I wanted to like this book I really did but there was just something about it that fell flat for me. I was originally intrigued by the blurb for this book because it was advertised to be a retelling of the legend of King Arthur. I generally like retellings of fairy tales and legends because I like to see how an author changes a classic story to make it their own so reading a steampunk version of King Arthur’s Camelot seemed very original and interesting.
The protagonist is Vivienne who is a handmaid to Guinevere who becomes queen very early on in the story. But Vivienne has a secret: when she’s not fulfilling her duties for the queen she is out in the tower with Merlin, who in this story is a recovering magician who chooses to focus his abilities on alchemy since magic seems to be a slippery slope that can turn even the most well meaning person into a horror. (Although I’m a little uncertain on this because throughout the series a few characters meet with another magical person and she doesn’t appear to suffer for the use of magic but I don’t know). I liked Vivienne. She is a very strong female character with a good head on her shoulders and a sense of honor.
Merlin. Oh dear Merlin he was interesting in this book. This is a world where sorcerers can only (I think) use magic if they steal it (not sure if they are technically only borrowing or if they’re stealing the powers from each other’s minds or what. This was never explained as far as I could tell.) And Merlin is covered in tattoos which are actually spells inked into his skin. But then a spell is cast upon him and he starts to disappear/fade away/his skin peels off or something until by the end he’s something else entirely.
Arthur is crazy. Lancelot and Guinevere have a flirtation that may or not have been created by Morgan Le Fay who by the way is even crazier than Arthur. Oh the family dynamics are creepy and weird. But the saving graces are Vivienne’s forbidden love interest Marcus, a squire with a hidden agenda but one of the truest hearts, and the blacksmith who we never really meet but is always in the background doing good things that help Vivienne to no end. (Like I really want to know who the blacksmith is! That’s probably the only reason I’d read a sequel!)
And the part that I didn’t like…the steampunk part. I just don’t think I handle that well. I’ve read a few things that are light on the steampunk elements and I enjoyed them but this was all about the mechanics of everything from metal flying birds to a giant weapon. There was just so much description of how the pieces were meshing together (what it took to unlock a series of doors, what it takes to put together the flying birds and the dragon-like weapon) with so much detail to the pieces that I just couldn’t picture it in my head. So I think from here on out I’ll stick to steampunk type stories with less mechanical descriptions which means the sequel to this book will not be going on my “to read” list.
The writing and pacing was pretty good and I do think Kathryn Rose created what could very well be a really interesting world for other readers to immerse themselves. It’s just not my cup of tea.