Hemning Sternberg (moonshadow) wrote,
Hemning Sternberg

The King's Name by Jo Walton

I picked this book up a while ago in a used bookstore because I like fantasy novels about women soldiers. I did not initially realize that it was an Arthurian fantasy. Call me a bad fantasy fan if you must, but I do not have a big thing for Arthurian legends, or for dragons for that matter. But I decided to read the book anyway, partly because I had read and loved Farthing, a newer book by Walton in the alternate-history creep-you-the-heck-out genre.

Sulien is sixteen when she is overpowered by a group of armed raiders, raped, and left to die. From this horrible incident, she is forged into a weapon of steel. When she sees a large party of warriors attacking a small group of horsemen, she doesn't hesitate to join the outnumbered side. And this brings her naturally into the service of Urdo, the High King who desires to unite the entire land. But the past is always with us. Can Sulien move beyond what has happened to her?

About the only problem that I have with this book is that at a certain point, Sulien has the opportunity to face in combat the only one of her rapists who is still alive, who also dedicated her to a god not of her choosing and left her for dead. He refuses to fight her. She in turn finds that she cannot kill a man who is not fighting back. She hits and kicks him a few times, then stops without him being especially injured.
I disagreed with this approach rather vehemently. I realize that Sulien is a knight and thinks about her honor as a knight does. But if she had simply kicked her enemy in the balls ten or a dozen times, she could be fairly certain that he would never rape anyone again. If that wasn't enough, breaking his kneecaps would make him unable to sit a horse - he would lose his knight's rank. Again, going further, if she broke all of his fingers - this is a feudal society, he would be dependant on the charity of others the rest of his life. I would have been happier with that even though I realize that it is Sulien's honor that prevents her from even considering these possibilities.

Debra Doyle reviewed this book as, "what The Mists of Avalon should have been." I think that this is a reflection of her interests as an author. I would not say this is the book TMoA should have been - for one thing, they were written in different times. For another, they have different things to say. TMoA is a feminist book. This is a book with a female main character. They are both about a land in turmoil between its pagan roots and its Christian future, but the interpretations of what that means are very different.

Some of the things I liked about this book are the believable characters, spirituality and magic that are present but not the focus of the story, the humor, and the lense through which Sulien views the world. The book is told from her perspective, and she is very often funny or sad without knowing it, such as when she is talking about Christianity or marriage.

This is not only a book for Arthurian enthusiasts. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in the time period or enjoys military-focused sci fi in the age of horses and swords. Four stars. As a note, though it is very important to understanding Sulien's character, and not as graphic as it might have been, the rape scene may be triggering for some.
Tags: books 2008, fiction
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