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VINE VOICEon February 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Synopsis:
Here Lies Arthur is an alternative take on the Arthurian legend, centering on the adventures of a young English girl named Gwynna. Made homeless when the Arthur of legend and his war band sack the homestead of her lord, she flees the battle and is later rescued in the woods by Myrddin, a bard who serves Arthur as an advisor and magician. Myrddin, a man who is agnostic by nature, uses Gwynna to masquerade as the lady of the lake and then raises her as a boy through the early part of her life. Gwynna watches the exploits of Arthur as she grows up, contrasting the rough, brutal man with the heroic stories Myrddin creates about him. The book ultimately follows her adventures and how they are intertwined with the legend of Arthur.

Review
Written by Philip Reeve, the author of the notable and very odd, Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles) science fiction series, Here Lies Arthur was originally published in England in 2007 to good reviews and a few awards. It now has made its way across the pond and has been published in the United States.

Unlike many of the fantasy style recountings of the Arthurian saga, Reeve chooses a realistic approach, framing the Arthurian saga in a more realistic world, made with politics and rough men who fit the period. Presented in the first person as narrated by the girl Gwynna, there is no magic in this story aside from that which Myrddin makes reference to in the many tall tales he tells to help establish Arthur as a hero.

Arthur himself is a rough and mostly non-heroic personage, who gains fame not through his own actions, but through the stories spun by Myrddin. Myrddin, who hopes to find a leader to unite England to stave off the depredations of the lawless world around them, is a charlatan with a ruthless nature. He only rescues Gwynna because she might serve a useful purpose to that effect. This is not the heroic tale of old, but a story of flawed men in a brutal world.

Reeve is a good writer. His style is solid and readable, and this book certainly is well written enough to keep one's attention. I have a few quibbles with his choice to switch from past tense to present tense on occasion. It breaks the flow of the story and seems to serve no purpose. But I suppose it was an artistic conceit.

I've always found the realistic take on legends to be an interesting artistic device. Reeve is not the first to do this sort of thing, though I think it's the first time I've seen it done with the Arthurian legend to such depth. And it's a fun tale in some regards, one which takes the old standards and characters of the legend and puts them into a realistic context. He does a good job of it too. It was fun linking the characters to the legend and seeing what he did with them.

That said, I have to admit that a lot of Young Adult fiction leaves me cold these days with its dark take on everything. In this case, it's almost like Reeve wanted to throw cold water onto all of the mythic and magical Arthurian legends by painting Arthur as much of a brutal product of his era as he possibly could. There is an underlying depressed tone to the whole tale, filled with the cynicism of its main character. The whole bent of the tale is that heroes are never what the legends say they are and that stories have more power than real people do. It's not really a worldview I subscribe to entirely, though I suppose it does have some truth to it.

In any case, if one is willing to overlook the tone of the novel, it is quite readable and somewhat entertaining. Reeve's fresh take on a well known legend will definitely appeal to a lot of readers.
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VINE VOICEon January 9, 2009
in a sentence: Gwyna, a servant girl left behind after one of Arthur's raids, catches the eye of the famous wizard Myrddin. after Myrddin spots what might be some form of usefulness in the plain-faced orphan, Gwyna is in over her head and getting wrapped up in the legendary tale of Arthur.

we first meet little Gwyna as she's running away from the burning place she used to call home. a servant girl, used to being ignored (when she's not being kicked around), is shocked by the seeming kindness from the tall and clever storyteller. Myrddin has been spending his time weaving tales about wonderful and fantastic Arthur, although Gwyna knows just how crude, beastly, and aggressive Arthur really is.

without giving away any of the plot, Reeve takes the reader through some of the more famous people in the Arthurian legend. we meet Myrddin (Merlin), Arthur, Cei (Arthur's half-bro), Gwenhhwyfar (Guenevere), and others. this is not an "oh-my-gosh-Arthur-is-the-greatest-ever!" book. far from it. Reeve explores what some of the myths might have actually been like before the test of time and the romanticizing of the legend. mostly, the focus is on Gwyna, who is the narrator and Myrddin as the master behind Arthur's power.

while this is a clever idea with beautiful writing and turns of phrase, and creative characters, i found myself bored at points. Gwyna made a great narrator, though i felt that her self-professed plainness seeped through to her character development. there were insightful musings on what boys are like, what girls are like, why girls aren't mentioned in famous legends unless as a bad person or as a prize for the men, why war was glamorized, etc. the weaving of myth and reality made for excellent story-telling techniques, but i can't help feeling that there was so much potential to be tapped here, and it just fell flat for me.

fave quote: "The real Arthur had been just a little tyrant in an age of tyrants. What mattered about him was the stories." (331)

fix er up: the pacing of the book. the elaborate visual storytelling techniques and fresh ideas couldn't make up for the sluggish pace for me.
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on June 7, 2015
I was incredibly excited about this book after reading the summary, and thought that the plot sounded brilliant; the idea of Arthurian lore stemming from a clever con artist sounded quite fun. I was expecting a nontrivial portion of the book to focus on these cons, to have Myrddin play a more involved role, and to have a few moments of "cynical humor."

