Idylls of the Queen – Phyllis Ann Karr

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. idylls_of_the_queen

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.

3 thoughts on “Idylls of the Queen – Phyllis Ann Karr

  1. Hi! I’ve just finished this book last night and this morning I went around the Internet to see what other people think of it. And I’ve got to say a big YES to your review here. I’ve always been a fan of Kay and the Orkney brothers so I really took delight in this book. I love how Mordred is not overtly angsty. And Gaheris? I screamed when he confessed in the gathering. Even when I know what had happened to Morgawse – I screamed.

    Thanks for writing this – nice to know there are people of similar opinion to me about this book!


    • Glad you enjoyed the book! And that you liked my review.
      I have to say Gawain was my favorite–at the end, when he is prepared to lay down his life to make amends–and of course the villain is dishonorable enough to take him up on it!

      Apparently the author was planning to write a sequel, but someone else wrote a Kay novel using the plot she wanted to use.

      The Winter Prince’s Mordred might be too angsty for you, but I highly recommend it!


      • Ah! I was just going to ask you whether you have other recommendations. OK, I’ll go look for that book!

        Oh yes, I love Gawain too – I feel like giving him a hug when I read parts like “Gawain’s special love for Gareth was one-sided” and “yet Gawain called this cocksure, glory-seeking, berserking, unreliable Vanishing Wonder, Lancelot du Lac, his dearest friend”, haha. Then again I always emphatize with Kay and Gawain – an older sibling thing, apparently…

        Too bad there wasn’t a sequel. Like you said, when I finished the book, I just craved for more.

        PS: I laughed a lot at your “Sir Not Appearing”.

        Liked by 1 person

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