Mordred, Bastard Son out of shear curiosity, the book was a bit of a disappointment. I wasn’t able to get into the story and the emotion the characters brought out of me most was annoyance. The plot is so slow that it drags and none of the events are very exciting. It’s a very frustrating book. I was hoping for much, much more from Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg.

Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg
Published February 1st 2007 by Alyson Books (first published 2006)
260 pages
First in a series

In search of a good book…

I’m attempting to read Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg because my Arthurian legend obsession is still going strong but I’m having a hard time getting into it. I’m about 30 pages in and I’m already annoyed with the dialogue and writing style. I can understand when an author wants to immerse the reader into an era, like the dark ages, but then there is using dialogue that is really just irritating. It’s rather like reading a Shakespearian play and I just want to shake people until they stop talking like that. Then the writing is really choppy, with breaks all over the place, and it really ruins the flow. I’m just not able to sink into it. I’ll keep up with it for a little bit more but I might have to abandon it if it doesn’t catch me soon.

I just cracked open Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherin Gilbert Murdock. I’m literally like 5 pages in. It’s letters and bits of journals and such and you all know how I feel about books written in letter form. I can already feel my eye twitching. I’m apparently not doing too well with my first choices of books after my mini-hiatus. I was hoping to have a review ready for the beginning of next week but I’m beating my head against a wall here. Ugh. My kingdom for a good book?

Book Review: The Death Catchers by Jennifer Anne Kogler

The Death Catchers by Jennifer Anne Kogler was a surprise find that I stumbled across when I was forced to walk down a different isle because of a mother and her crying demon offspring at the library. Thanks demon offspring! Then I discovered it had Arthurian legend as its basis and counted it as a double win. It also has grim reapers, magical sisters, and one very confused teenager. You can’t lose with that team! This is my second book of 2012 and counts toward my 100 books in a year challenge.

Lizzy Mortimer’s grandmother, Bizzy, has a secret and on Lizzy’s fourteenth Halloween she learns that her family has a special origin, one that connects her to King Arthur and Avalon. Words swirl on the newspaper page and Lizzy sees the announcement of the death of her best friend, Jodi. Lizzy discovers that all legends are based in fact and an ancient grudge threatens her family, her friends, and the world itself. It’s a race to unravel the secret of The Last Descendant, Vivienne le Mort, and figure out Lizzy’s part in the future of the world.

I loved this book. I disliked this book. I am of two minds about this book. First of all, it was a surprise Arthurian legend find, although it is only the female Avalon characters that show up. (I’m hoping for a sequel so we can see Merlin woken up. I would bet money that Jodi is really Merlin reborn. [or that’s what I am hoping anyway]) Still, it has Arthurian legend as its base and that makes me happy. I also have a soft spot for death characters; grim reapers, banshee, lords of the underworld, etc. I want to pet them. So that’s another positive for this book. But my biggest peeve about The Death Catchers is the style and form it is written in. The narrator and main character, Lizzy, writes the whole story as if she is summiting a report to her teacher, Mrs. Tweedy. Apparently the events of the book caused her to miss an important school assignment and Mrs. Tweedy is allowing Lizzy to do a make-up project.

This would have been an inventive and amusing way to begin the story if Lizzy didn’t stop at the beginning of every chapter to talk to the fictional Mrs. Tweedy. We’re reading along in a chapter, happily engrossed with events, and then WHAM, Mrs. Tweedy and some stupid English fact derails us. It’s like having the floor suddenly disappear from under you and about as pleasant. Why Kogler insists on chopping up the story by doing this at the start of every new chapter, I have no idea. It ruined the whole flow of the book, in my opinion. I quickly found myself just skimming the first few paragraphs of each chapter so I could get back to the actual story.

Formatting faux pas aside, I loved the plot. The rest of the book almost makes up for the annoying Mrs. Tweedy parts. Lizzy is flawed and uncertain and makes a great main character. The male lead has that annoying habit of being perfect in every way, so much so that I have to roll my eyes a little when I read about him. It sounds like our heroine is hooking up with a plastic Ken doll. Bizzy is awesome. She’s the type of grandmother everyone wishes for and is probably the most badass character in the book, despite being in her seventies. The surprise reveal is actually a surprise because you didn’t know there was another surprise to be revealed. We think we have everything about the Hands of Fate figured out but then a new fact appears and things get even more complicated. I’m rarely surprised in books now’a days but The Death Catchers managed to keep its secret until the very end.

