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19 Oct 2020

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar

How well do we know the mythology of King Arthur?? It's a tale that has been told over and over for centuries and has evolved and been adapted beyond count during our own times, so what makes this new adaptation so good...?! Well if you like your Fantasy Fiction with a heavy dose of magic and mythology, with a grim edge, and some superbly written prose, then get on this one!

By Force ALone

The most famous adaptation of the Arthurian myth/legend is arguably the 1981 film 'Excalibur' which was full of misty settings and dark magic - not to mention the epic piece of music the Carmina Burana  composed by Carl Orff and dramatically deployed as the knights charged into battle!. Then there's the 1979 novel 'The Mists of Avalon' by Marion Zimmer Bradley which told the myth from the viewpoint of the female characters and sparked off a seven-book epic fantasy series. And more recently there's the 2017 Guy Ritchie film King Arthur : The Legend of the Sword which painted the myth with more grit and mud and cockney-gangster-isms - fun but not a lot of substance imho!

And now enter our newest addition to the world of Arthurian mythology, By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar.

This is a stunning, and I mean stunning, retelling of the saga of King Arthur. The poetic prose is sublime, evocative, and supremely and expertly brutal at times, the author weaving together magic, mysticism, and the history of the myth itself to paint this age-old story in a new light. In this version, young Arthur is raised as a ward and a gutter-rat in post-Roman Londinium, doomed to a life of thievery and a potentially early grave at violent ends. But he exhibits an attitudinal difference from the other local hoodlums and so begins his rise to be king of a united England via any means necessary. Over the journey there's scheming, politics, and the honour of thieves laid bare, in a tale that describes England as the grey and mud-strewn land that civilisation left behind - the characters often evoking the words and thoughts of Greeks, Romans, and other past influences (obviously better civilisations) in order to justify their brutalities or betrayals.

What the author has done here is to continue the evolution of the myth by incorporating elements that have been added throughout its history of retelling - the story is so familiar to us as it is now but at one time in its telling there was no Lancelot, no Guinevere, and Merlin was not always we picture him - or as he appears in this particular version. I really like the underlying socio-political nods here too, i.e. presenting the Lady of the Lake as little more than an arms dealer setting one faction against the other to further her own ambitions and dark machinations. This is a genius move that rings all too true in our own current times.

With each retelling of this saga since when it first appeared - arguably as a vehicle for a sullen and broken down post-Roman England to rally behind - every generation of storyteller has added embellishments that have created more and more depth to this story and this is perhaps the key to its longevity. With this title the saga continues and is still very much alive, and as the author so elegantly distils it; "...this story of Arthur, (is) just a sad, simple tale of violence and greed".

A great read!

That's it for now, keep on reading.