[ Book Review ] Camelot, ‘Tis a Silly Place for Papers

The Camelot Papers by Peter David


Judging from the tabloid-looking cover, The Camelot Papers looks like a laugh-out-loud US Weekly meets Arthurian England farce. But that’s not it.

Not it at all.

The Camelot Papers by Peter David is a series of journal entries written by Viviana, a mid-to-late 20s woman sold into the service of Uther Pendragon and later his son Arthur. Despite her status, Viviana is more educated than the royals to whom she’s indentured, something both Arthur (who admits to her he’s illiterate) and “wizard” Merlin find most interesting.

The only trouble is, I’m not quite sure what the cover has to do with the story at all.

Yes, there’s humor, but The Camelot Papers also features a lot of serious moments laced with its trademark dark wryness. There are cute scenes and places where I’d smile at something witty Viviana said or something Arthur did that makes him look like an idiot. But not once did I laugh out loud and turn to my roommate and say, “Okay, okay, lemme read this to you…” It’s not that type of humor novel.

What kind of novel is it, then? It’s one with a strong narrative voice and intriguing characters. Viviana isn’t a wallflower; she has a voice and she uses it when she can, then braces herself for the consequences. She’s neither abrasive nor rude, but cautious–and insanely optimistic despite what life has dealt her.

When Merlin questions her perspective, Viviana explains, “It is not for me to judge the world, sir. It is for me to survive in it…that is my philosophy. I cling to it to survive. I find it more palatable than the thought that God permits my existence to be one long, unending misery because He has some higher purpose to which I am not privy.”

That outlook on life makes Viviana the perfect narrator. Throughout the novel she doesn’t judge nor wallow in anger at her situation–her own father sold her to settle debts. Instead, she ends up explaining to Arthur that despite her journal filling with entries, she prefers each chapter of her life to start at Day One. That said, she’s not a Royal Historian color-washing Camelot in rainbows and leprechauns. Neither is she a journalist writing a scandalous tell-all book. She’s a fly-on-the-wall, writing a daily journal about the people in her life.

And the results are one part dark-realism, one part black humor.

Let me give you some examples: The novel opens up with Viviana thrown face-first on a bed with King Uther about to have his way with her. The moment is thankfully interrupted when Arthur walks in and goes, “Is this a bad time?”

During the celebration of Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding, King Uther dies, presumably poisoned by his wine. A rival of Uther’s, Maleagant, challenges Arthur for the crown. A duel breaks out, and Arthur stabs his father’s murder. Maleagant grabs his bleeding chest and says with his dying breath: “This would probably be a bad time… to tell you… I am innocent…”

That’s what I’ve always loved about David’s writing. Even in the most serious of situations, one line is all it takes to break up the scene. He’s damn good at writing serious scenes and stories, but the humor-laced comments… It’s almost as if David can’t help himself. And really, we don’t want him to.

If your only source of knowledge of King Arthur is Monty Python, you might not appreciate The Camelot Papers as much. Names and references will fly by, and nothing is really explained. Oh, sure, Viviana mentions that Arthur is Uther’s son and Merlin’s a crazy old man. But Viviana doesn’t explain in her journals who she is. In most Arthurian tales, Viviane is the name of the Lady of the Lake, the woman who gave Arthur his famous sword Excalibur. (Though the fake forward by fake professors giving the fake journals their fake stamp of authenticity does address this, indicating that the journals are proof the Lady of the Lake was real person.)

And then there’s Viviana’s imaginary boyfriend, a Knight named Galahad. He’s perfect, he’s awesome, he’s everything Twihards think Edward is… which is pretty close to how Galahad the Pure was in Le Morte d’Arthur.

Overall, The Camelot Papers is an engaging read–unexpectedly so. That  cover had me thinking it was going to be reading a parody, a la Monty Python. Instead, what I got was a solid, stand-alone story based loosely on the legends of Camelot. For lovers of King Arthur, definitely give The Camelot Papers a read. But don’t go looking for it in your local bookstore; it’s a Nook/Kindle exclusive… and available as a print-on-demand via Amazon.