The Death Catchers was a very good book but those annoying chapter beginnings kept it from being great for me. It’s a lovely coming of age story and the characters are a lot of fun. Bizzy and Jodi are the stereotypical kooks in the story but they are generally entertaining if you look past the cliché. There are a few hiccups in the writing but your mileage may vary and this might not even bother you like it does me. I’m glad I stumbled across Jennifer Anne Kogler’s book, even if it was because of a screaming demon child.

The Death Catchers by Jennifer Anne Kogler
Published August 16th 2011 by Walker Books for Young Readers
384 pages
Stand alone; not part of a series (yet)

Book Review: Yesterday’s Magic by Pamela F. Service

My obsession with Arthurian legend is rearing its head again and this time there are dragons. Yesterday’s Magic by Pamela F. Service is the third book in the New Magic series. I was surprised to find that this book was a recent one. Yesterday’s Magic was published in 2008 while the first two books of the series were published back in the mid 80’s. Talk about a gap! The fourth and final book of the series, Earth’s Magic, was published in 2009. Goodreads lists the first two books of the series as a single entity and labels the New Magic series as a trilogy. However, I ended up reading separate books and thus to me there a four books in this series. Your mileage may vary. If you can find the first two books smashed together, you can treat it like one book.

King Arthur and Queen Margaret are getting married and gifts are pouring in from the noble guests attending the celebration, including a piece of rare ancient plastic in the form of a pink lunchbox with Heather’s name on it. Queen Margaret ends up gifting Heather with the lunchbox, not knowing the danger she was putting the girl in. If Merlin hadn’t been so distracted, he might have realized something was wrong before it was too late. Now Heather has been kidnapped and spirited away out of Britain by Morgan Le Fay. Merlin will do anything to save Heather, including waking a sleeping dragon and traveling half way around the world to find her.

I enjoyed the first two books of the series very much but I have to say that Yesterday’s Magic is my favorite so far. The over a decade long gap between Tomorrow’s Magic and this books seems to have served Service well. (Lol.) The writing in this book is smoother than the earlier volumes. Time has allowed the author to hone her writing skills and it shows in this book. It’s much better written and lacks the fits and lulls that made her writing a little slow before.

At the end of the last book, Tomorrow’s Magic, we found Merlin coming to terms with the new magic of the devastated world he now finds himself in and battling back Morgan’s evil horde. Merlin and Heather get together as a couple and the two continue to evolve their magic. Heather’s animal and people based magic grows in this book, expanding into the ability to communicate with several surviving people around the world. The world is not as dead as they once feared. The mind-speech serves Heather well, allowing her to find a few friends and allies in a harsh world.

Merlin heads out on the awaken dragon to find Heather but their friends Welly and Troll won’t be left behind. (It’s so cute how Arthur doesn’t want Merlin going alone. I just want to pet them all!) The group travel across to France, where they just miss Heather and Morgan as the evil witch leaves for India. But Merlin finds that the ways to the Otherworlds are still open and the fey and gods still roam the earth. After a terrifying encounter with a death goddess, they manage to retrieve Heather and the group heads ever eastward in an effort to return home and get back to King Arthur.

Merlin decides after they get Heather back to continue eastward, rather than turn back westward and risk running into a perusing Morgan. The wizard knows that the earth is round and that they can return to Britain by traveling around the world on the dragon. Of course, you and I both know what a silly idea that is but the trip is cut in half by some new friends in North America and the group finds that the gods are very much alive there too. All around the world, magic is awakening as the earth slowly heals from the damage humans had wrought.

Arthur is not important in these stories. He’s a background character at best. This is a bit of a disappointment but since Merlin is my favorite character out of the legends, I can ignore the fact that Service ignores Arthur. Each book in this series has a two year timespan between. This book is a return to the pattern and tone we saw in the first story, The Winter of Magic’s Return. The quest to find Heather mirrors their original quest to find Arthur. The second book, Tomorrow’s Magic, focused heavily on Heather and her internal conflict with her emerging magic. The third, this review for Yesterday’s Magic, sees the characters growing up and coming into their own both magic-wise and personally. It will be interesting to find how the characters and situation have changed for the final tale, Earth’s Magic.