Approached with these expectations, however, the book was disappointing. The plot moved relatively slowly, even though the book encompassed many years. I also didn't grow attached to any of the characters, and again, this might have been because the book tried to cover too many years -- people change over time, and if you only get small "snippets" of them at various points, it's hard to gain any insight into their true, enduring traits. As a character, Myrddin was at least interesting, but often played a cursory role.

That said, it was a great book to read during an exam term -- it was engaging enough that I enjoyed reading it at night, but it certainly did not keep me up reading, and I was easily able to put it down to go to bed. The writing was also pretty solid, and I think the book could be appropriate for a wide range of audiences.

BOTTOM LINE: If you're short on books to read, this one isn't the worst to add to your queue, but I also don't think it's one of the best. If you're looking for a more "fun" book like the show Leverage, look elsewhere. If you're fascinated by Arthurian lore, and want to read an interesting take on the legends, then this books probably worth a read.
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on July 24, 2011
When my father first came on this book, he questioned every one of us, whether or not the title's "Lies" means "a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive" or "to be in a horizontal, recumbent, or prostrate position, as on a bed or the ground". Some of you might have just looked up in the BACK cover and easily guess "Lies" stands for the first explanation, not the second one. However, we weren't that smart enough to find it out, and my dad had to find it the hard way.
The whole story is written on a girl named Gwyna's view, who had to dive in the cold, cold water on the start of the book to not get slashed by a sword-boy. She has no families, no friends, and no one to care for her, till she meets Myrddin on the far side of the riverbank. After him noticing her talents of swimming, he takes her under his wings, and gives her a very important task the very next day. It was there, when I learned the "Lies" stands for telling lies for sure, because it was Gwyna who gave Caliburn to Arthur. After successing on his tricks, Myrddin makes her to talk and live like a boy to hide his tricks.
Many days passed, till Gwyna grew in to a noticeable girl. Mealwas figured out that she was a boy, and Myrddin had to find a safe place for her so his tricks would stay hidden. So he sent her to Arthur's palace to spy on Gwenhwyfar. By now she learns much of her master's tricks, and becomes a trickster herself. She becomes closer to Gwenhwyfar and discovers she is in love with a man other then Arthur and after a thought, she tells Myrddin.
The rest of the stories are like this, only that she uses her talent more than she did before. Through Cei, she learns Myrddin loved her and later returns to him, to see him die. Later, after Arthur's death, she spins her tale of how a boat came and took him to an island to live forever. Though Gwyna ran away from Myrddin and broke his heart, she did not forget him, and took him as an only family and so did Myrddin. The book describes Arthur as a selfish greedy man, with Cei as his kin, noble and humble. Myrddin is a clever old fox, traveling across the worlds, spreading wonderful stories of Arthur, making them think Arthur is not the real Arthur at all.
I think Phillip Reeve was trying to tell us that not all stories are true, and yet, anything could be done if you believe it would. It tells us that Myrddin was behind everything and Arthur is just a impatient man, killing everyone on his way, but also that this is a story after all, and no one could tell which one is correct.
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on November 25, 2015
I am an avid Arthurian legend fanatic. I have never read anything like this. It is completely different which made it enjoyable. I kept trying to compare it to other stories and it matches up with some of the detail which link it, but has a wildly different story line which kept me thinking and wanting to see what would happen yet. I actually read this because I was checking it in to my library and I had never heard of it. Definitely recommended.
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on January 1, 2010
Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve- This novel is a different story pertaining to the King Arthur legend.