And if this sounds like something for you, there’s more. While David is mostly known for comics and Star Trek novels, this isn’t his first venture into Arthurian mythology with a twist. I highly recommend the Knight Life trilogy (Knight Life, One Knight Only and Fall of Knight) which tells the story of King Arthur’s return to the modern world, and how he successfully ran for mayor of New York City.

[ Book Review ] Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey: I had to hear it to like it

What do 30-Rock, Saturday Night Live, and 63.4% of my friends have in common? Tina Fey. And, in the case of my friends, the looks they give me–part mild concern, part disbelief–when I reluctantly admit that I don’t watch either show. At least, not beyond a few youtube clips those self-same friends are moved to send my way in pity.

And this is why I can’t stress enough how glad I am that I went for an audiobook version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants (narrated by the author, herself).  Had I picked up the print version of Fey’s collection of articles,  I’d have been reading it flat, and flat wouldn’t have done anything but create an angry, sardonic atmosphere. But with Tina Fey performing her own words, there is nothing vicious in the narrator’s light, chirpy voice–and the liberal in me was content.

But wait, canary. You just called this a collection of articles. It’s a book.

Yes, Bossypants is presented as a memoir, but the book is best approached as a collection of chapters and commentary, only loosely connected by Fey’s themes from her childhood to now. In fact, that’s one of the thing I ended up enjoying immensely. Not only are the stories entertaining, but there are a lot of them. And just when I might have been tempted to let my mind wander, Fey ends a story and hits me with a pithy list–or a series of replies to comments from the internet.

TheOtherCanary informs me that this is what modern nonfiction memiors look like. Weird.  Continue reading

[ Book Review ] This is how you write Star Wars

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Deceived by Paul S. Kemp

Audiobook read by Marc Thompson

I once read that the best villain is one you feel sympathetic for. I thought about that, then thought about all the villains I love. Javert from Les Miserables, Elphaba from Wicked, Khan from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan… All loveable characters, despite their evilness.

Darth Malgus from Star Wars: The Old Republic – Deceived is right up there.

In all the Star Wars novels I’ve read, this is the first Sith Lord I’ve seen depicted as a vulnerable human being–and that includes Vader. There’s more to this guy than his one-dimensional balls-of-hatred counterparts. Darth Malgus may have been born in the Empire, trained in the dark side his whole life, and views the Jedi as misguided idiots, but he has one weakness: his female servant Eleena. He loves her, and she him, and it’s that vulnerability–that love for not only a slave, but a non-human Twi’lek slave–that the other Sith take pleasure in exposing. 

But at the same time, Malgus isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He leads an all-out attack against the Republic’s capitol planet, destroys the Jedi Temple and kills a powerful Jedi Master. He’s an evil, evil man… but still finds time to make out with his girlfriend before killing Jedi scum.

And that’s what gets him in trouble with his master: Lead a Sith Army against Republic forces, destroy the Jedi Temple, and then get sent to babysit the planetary blockade because you ordered the Imperial medics to treat your injured slave as they would an injured Sith Lord. Sucks to be you, Malgus. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: Falling–A Flirty Fantasy of Fallen Idols

Falling: A Flirty Fantasy of Fallen Idols by Cecilia Gray

(Book #1 of the Fallen Idols)

(4 romantic canaries, right here.)

This was a wonderful weekend read–fun, light, with one of the strongest first-person narrators I’ve read in the romance genre in a long, long time.

Our main character, Alexis, isn’t afraid to climb mountains to get what she wants–literally. Labeled The World’s Bravest Woman, she rappels down buildings and rafts rapids. But when her fiancé dumps her for a busty Italian model, she’d rather hide under a blanket on her sister’s couch. Her sister has other ideas, and Alexis finds herself being dragged into the latest all-exclusive club for some post-break-up therapy.

