351 pages; published 2003
"I am careful with everyone," Arthur said. "It is part of what High King is all about, being careful. I am careful because everyone - even you, my dear brother - would be king in my place."
Kay had the grace to look embarrassed and once again blushed red. "Not I, Arthur," he said, but they both knew it was a lie.
"Everyone wants the throne," Arthur repeated and walked back up the steps to the high wooden seat. He sat down on it heavily [...] "Everyone wants it but me." (p 45)
Everyone knows the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Everyone knows of noble Arthur, beloved king of Camelot. And everyone knows of Merlin, his ancient and wise advisor. There has, of course, been countless books and films on the subject. Jane Yolen's YA novel, however, doesn't merely retell the legend, but recreates it.
Young Arthur, barely 23 years of age, is the High King of Britain, so titled because of the power and influence of the man who put im there, his advisor and former tutor Merlinnus. However, he is far from the figure found in Arthurian legend. While kind, generous, and a natural-born leader, he does not have the confidence and support required to make him the great king he has the potential to be. His place in this position is, if not widely protested then at least widely questioned - by everyone including even himself.
His greatest rival and contender for the throne is Morgeuse, the North Queen, who desperately desires to rule through one of her one sons. When she sends four of her sons to court, including the upstanding Gawain and his aggressive brother Agravaine, their arrival coincides with several other arrivals: firstly, the rumour of as assassin coming to remove Arthur from the throne, and secondly, a young boy, Gawan, whose suspiscious intelligence and unknown background cause Merlin to keep him close to himself.
Deciding that the best thing to do the face of such uncertainty is to solidify Arthur's claim on the throne once and for all, Merlinnus sets about to do just this. His plan includes the removal of a sword, Caliburnus, from a strategically placed bit of stone. But will it be enough? Will the people accept Arthur as the rightful king?
I quite enjoyed the careful reworking of the well-known legend. It was just a careful shifting of the story, seeing everything in just a slightly different position. While enjoyable throughout, however, the story itself wasn't terribly exciting. It was more Gawan's story than Arthur's and the biggest mystery was in trying to decern Gawan's background. I'd recommend it to a fan of Arthurian legend, but for a newbie I'd probably recommend something a little more mainstream. 3.5/5
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