The Third Magic by Molly Cochran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Alright, I admit that I wasn't expecting much from this book. I stand - well, sit - here corrected.
You see, I have a slight tic when it comes to anything to do with the Arthurian Cycle. The problem is that I'm a Celtic Studies student, and I know that the legend has much earlier roots than most people bother to acknowledge.
This was not the case with Ms. Cochran. I am suitably impressed with the amount of research that plainly went into this narrative. The fact that Author was plainly a British king - that is to say, King of Britain after the Roman retreat, made me smile. As a Celticist (is that even a word?), I get thoroughly annoyed when people ignore the Celtic roots of, well, anything, in much the same way that Classicists get annoyed if you don't believe Greece or Rome were the foundation of all civilisation everywhere.
I might be slightly bitter.
I especially like how Ms. Cochran navigated the difficulty of acknowledging both the actual basis for the legend, and the later iterations of that legend. Making Lancelot a Gaulish swordsman, tipping her hat to the later invention of the Gueneviere/ Lancelot narrative by French bards, was a stroke of genius. I adore that the abduction of Gueneviere played a part in this story. That is to say, the abduction of the queen by Melwas - an earlier tale than the forbidden love previously mentioned.
There is a fine balance to be struck when tackling any fiction to do with Arthurian legend between pleasing those who have done any research whatsoever, and those who haven't at all and assume that Arthur is a late medieval invention.
There were a few factual errors that bothered me a fair amount. The worst possible error was the use of England and Britain to mean the same thing. It seems paradoxical to me that the King of England would be fighting against the Saxons since the English and Saxons (and Jutes for that matter) were allies.
The King of England, would be English, which is to say, Anglish, which is to say, an Angle, which is to say, part of the Germanic horde (Anglo-Saxon)that was invading Britain, against whom King Arthur fought.
Get my drift?
Britain and England are not synonymous, and most certainly NOT at the time the offending scenes were set. England did not yet exist. Certainly now anyone who was English, would be considered British, but that was not always the case. The Angles fought the Britons. Arthur fought for the Britons. Ergo, he cannot be the King of England.
Granted, the English did later take him on as their hero...
Anyway, the substitution of one for the other indiscriminately irked me enough to give a visible tic beneath my eye whenever it occurred.
However, that is forgivable... I suppose.
That's enough of the factual stuff. Now to the writing.
The narrative itself was clear and easily read. It didn't possess any of the mastery of language and description I so admire in Steven Erikson. All the same, it was a great read - enough suspense and adventure to keep me reading at any rate. The story was surprisingly moody - which I rather like, thank-you very much!
Some of the knights verged on being caricatures, rather than characters, falling into the mildly amusing Classical description of Celts (loud, lusty drunkards). It irked me some, but the need for such comic relief was necessary. I'm pretty sure it only bothered me because I am such a fan of Celtic culture. I'm sure it wouldn't bother normal people.
All in all, a very worthy read. I do recommend this book to any urban fantasy lovers, and yes, even to Arthurian legend nuts. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how true to form this book is.
Well played, Ms. Cochran. Well played.
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