Thoroughly enjoyable Arthurian mystery, treating the same episode in Malory as Dark Jenny, which I reviewed for Ideomancer. That is, the poisoning of Sir Patrise and the false accusation against Guenevere, which makes for a good mystery framework. The authors take rather different approaches, though– Dark Jenny features an original character from an ongoing series, while Idylls of the Queen rehabilitates Sir Kay, Arthur’s foster-brother, making him a hero in his own right.
I picked up this book to scratch my “sympathetic Mordred” itch– my copy of The Winter Prince is out of state. Mordred is a major supporting character, like Kay trying to solve the mystery of who poisoned Sir Patrise, as it is suspected that the poison was aimed at his brother Gawain. This Mordred is sarcastic, infuriating, sharp-witted enough, loyal to his mother, and tormented by the knowledge that he is prophesied to be the downfall of Camelot. This makes him suicidal, but as by medieval standards a suicide damned his soul, he mostly tries to get other people to kill him. His humor, and Kay’s skeptical narration, stop his character from being weighed down by angst.
So it scratched the Mordred itch, but this book also dug up my Gawain feelings from way back when I read Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight– which is clearly an influence on this portrayal of Gawain. He’s far from perfect, but he’s honorable to a fault.
And what of Kay, the main character? He’s pragmatic, being a seneschal and not much of a fighter (in fact, he loses the climactic fight with the bad guy). He’s the guy who makes sure everyone gets fed, not the guy who goes off on quests, and he has a cynical attitude towards glory-seeking. Oh, and he’s desperately in love with Guenevere– which accounts for his bitterness towards Lancelot, who is Sir Not Appearing in this Book. Kay’s a fun narrator, but I found my sympathies more deeply engaged by the Orkney brothers. The emotional climax of the book is when Kay gathers the brothers together and makes them face some unpleasant truths.
The book bogs down for a bit in the middle, when they’re visiting Morgan le Fay, and also the villains tend to be unsympathetic from the get-go– both sanctimonious in different ways. But those are minor flaws, as the novel picks up towards the end and repays the investment. At the end of the book, I was only sad there wasn’t more.