Book Review: After Avalon

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Book Description from Goodreads: King Arthur is dead. Camelot has fallen. Britain drowns in Saxons.

These are the stories of what came after. 

Merlin’s prophecies begin such, in introduction: 

“In the days when Arthur’s dream was dimmed, as grey embers under storm, actors from our reverie still ventured forth. A boy enters decaying Broceliande with the May Hawk’s daughter, both in search of fathers. Sir Gawain, bereft of his nation, rides in search of my tomb—but finds a friend turned enemy. In the Britain’s hour of need, the round table will be restored to defend Logres in the sky, in the London Blitz. 

“My tutor, Bleys, will take a fool’s horse, and two adventurers will trace my dying steps across the world. Sir Lionel’s remains will visit the remains of the Arthurian world, and the Victorians will strive to make a gentleman of Mordred. The Questing Beast will never cease to haunt Pellinore’s line, no matter how far north they trend. The old witch, Morgan, will seek forgiveness. The holy lance will appear once more. And a queen who is no longer a queen will meet a knight who is no longer a knight, and both will marvel at the grave of the greatest king who served his country. 

“These may be read, in full, inside. 

“But I am tired now, and Nimue calls for me…” 

An all-new anthology from the award-winning curator Nicole Petit, featuring stories by Colin Fisher, Leigh Ann Cowan, Amy Wolf, Thomas Olivieri, Jon Black, Patricia S. Bowne, Claudia Quint, David Wiley, Christian Bone, Patrick S. Baker, and Elizabeth Zuckerman.

Book Review: As an anthology of short stories, this collection is excellent, with varied settings, time periods, and tones–dramatic, serious, sentimental, humorous, and epic. For the purposes of my book review, I’ll be looking at the first short story, “The May Hawk’s Daughter,” by Colin Fisher, but there were a number of stories I greatly enjoyed, and I’d recommend the anthology to anyone who enjoys the legends of King Arthur.

Narration: Four out of Five. It took me a few pages to figure out what time period I was in, as the cover had thrown me (as noted below), but once I figured out that we were just a few hundred years after the death of King Arthur, it all moved along just fine. The tone and quality was very similar to what one finds in “Le Morte d’Arthur,” and thus it felt like a logical successor to the strange and marvelous adventures one finds in Mallory’s book (with perhaps a hint more description than those stories tended to give about places and happenings).

Content: Five out of Five. I don’t often get to give “five out of five” for novels, but this short story nailed it. There were wonders and signs, monsters, spells, and a visit to a mysterious cavern where one may find the dead. It was all told without a great deal of magic or spookiness in the matter-of-fact tone one finds in Mallory, where one expects the supernatural to invade real life, and it was excellently executed.

Characters: Four out of Five. The main characters were very well-drawn–a bit reserved for modern characters, but very appropriate for this sort of story about knights and fair maidens (who do a great deal of adventuring in their own right). The only thing that made this not another “five out of five” was the side characters of the young man’s father and his father’s second in command. I felt like they were much less defined, and while a short story doesn’t give a lot of time to create side characters, it felt like they somehow could’ve been stronger.

Artwork: Subjective. I thought the cover was gorgeous in it’s own right, but not necessarily appropriate when one considers all the stories in the collection. The tea cup says “Victorian” to me, or later, and most of the stories are set in medieval times. Yes, there is a sword, and a raven (which I particularly liked), but the tea service made stories like “The May Hawk’s Daughter” feel out of place (as well as doing nothing to represent the one told in modern times, with email and laptops, or the one in WWII during the London Blitz).

World-Building: Four out of Five. The author has to develop two worlds, really–the one outside the forest, and the one inside the forest–and both are adequate, but I would’ve liked more details about how they work: how the knights/soldiers relate to the farmers, whether there was much of a ruler in their area or even a threat of a ruler, and how the new generation treated the older generation who still seems to cling to the tales of Arthur and his long-hoped-for return.

And I had questions about inside the forest, too: how the spells work, what that specter-knight was that attacked them first, where the monsters come from, etc. But compared to Mallory’s world-building, there was an abundance of details, so I can’t really complain.

Overall Response: 17 out of 20, for an average of 4.25. Overall, the story is solid (and I especially enjoyed the ending), and the rating of 4   out of 5 would be representative of the short story collection. Not everything inside it was excellent–there were a handful of typos, a few stories that felt like they didn’t move along very well or got bogged down in description–but overall, it’s a great collection studded with some gems that are well worth the price and time to read.

For more book reviews like this, click here.

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo used by permission from one of the contributing authors

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