Yesterday’s Magic is my favorite out of the three books I’ve read of the New Magic series. I can tell that both the author and the characters have matured a bit by this point. Although, I’m eternally glad I found the series after Service had published the new books. I hate coming into a series only to discover it isn’t finished and the author hadn’t put out a new book in years. Drive me nuts. Yesterday’s Magic was a well-paced, magical trip across a world that could just possibly be what ours becomes if we’re not careful and I definitely enjoyed riding along on the dragon for it.

Yesterday’s Magic by Pamela F. Service
Published May 27th 2008 by Random House Books for Young Readers
216 pages
Book 3 (or Book 2) of the New Magic Series

Book Review: Tomorrow’s Magic by Pamela F. Service

I adore the Arthurian legends and love stories that have Merlin and King Arthur in them. No matter the setting or plot, if it has something to do with the Arthurian legends then I’ll at least give it a chance. Tomorrow’s Magic by Pamela F. Service is the second book in her New Magic Series. It’s set two years after the end of the first book, The Winter of Magic’s Return. At the end of The Winter of Magic’s Return we saw Earl Bedwas regain his memories as Merlin and locate the entrance to Avalon, where King Arthur was sleeping. Now we find that Arthur and his friends have carved out a new kingdom from the post-apocalyptic landscape, Cumbria. (Cumbria is a county in North West England, just below the border with Scotland.)

In this world, humans have destroyed almost all life with nuclear weapons. But, the only nuclear weapon to be dropped in the United Kingdom was on London and human life was able to survive. (You know, this story takes place a great deal farther north than I thought would be feasible during a nuclear winter. The damage to the Earth’s ecosystem is just starting to repair itself in the story but it’s still very cold. The characters venture into Wales, which is a bit farther south, but still higher up than I would think would be possible, temperature wise.)

News of King Arthur’s, the real King Arthur’s, return has spread and the shires that once fought each other are now banding together under Arthur’s guidance. But Arthur is put to the test when a queen from the north descends upon him, a fiery redhead calling herself the Queen of Scots. Merlin is struggling to get a handle on this world’s new magic, unable to get his old powers to fully work. Morgan Le Fay is still lurking, gathering an army of mutants and horrible creatures from the land of Faerie, in the south and Merlin needs all the help he can get to fight her.

Surprisingly, Arthur doesn’t play a big part in this book even if the first book had been all about finding him. He’s there, doing kingly things in the background, but there is very little focus on him. Our main characters still remain Merlin and his two companions, Heather and Welly. Trapped under a mountain by Morgan for thousands of years, Merlin struggles in the post-apocalyptic world to find his footing and tap into this new world’s different magic. At the same time, he deals with the loneliness that has always pledged him. Even in this new world, being a powerful magic user separates him from other people, who avoid him out of fear and ignorance. Merlin’s heart was what Morgan had used to trap him before and it may be his downfall again.

The two original characters, Heather and Welly, act as our eyes in this book. Welly doesn’t get up to much. He kind of blends into the background and joins Arthur’s circle, realizing his dream of being a military strategist. Heather and Merlin are the focus of this book. Of course, Heather’s connection with animals is expanded into true magic, an ability that Heather is not so certain she wants. She is pulled in so many directions that she does not know what to do. The young girl sees Merlin’s isolation from other people and is wary of ending up like the sorcerer. Merlin, meanwhile, is trying to convince his heart that he does not need friends. Merlin’s loneliness is almost painful to see, especially as Heather and Welly wax and wane toward him.

Kyle, a tertiary character, is only there to give Heather doubts and be a complete butthead. He is my least favorite character. My second least favorite character is Queen Margaret, the Queen of Scots, who is there to replace Guinevere as Arthur’s love interest. (Although, it’s better than just having Guinevere return. In fact, except for Merlin, Morgan, and Arthur none of the legend characters return.) Just at the end, Heather and Merlin come together as a couple. This comes out of nowhere. Since Heather is all of fourteen here and constantly harping on friendship, to have Heather and Merlin suddenly lock lips threw me for a loop. I’m not sure it was really needed and it kind of upset the whole vibe.

Pamela Service’s writing is good but not fantastic. The second book in the series is just a good as the first, meaning both end up being okay. Both books share a slow start and things don’t really start happening until the latter half. I think I read the New Magic Series mostly because of my obsession with anything Arthurian but someone else might find the books lackluster. The copy of the book I have has a funny cover. Morgan Le Fay is described as beautiful woman in the story but the woman they have on the cover has huge teeth and deep wrinkles. I can only assume that the boy is supposed to be Merlin, which is so weird it’s funny.