The story follows a young girl named Gwyna, who is running away from her home, which is in flames. During her escape she meets a man named Myrddin (who is Merlin) who takes pity on her and allows her a place to stay for a while. However, Myrddin has another use for little Gwyna, she becomes the Lady of the Lake and is the one who gives Arthur his sword Caliburn (Excalibur). After Gwyna gives the sword to Arthur, Myrddin makes her into a boy so she would be able to come with them. During the war-bands travels, Gwyna, now Gwyn, met a girl her age named Peri (who is really a boy named Peredur, or better known as Perceval). The duo play a trick on a "holy man" that causes the holy man to become more holy. Later the war-band takes over the city of Aquae Sulis, making it Arthur's capital. There Arthur meets Gwenhwyfar, whom he is forced to marry. By this time, Gwyna is starting to look more and more like a young woman than a man. Myrddin seeing this decides to change Gwyn back into Gwyna and she goes into to serve Gwenhwyfar. Things slowly goes from bad to worse, almost shadowing the legend. This story is a different viewpoint and a whole different take on the legend of King Arthur.

Negatives:
1) Myrddin. He goes from likable, to vile, to just delusional. The problem I have is that he has all these various mood swings and it throws the reader off. But it's more than that. For the longest time, I thought that Myrddin seemed to be really likable and enjoyable. Then he just changes and becomes a bitter, vile man. Then later on, you learn that the reason he becomes this way seems like a hurried explanation. Because of this, you realize that the whole time he seems to be lost within his own false stories he made up about Arthur. He's still an interesting character, however.
2) Children Story? I saw that this was short-listed for some children story award. Is this really meant to be a children story? Really? With all the nudity, sex, graphic bloodshed, and the curse words, this really doesn't seem to be child friendly. Unless the children stories have changed from when I was young to today.

Positives:
1) Pacing. The story was a really fast read. It really kept me entertained and excited when I was reading. In fact, I really didn't want to put the story down to long. The chapters were short and quick, only lasting a few pages. The story wasn't bogged down in fancy wording or unimportant details. Gwyna's narration was simple, yet riveting. It was like I was listening to own of Myrddin's tall tales.
2) Villainous Arthur. Arthur was a villain! Seeing him as someone that I really hated was a shock but a shock I really enjoyed. Everyone thinks that Arthur is some sort of immortal hero, always just and true. Yet here, he is a vile, hateful, stupid, cruel man. I have to say I enjoy him like this than as a good man.
3) Dark. The whole story had a darker feel to it. From the beginning, seeing Gwyna's home burn is dark. Then you have the tragic parts of Gwenhwyfar, Bedwyr, and Cei. On top of that Arthur isn't noble and kind. It just felt dark. But it felt so right.

Side Notes:
1) Movies. It really seems that Philip Reeve took a lot, a lot of inspiration from movies like 1981's Excalibur. There are some scenes from Excalibur that are taken word for word in this story, the best example the endings are very similar.
2) Legends to Characters. It was fun to try and figure out who was who from the legend to the story. Some were vary obvious; Cei was Kay, Myrddin was Merlin, and Peredur was Perceval. Some where harder to figure out, but it still was interesting seeing who was who.
3) Cover Art. Simple, yet interesting. It seems clean. Seeing Caliburn being held by the Lady of the Lake reminiscent of the movie Excalibur really works well.

Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
This was a fun take on King Arthur's legend. The reason why I thought it was fun is because of how unlike the legend it is. Seeing Arthur as a vile character was different and I thought it works really well. Gwyna is an interesting character, going from girl to boy to girl again and how she deals with everything was fun to read about. It just was a fast paced story and exciting like nothing else.
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VINE VOICEon November 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Gwyna crawls from the depths of the river bed as her home burns somewhere upstream. All she knows is she must escape and make it to safety. But then she stumbles into the strange man: Myrddin, who takes her in as a servant. Myrddin in turn, serves Arthur, a bear of a man who would make claim to the isle of Britain. And Myrddin is going to help him do it -- somehow, someway. Using strange tales and having Gwyna along for the ride, the spinner of stories manages to create the legend of King Arthur. And Gwyna travels along her own journey, disguised as a boy and then transformed into the marvelous Lady of the Lake, and into a young maiden. As she struggles through life, she can only wonder one thing: what happens when someone sees through it all? Will Arthur himself kill her? Or will an even worse fate fall to the young maiden?

Philip Reeve spins out his own tale in HERE LIES ARTHUR, a story that takes the legends of Arthur and twists them around into something tangible and possibly realistic. I will admit, going into HERE LIES ARTHUR, I thought this would turn out to be more of a fantasy. But it wasn't. At all. In fact, this book kept trying to be the exact opposite of a fantasy. Reeve paints the world of fifth century Britain as very dark, gritty, and highly humanistic. At one point, one of his characters spouts out that there are no gods, spirits, or magic. And other characters continue to scoff at anything even remotely "magical."