Enter one plotting goddess, a coven of witches, and one immortal Greek warrior with an 184-year-old curse hanging over his head. It’s a night on the town in downtown San Francisco.

So where does this chick flick treat water in the enormous pool of paranormal romance? The story is told from Alexis point of view, and she is an engaging, intelligent narrator who has no problem realizing that instant attraction isn’t exactly real love, and that erratic behavior on the guy’s part calls for the psychiatric ward, not an elopement. I do love me a sane heroine.

At this point, I didn’t even mind Alexis’ hang-ups over her own appearance or the turbo-charged attraction–unavoidable when the plot demands true luv in ten thousand words or less. It was a solid five-canary romance right until the main action hit the metaphysical fan. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Harry Dresden’s Ghost Takes a Stroll

Meg’s Advanced Review: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

This review will be free of Ghost Story spoilers (outside what has already been released by the publishers). All other books in the series are fair game.

I really thought that my happiest nerd moment this past weekend would be my trip halfway across the country to see Harry Potter.

I was so, so wrong.

The day after the midnight premiere, my ex-roommate/best friend #1 walked into the living room with her phone thrust in front of her.

“My mom is at the used bookstore,” she said. This was not entirely odd, as her mother practically lives at a used bookstore. But her tone said something else was afoot. “Look what she’s found.”

And there, on her phone, was a picture of Ghost Story. Dresden Files book thirteen. Just sitting on the shelf.

Two weeks before it was supposed to be there. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Looking for a Scapegoat

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I am going to be shunned for heresy, but I’m going to come right out and say it. Here goes: I did not enjoy Good Omens as much as I thought I would.

I am no longer a proper Pratchett loyalist, and the knowledge burns. But instead of huddling somewhere, trying to process this suddenly upturned world, I’m going to pin the reasons I had trouble with the book on three major issues:

  1. Gaiman
  2. Gaiman
  3. Gaiman

Thus, the fangirl in me is mollified.

Good Omens is a fun book, make no mistake. It combines the light writing style of the Discworld series with Gaiman’s penchant for making the fantastic out of our everyday world. The story begins with the end of the world–the apocalypse is nigh, the four horsemen are ready, and the divine troops are preparing for battle.

Everything is going as planned when the angels and demons realize something. Both sides have misplaced the Antichrist.

The story and characters are hilarious, the social commentary wonderfully biting, and the marriage of the real and the magical delightful. This is a book I would recommend to anyone.

So what kept this from a five-star? There really are three reasons. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: 10 Bits of My Brain

10 Bits of My Brain by Stuart Jaffe

(3.5 canaries, but I couldn’t bring myself to pop a poor canary in half)

Jaffe is a versatile writer whose stories span genres and settings, without ever making the editor and reader in me cringe or groan. The offhand manner of narration edge stories like Henry’s Son with their very own menace, while With The Three Fingers Case, Jaffe takes the reader on a romp into a quick homicide mystery–the catch? The dragon detective thinks a human did it, and his human partner is sure a dragon’s to blame. Over the course of the stories I saw witchery, voodoo, curses, and pirates (see book cover over to the right for a more complete list!).

The collection begins at the height of the holocaust in Nazi Germany, then moves to a tattoo parlor at the edge of the universe, then to a small park bench where a homeless man idles his days away. Though the pieces differ wildly in plot and genre, I sensed a few common threads I thought could have been emphasized to unify the tales.

For example, life is something to be endured by the characters, and death is often a release. I don’t want to call these stories nihilistic, but there is a certain acceptance and even longing for the inevitable closure to the arc of life. Immortality, as it comes to at least two of the characters, is no gift, and betrayal usually comes in the form or a relative or friend.

All in all, I saw good writing, solid story structure, and a lively wit. So why only a three?  Continue reading

[ Book Review ] That cat has a gun.

Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

(Five canaries, all the way)

Excerpt:

“To make entirely sure, one of the visitors sent five bullets straight at the head of the damned animal, and the cat promptly emptied a whole cartridge clip in reply…The tom swayed on the chandelier in constantly diminishing arcs, for some reason blowing into the muzzle of the Browning and spitting on his paw.”

-from the confrontation between the cat and the Soviet secret police.

Voland, a professor of black magic, comes to Moscow with his entourage — an enormous cat, one witch, a hitman, a valet, and a pale gentleman — and not so quietly, the capital is turned upsidedown.  In the middle of all this, the nameless Master has discovered the price of creating and speaking the truth, and Margarita, who loved and lost, will do anything to get Master back — even if it means making a deal with the devil who walks the streets of Moscow.

The havoc the devil’s minions sew in the city, the story of Christ and Pontius Pilate, and the trials of Master and Margarita are pulled together into a seamless narrative.

What’s more: despite its use of religious figures and themes, there is no moralizing, no overarching moral, and no easy conclusion for the reader.

 

Because I munched on the Russian original, I can’t vouch for whether there are any English translations out there that convey the awesomeness that is Master and Margarita. Wikipedia has some thoughts on the subject, though.

There’s a reason why the book is on Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century. Read it.

And if you’re still not convinced, there’s the cat. The incorrigible demonic cat that rides trolleys, eats tangerines whole, accidentally shoots the devil’s witch, and sets fire to buildings. Behemoth (or Hippopotamus, depending on how you translate from Russian) makes the cat lover in me happy.

Read it.

[ Book Review ] There’s no country like Gibson country.

Spook Country by William Gibson

“Okay, let’s start by acknowledging the truth: you are going to read this book, because it’s William Gibson, and you and I both read everything he writes.”

-Taken from an Amazon review by Adam Z 

Guilty as charged. So, so guilty.

It’s William Gibson: Exquisitely crafted language, crisp images, and vivid characters.

It is also not a five-canary book, a conclusion the result of a day long pitched battle in my little fangirl heart. Gibson’s lovely style is here, but the story…isn’t. The narrative audiobook voice of Robertson Dean carried me along, and Gibson’s writing made it a pleasant journey, but the overall plot was stretched taut enough to be transparent.

I am not going to post a teaser summary of the story’s premise. Let’s face it. If you’re a Gibson fan, you’ll be reading this book anyway, and enjoying every description-laden moment. If you’re not, I’m gonna say, Neuromancer, and follow it up with Pattern Recognition.

So, we’re in Spook Country. Continue reading

[Book Review] There’s a terrified reader down there.

Mike Shepherd – Mutineer [[Did Not Finish]]

(The first of the Kris Longknife series)

Disclaimer: I ended up stopping roughly one-fourth through the novel. I couldn’t do it. I broke.

I am weak.

The Review:

“There’s a terrified child down there.”

That first sentence says,

You want to read me.

By the fifth paragraph, my interest in the terrified child had died down and I was slogging past my first narrative exclamation mark. As the main character, Kris, faces her mission to rescue this child, the reader is hit over the head with the requisite past trauma in the form of flashbacks, the angst of needing to escape the shadow of her family history, and characters that, more often than not, are used as info-dump mouthpieces.

In the character of Kris, the author appears to be trying to create a sympathetic 22-year-old who is running from her past while searching for a semblance of stability. However, as her most painful struggles are internal — tending to consist of cycling through a decade of survivor’s guilt and her crisis about being treated like the poor little rich girl — the attempt to humanize her comes across as a token salute. In the first quarter of the book, the minor conflicts are solved by the superior (flying, computer, political, etc) skills she had gained as a child, or by family members or friends with equally exceptional skill-sets.

I did not see struggle. I did not see growth. I did not finish the book.

That first sentence is the high point of the 100 pages I read (out of 400). Now, the first fourth of the book does have at least one redeeming quality. Continue reading