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Mordred, Bastard Son (The Chronicles of Mordred) (Volume 1) Paperback – October 16, 2016
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From Publishers Weekly
Though usually portrayed as the worm in the bud that was Camelot, Mordred, the illegitimate offspring of King Arthur and sorceress Morgan le Fay, gets sympathetic treatment in Clegg's revisionist Arthurian fantasy, the first in a projected trilogy. Born into exile on the Isle of Glass, the young Mordred knows his father only through the stories bitter elders tell of Arthur's theft of Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. Mordred flourishes under the instruction of his mother and the wizard Merlin, but he's distracted from his education in druidic mysteries by his adolescent passion for a hermit living in the nearby wilds. That hermit's identity, coupled with a transgression that alienates Mordred from his community by the novel's end, all point to the inexorable destiny that shapes the tale's events and tinges them with pathos. Clegg (The Priest of Blood) maintains a nice balance between the human and mythic dimensions of his characters, portraying the familiar elements of their story from refreshingly original angles. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Clegg puts an inspired wrinkle in the hoary tale of Arthur and the grail by casting Arthur's kindred enemy, Mordred, as a gay man. An injured stranger in a cloak and odd, paganish mask, is captured and held in a monastery, igniting wild speculation among the locals, who believe him a notorious traitor. And so he is. He is Mordred, the bastard son of Arthur Pendragon and his half sister, the witch-queen Morgan Le Fay, and he now awaits trial for murder and treason. The young monk tending him is keenly interested in him, and so for a small price, the bastard son unfolds his story. All his life, Mordred has been at the center of powerful drives--his own and those of his mother. Morgan is obsessed with vengeance against Arthur, and Mordred is absolutely devoted to his unbalanced mother. But he is terribly conflicted about his father and wildly, passionately, hopelessly in love with Lancelot. The tale he unfolds culminates in an unholy betrayal of his own magical talent by someone he loved and trusted all his life. This is the riveting first volume in a trilogy. How excellent. Paula Luedtke
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The plot is difficult to follow at times, with rambling narratives that veer off and rejoin and veer off again. A comparatively large amount of time is spent wallowing in Mordred's chastity - too much, I think, because I started rolling my eyes at his Raging Hormones well before the wallowing climaxed, as it were. The sentence structure also sometimes goes galloping off with its bit between its teeth, winding on with such convoluted or rambling phrasing that more than one sentence requires rereading to grasp its meaning. Typographical errors and lingering mark-up - although not a huge problem - are also just enough of a presence to occasionally throw me from my reading.
That being said, it was still an interesting book and I'm glad I read it. I look forward to how Mordred will continue to develop as a character within the constraints of Arthurian legend and how the audience for his narrative will evolve with him. Still, I will wish that my local library would carry the future volumes, as I don't know that I'd want to pay for them.
However, that's the fun of writing a story about a story; there's always the other side, and after 600 years I suppose Mordred was due for some favourable press.
Judging from the reviews, it seems that a lot of other people had the same difficulty adjusting to this radical idea as well. It is a story that you either like or not, but having said that: I liked it. In my opinion it is a tour-de-force of fantasy, and although I had difficulty grasping the story at first, once I got into it I was hooked.
The difficulty, I think, is with the myriad of gods and goddesses, plus Celtic festivals, i.e. Beltane and Samhain (pronounced "sah-vwin," by the way) that must be introduced in the first chapter, and this is quite a mouthful to digest all at once. Also the transition between the third-person opening, and the first person flashback was a bit awkward. However, as I have already said, once I got passed this the rest of the story ultimately made up for it.
There are some quite interesting innovations, too. For example, the idea that Arthur raped his half sister, Morgan-of-the-Fay, runs amok with the Arthurian legend built upon his infallible character. Likewise, the idea that Arthur `stole' the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake doesn't exactly show his good side. Nevertheless, Mordred is divided in his feelings (at least in this first book of the series) toward his father--hate, on one hand, and an odd sort of affinity on the other.
Morgan le Fay remains Morgana, darkly beautiful with sinister edges, although she is unusually cast as a victim in this story. The `heavy' on the distaff side is her sister Morgause, who turns into something of a `Malificent' [Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty"] in the latter part of the story. In fact these two, plus Viviane (the "crone") makes the society within which Mordred is raised a sort of matriarchracy.
On the other hand there is Merlin who, as in all of his other reincarnations, is timeless. He is also omniscient, and having apparently given up on Arthur, has taken Mordred under his wing as a student of the "magick." This sort of thing opens the doors wide to a flight of fancy, and Clegg takes full advantage of it; a real virtuoso rendering of imagination if ever there was one. Principally however, Merlin teaches Mordred the art of "ravelling" and "unravelling" (the mentally sharing of memories, feelings, etc., with another, and, of course, retrieving memories in the same manner). Also, "vesseling," i.e. mental telepathy-sort of the cell phone of Arthurian times.
Another departure from traditional Arthurian legend is found in Clegg's depiction of Lancelot as a hermit, and also gay--or at least bisexual. In one version of Arthur, however, Lancelot is deceived by the Fisher King's daughter into thinking that she is Guinevere, and the resulting liaison results in another bastard, i.e. Galahad. Hearing of this, Guinevere banishes Lancelot, and he is said to have lost his wits and wandered in the wilderness. So, perhaps the hermit characterization is not so removed from the original.
Apart from these innovations, one of the most refreshing departures from the usual GLBT story for me is that, while it is a sexy enough, there is not one really explicit sex scene throughout. It is therefore a love story between men that relies on sentiment and plot to make it happen. Bravo! Five stars.
Clegg knows his Arthuralia, so to speak, and gives a lot - sometimes too much? - of arcane detail in spinning the genealogy of the Old Folk ways, including Viviane, Nimue, Morgan le Fay, Morguase, and all those bodies who sometimes existed separately and occasionally combined personhoods and characters through the centuries of retelling the tales.
But for readers who know and love the myth of Camelot, Clegg does yeoman's work in rebuilding and retelling it around his gay Mordred. I was truly sorry to learn that Part Two - which I suspect will hold the real meat of this medieval feast - is not yet available. Whom Mordred loves, and why, may come as no great surprise to the attentive reader, but it promises nonetheless to have implications in the world of Camelot and among the heroes of the very-straight and idealistic round table!