Tomorrow’s Magic by Pamela F. Service
Published April 24th 2007 by Random House Books for Young Readers (first published 1987)
191 pages
New Magic Series #2

Friday Finds – October 14th

What great books did you hear about/discover this past week? Head over to Should Be Reading and share your Friday Finds.

       
   

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.
Where have you been all my life?

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones.
Because Jones wrote a sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle when I apparently wasn’t looking.

Winter of Magic’s Return by Pamela F. Service.
I never get enough Arthurian legend.

The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman.
Ow. Just…ow.

Book Review: Winter of Magic’s Return by Pamela Service

I have a deep love for Arthurian legend. Through my teens years it was a passing love affair but when the United Kingdom BBC TV show Merlin came out it put a fire under me that energized my interest anew. Now I consume books about King Arthur and the powerful wizard Merlin. It doesn’t always have to be the old man with the long beard I read about either. It surprised me how many books were available that covered Merlin’s fictional younger years or presented the popular magic-user as younger than the legend would have us envision. I’m not the only one obsessed with the legend it seems.

Winter of Magic’s Return by Pamela Service takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity barely hangs on. Nuclear war and the resulting endless winter have killed most life on our world and the radiation has caused most of those who survive to mutate. This world’s wildlife is nothing we would recognize and those unfortunate humans that mutated don’t even bear thinking about. But there are pockets of life that remain and one such pocket is in Wales, in the southwest of what was the United Kingdom. 

The children of the rich and powerful attend a boarding school there in an old monastery huddled against the endless cold. Welly and Heather are two such children, living through their days as social outcasts and the only friend each other has. That was until they met Earl, the boy found wondering a ruined village and babbling a strange language no one could understand. Earl lives at the school as a ward, with no family and no memory of his past. But the boy may be more than he seems. 

I always feel so silly going into the children’s section of the library after some book but, more often than not, those books are some of my favorites. Winter of Magic’s Return is part of the New Magic Trilogy and is about 200 pages long. A quick afternoon’s read for most of us. I may have found it in the children’s section but that by no means reflects in the book. The story is fast paced and interesting. The world Pamela Service builds for us is ruined and filled with sorrow but it is the only world that the children know. They have never seen summer and the only green things there are the lichen that stubbornly clings to the rocks. (The moral lesson of responsibility for our planet and human stupidity are painted in large neon letters in this book.) 

Talking too much about the story will give away the plot and I don’t want to ruin the book for everyone. But since it involves Arthurian legend, you can be assured that Merlin and Arthur are both running around somewhere. Merlin is who you think he is. Arthur, however, is not. I was so sure I knew who Arthur was that when he did arrive on the scene I was a bit shocked. I was expecting Arthur reborn to be one of the original characters but that is not the route the author takes. It will be interesting to see what part Welly and Heather play in the next book. 

I often find original characters in these types of stories to be fairly useless. After all, what use could two ordinary children be to Merlin reborn? But in this case the children are our eyes and ears in this story. They play the facsimile for the reader. They are us. And these two children support Merlin, acting as companions for the displaced sorcerer. They are not great warriors but they are true friends. Welly and Heather willingly follow Earl, before he remembered who he was, out into the wilderness and leave the relative safety of the school for him. They make many sacrifices for their friendship. 

Morgan Le Fey appears as the villain in this story, using the mutated life to amass an army that attacks the children. Her true goal is not made apparent by the end of the book. Although, her goal may be as simple as world domination. (I’ll be a bit disappointed if it is.) The witch does her best to ensure Merlin never reaches Arthur but fails. The saddest part of the book is when they reach Avalon, a land of eternal summer. Welly and Heather have never seen summer and their reactions are heartbreaking. To them it is the dream, while Merlin and Arthur know it to be reality. Would a person that has lived in a desert their whole life understand a description of snow? 

I’m told the second book, Tomorrow’s Magic, is slower than this one but I still look forward to reading it. My only real complaint is that the book should have been proofread a little better. There was several times where dialogue was not punctuated properly, often leaving off quotation marks. I’m sure you know how confusing that is. But it seems to be the books only fault.

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