So while HERE LIES ARTHUR didn't turn out to be a fantasy romp -- it did turn out to be a pretty moving story in the end. The tale is told from the point of view of Gwyna, and her transformation from young girl to pretending to be a boy and back is fascinating and fairly relevant. Things do get a little strange when a boy shows up who is disguised as a girl, and it was hard to hold back the disbelief at the plot events. But Reeve manages to pull these threads together well, and by story's end, Gwyna has found an identity for herself. She's a great character to follow and really portrays the divided world of men and women in medieval times well. On one hand, she's torn and wants to be out with the men, traveling and having adventures, but then she longs to be with the other women and sharing her inmost thoughts -- things she could never say to a man. And the relationship between her and Myrddin is touching in the end.

Arthur gets the brunt side of the sword here -- painted as a cruel, drunken warrior who plunders his way from village to village. It was a very different take and made Arthur out to be a sort of anti-hero.

The book is definitely not plot driven, and while it does include a few battle scenes, it is not "action-packed" by any means. It reminded me very much of NOBODY'S PRINCESS by Esther Friesner, and fans of character-driven historical novels will enjoy HERE LIES ARTHUR a great bit.
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on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My dissertation director told a story once, that after reading his paper on Malory at a conference, a large, red-headed Welshman challenged him thusly: "Sir, if you do not believe in King Arthur, then you have no poetry in your soul."

Mr. Reeve has no poetry in his soul.

I can only presume the title is a clever pun on the word 'lie', because that's the new twist that this author takes on the Arthurian legend. Arthur has nothing to recommend him: a brutal, womanizing, spouse-abusing pig of a man. Merlin (pretentiously Myrddin here) is a cunning atheist/arch manipulator. Nice to see Guenevere is still adulterous, but she's taken down a peg here, too: here, she's ugly. The whole point of the novel a screed on the evils and abuses of propaganda, where we *all* become the dummies who believe the pretty story instead of looking beyond them to the truth. Yes, that's how deep Reeve's cynicism goes--he obliquely attacks anyone with a sense of wonder and believer in larger-than-life as being just as gullible as the great unwashed of the sixth century.

This wouldn't bother me so much if it weren't a Young Adult title. I see my classrooms filled with hopeless, sighing, nihilism and unearned cynicism enough--Reeve's work feeds directly into that. No one and nothing is admirable, and the only recourse is to escape entirely. That's the theme of the book, and I really don't think that's a terrific message to a generation already half tuned-out.

Along its way of demolishing anything bright or admirable about the Arthurian legend, it also takes swipes at Gawain and the Green Knight (though thankfully Reeve was thoughtful enough to leave my beloved Gawain out of this wreck entirely), the Mabinogion, and a few other canonical works--even a vague nod toward Hercules hiding among the women. He claims it's not a 'historical novel', and he's right. He totally ignores the vital Celtic relationship of uncle to sister's son, for example, that makes/would have made the betrayals in the novel even more poignant.
He botches great amounts of history, starting with that no one, not even in the Celtic world, fought any time after harvest. In fact, the novel is anti-history, since, of course, it's all just a lie.

It's a very pretty lie, of course, and I can't fault Reeve's prose. He can write an evocative sentence. The costume/gender changes come almost comically too fast toward the end, and if you're freaked out by crossdressing, this might not work for you. He shifts POV a little roughly--most of the book is from Gwyna's perspective, but it jars out occasionally to someone else.

As a medievalist, I appreciate Reeve's spin, but I can't bring myself to like it. I like my wonder tales with a bit of wonder, and though he claims to love the Arthur mythos, this strikes me as bordering on blasphemy. Read Lloyd Alexander instead.
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VINE VOICEon September 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Arthurian legend has inspired real mountains of literature over the centuries, and it's gotten increasingly difficult to come up with an original take on the tale. Philip Reeve makes a valiant effort with this book, putting more of the focus on the lady of the lake and giving her a backstory that most incarnations of the story leave out. I can't say it's entirely successful -- it's a little difficult to get into the novel. But like many books, there's a sort of "hump" that you have to get past before you really are drawn into the book.

It's not bad -- the descriptions are strong, and the character of Gwynna is intriguing. I can't say that this will be a book for everyone, though.
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VINE VOICEon December 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found this book to be a different, very interesting take on the Arthur legend. Much less romanticized than anything else I have read, it is easy to let yourself believe that this version is probably much more likely than many of the other tales. Keep in mind that this book is written for YOUNG ADULTS and the person who ranted about the quality, comparing it to Mists of Avalon, seems to have forgotten that. Yes, it was easy reading, but not so bad an adult couldn't enjoy it, as I am and did! I would recommend this to anyone, young or old, who is looking for a fresh look at an old legend.
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