CAMELOT by Giles Kristian (Book Review)
‘We were ghosts. Spirit walkers stalking through a night haunted by bat and fox, badger and polecat and, now and then, the blood-stilling shriek of an owl in the woods to the west of The Fisher King’s hall. A night haunted by us too, for we had made ourselves a part of it…’
Camelot by Giles Kristian is the much anticipated sequel to Lancelot. Although technically these both could be read as stand-alones, I would strongly suggest reading Lancelot first because this very much felt like a continuation from the aftermath of that story. I’ll be illustrating some of the connections between both books, so please be aware that my review will contain spoilers for Lancelot.
After finishing Lancelot, I had my doubts whether Camelot could have the same impact on me, whether it could captivate and enchant me in the same way. I needn’t have feared. Kristian once again works his sorcery, and weaves a superb blend of high fantasy and historical fiction, enriched by luscious prose.
Our tale begins with Britain in utter ruin. Her lands are infested with Saxon blades that know no mercy; much blood has been spilt, many are suffering. The self proclaimed Kings cower behind castle walls, leaving their people starving and defenceless. When a young man, Galahad, is set on a path away from his sheltered life in a monastery, on the island of Ynys Wydryn, hope is ignited. With the warriors of old, the lords of war, now but only a few, and with a mysterious young woman skilled with a bow, Galahad embarks on a quest to bring about Arthur’s dream. To unite, to fight back, to bring Britain to her former glory and right the wrongs of the past. Galahad is no ordinary young man either, he is the son of the infamous Lancelot. But can he ever live up to his father’s legacy?
Much in the same fashion as Lancelot, Camelot also uses a first person narration which centres around our main protagonist, Galahad. We see that he is a young man full of insecurities and inner conflicts. His mind wars between not only grief, bitterness and love towards his father, but also between being a devout Christian, a member of the Brothers of the Thorn, but never quite truly believing. He doubts himself as much as he doubts his father’s love for him. He feels betrayed, abandoned – poignantly reflecting the betrayal Arthur felt by Lancelot years before. Herein lies the beauty of Camelot, it is a book where the past hauntingly mirrors the present.
Perhaps Galahad can be perceived as immature, petulant even, but personally, I felt for his predicament. When your father leaves you to ride off to a war he knows he will never come back from, how can you feel anything but abandoned? How do you let go of that pain? Having the events of Lancelot still raw to my mind, I felt such an emotional connection between both books. The sadness, the sense of loss, the regret, it carries through seamlessly into Camelot, it bleeds through the page.
As much as Camelot is about loss, I loved that it was just as much about comradeship and ultimately holding on to hope. I was pleased to see many of the secondary characters from Lancelot, receive much welcomed spotlight. The ageing legendary warriors; Gawain, Yvain, Parcefal and Gediens act as guardians, mentors and almost father figures to Galahad. Their friendship and good-natured quips towards each other made journeying with this band of heroes all the more delightful. But the most welcomed addition was Iselle. A young woman with a ruthless will to kill Saxons and avenge the dead, Iselle in her own right made a formidable warrior. Her presence was undeniable, and I loved how deeply her story arc entwined with Galahad’s.
‘I was Galahad ap Lancelot, and I was a killer of men.’
Although Camelot remains a character driven narrative, Kristian adds more balance between characterisation and action scenes, which excited me no end. Throughout Lancelot I had a taste of how well Kristian executes vivid battle scenes, but in Camelot he elevates them to glorious heights. My favourite chapter, The Isle of the Dead, captivated me with its tense atmosphere, and subsequently all the chapters that follow from that were a pure thrill. We bare witness to the stifling press of men and horses, the cacophony of screams, the smell of raw violence and carnage. But contrasted with this brutality, are the picturesque descriptions of nature and wildlife. I am awed by how Kristian presents to us an England ravaged by war, but also shows us the simple beauty of the land too. Every detail was truly emotive.
Quintessentially this is a tale of loss, love and holding on to faith. With sweeping battles, and prose that makes a reader want to savour every single word, this is an Arthurian retelling that I hold with high regard. I certainly hope that Giles Kristian will return to this world, and have a few more tales to spin.
‘I was a leaf on the storm, swirling into the past. Lost in some half remembered dream.’
ARC provided by Bantam Press and Penguin Random House. All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication. Camelot will be released 14th May 2020.