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"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us."
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I don't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe it."— E. Nesbit

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review: Pendragon's Heir, by Suzannah Rowntree

Welcome to a world where the twentieth century dawns on knights in mortal combat, where a traitor and a princess fight for the same title, and where strange, wonderful realms are behind the next door.  This is the world of Arthur's Camelot, a world that Blanchefleur Pendragon, lady of the 20th century and princess of the 5th, must try to save, and a world elegantly crafted by authoress Suzannah Rowntree in her novel, Pendragon's Heir.

 Stories of King Arthur have been told and retold for over a thousand years, hashed and rehashed until they have barely any originality left.  Modern authors may twist the setting and the characters (generally speaking, they daren't touch the plot), but it's still, at the core, the same story. 

Suzannah Rowntree understands this, and she uses it to her advantage.  Pendragon's Heir does not reinterpret the legends; rather, it goes back to their heart and reminds us why we loved them in the first place. 

In order to do this, Rowntree crafts the story around a new rendition of an old character: Blanchefleur.  You haven't heard of her.  She's a minor character from Chr├ętien de Troyes' TheStory of the Grail, where her name is mentioned (I believe) once.  In addition to this relative newcomer, Pendragon's Heir heavily features the beloved canon of Arthurian characters: Arthur and Guinevere, Gawain and Ragnell, Morgain and Mordred.  All familiar characters, all interacting in new ways.  Take Guinevere, for example.  No one likes Guinevere-- Mallory didn't; modern culture doesn't; Tennyson really, really didn't.  Rowntree acknowledges everything that makes Guinevere unlikable and-- well, I can't say more for fear of spoilers.  But Rowntree was so, so good to this poor character. 

Although she writes intriguing characters, Rowntree's talent really shines in her prose.  Although sparse, it is deliciously full, skilled, and elegant.  My highlighter almost ran out of ink trying to keep track of my favorite passages.  Miss Rowntree can throw the most delightful punches with dialogue-- places where a perfectly crafted, poignant phrase literally catches my breath. 

To rephrase everything that's good about this novel: it is a delightful tribute to everything I love about the Arthurian legends. 

That being said... I need to talk about the plot.  I wish I was open-minded enough to like Rowntree's somewhat irregular pacing and plotting, but I'm not.  Like the Arthurian legends, the plot consists of many isolated incidents, and they gradually thicken and draw together to a cohesive finish.  Although I appreciate this artistic choice, I couldn't help but feel that this discontinuity led to a lack of character motivations.  Blanchefleur must guard the Grail.  I understand it's important, but why her?  Perceval comes to a dinner party, and suddenly everyone can speak Welsh.  Pendragon's Heir lacked something to draw a series of occurrences together, and that something very easily could have been the villain, who had a relatively low word count in the novel. 

Despite my issues with the plot and pacing, I really enjoyed Pendragon's Heir.  Rowntree says that she sought to examine what the medievals believed, and I think she succeeded. 

Above all, Pendragon's Heir reflects the higher struggle of morality.  I have read some reviewers complain that the villain's decidedly less romantic, less idealistic plan seems much more practical than that of the heroes.  These reviewers often mention that the villain poses several hard questions of how the heroes' ideals would last in reality; they argue that the characters, and thereby Rowntree, fail to answer this. 

I disagree with this opinion because I believe that there silence is the answer.  These are not easy questions.  There are not always answers.  But even when they can't put their necessity into words, the characters follow these ideals simply because they are worth fighting for. 

Four and a half stars, and be sure to find out more about Suzannah Rowntree and read Pendragon's Heir!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks like a good book!
Jemma

Allison Ruvidich said...

Agreed. I think you would like it, Jemma! : )

Sarah said...

Pendragon's Heir is on my TBR list- glad to hear it's good. :) Hopefully I'll get to check it out soon.

Also, I like what you said in the last two paragraphs.

Allison Ruvidich said...

I'm sure you'll love it! And thank you. I added those after I wrote the rest of the review, and it felt right. : )

Anonymous said...

That's great!
Jemma

ghost ryter said...

Argh, somehow my subscription through e-mail hasn't been working, and so I just happened to stop by here and saw a whole slew of posts I hadn't known about.

Anyway, great review! I do believe I'll be making an order from Amazon some time soon. :)

Allison Ruvidich said...

@Jemma- : D

@Ghosty- Do it! Do it! Order the book! I would say that I'll check to make sure the email is working, but I have no idea how it works. So instead I'll slap my computer once or twice and see if that fixes it.