Friday, 25 February 2011

King Arthur: Dragon's Child by M K Hume

Dragon's Child is the first novel in a trilogy by M K Hume, dealing with the historical version of the tale of King Arthur. Here he is Artorex, and is a cuckoo in the nest of Ector and his Roman wife. Artorex lives a life of mundane servitude, referred to as Lump, until the day three mysterious strangers visit Ector and encourage him to train Artorex in arms, letters and horse skills. His wife Livinia is asked to show Artorex how best to speak to people of high standing. Although he doesn't know it, Artorex is being trained for kingship. Soon enough the day arrives when Artorex is brought before Uther Pendragon and is forced to recognise the destiny he has been steered towards by Myrddion Merlinus.

This is a marvellous piece of historical fiction. It presents a very real idea of life in the tumultuous land of Saxons, Celts and Jutlanders once the Romans had departed. War was rife and the various kinglets kept power over tiny provinces. The minutiae of life in those Dark Age times is brought into vivid existence - from weaponry, to food, to clothing.

When I first picked up this novel, I was convinced M K Hume was a male writer. I discovered it is, in fact, a female novelist - and this surprised me greatly. The reason I say this is because the writing is so strong and capable, and gruff in the manner I associate with male writers. I say this in a complimentary fashion - the encounters and relationships between men are presented with incredible realism.

M K Hume's characters are a highlight of the novel. From Artorex, who is everything a hero should be, to Targo, grizzled old warrior who shows the boy how to live as a proper should, to Merlinus himself - all are written with warmth, humour and dialogue that fits the character. The women are also done well - they are not forced into roles that don't match the time within which the novel is written. They are at the mercy of their families and husbands, considered by some no more than chattel. Despite this, they still shine from the page with compassion and a strength of will that is occasionally missing from their menfolk.

What I liked particularly about the writing is that it feels very organic. Every scene leads naturally from that which goes before, the tale unwinding at a slow but persistent pace. The writing is occasionally floral, but never to the detriment of the story, and I, personally, enjoyed these flourishes.

Up until now, my go-to novels for an historical presentation about King Arthur have been those written by Helen Hollick. I think now, though, that I have a new favourite! My immediate thought on closing the last page? "Thank goodness there are two more books!" For anyone who enjoys meticulously researched and, above all, fun historical novels, this is highly recommended. An excellent read.

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