There’s something about the King Arthur legends that fascinate me and tug at my imagination. It’s probably the tragedy of the tale mixed with that message of hope—Arthur’s body spirited away to Avalon to await his return. Merlin is literally the wizard who helps Arthur answer the Call, and I’ve always identified with that archetype on account of my intellectual and autodidactic leanings. So I’m always happy to try a book that attempts to put a new spin on the legend of King Arthur—why not?
Maurice Broaddus deserves commendation for his Knights of Breton Court series. The idea is intriguing: retell (or rather, reimagine) the story of King Arthur as a story of Indianapolis gang warfare. And Broaddus is good at crafting a setting, atmosphere, and characters that all seem authentic. The characters in King Maker run the spectrum: some are not nice at all and have no qualms about using a gun to close a deal; others are more decent and more conflicted about the life they are leading. And because of the way he focuses on Breton Court, Broaddus creates this sense of community within the story that sets the groundwork for connections that would no doubt be important, if I had ever finished the book.
I didn’t even get halfway done. I just couldn’t get into King Maker, try as I might. There’s something to be said for reimagining the Arthur legend or keeping the allusions to it light and subtle—the last thing one needs is a story that hits the reader over the head with allusions to the classic Arthur mythos. Yet Broaddus is almost two subtle. Some things are obvious: Luther is Uther, and his son King is the Arthur analog; Merle is a Merlin figure. But the magic is tentative, almost non-present for what I managed to read of this novel. We get no sense of King’s larger plan, or indeed of anyone else’s plan.
I stopped reading when I realized I had been reading an entire chapter and didn’t know who it was about. There are plenty of characters … but which ones really matter? Which ones are the protagonists? Who should I be cheering for? These are not questions a reader should have to be asking! Obviously King is a protagonist, but he is absent for vicious swathes of the first half of the book, leaving a second string line of characters to take up the slack … and they don’t do it well. King Maker is a soup of scenes and characters that didn’t manage to hold my interest.
It’s conceivable I could return to this after I’m finished my practicum, which has placed constraints on my time that make me less charitable to what I’m reading. But I’ll have to think about it. King Maker isn’t necessarily a bad book; it has some glowing reviews here on Goodreads, so it obviously works for other people. Unfortunately, in my case, it was a clever idea with a payoff that just seemed too far away.