...and I've read a LOT of Arthurian stories. Quite literally dozens of them. I found Rob King's retelling of the Merlin myth to be firmly grounded in tradition, yet strikingly original.
The first thing that impressed me was Merlin's voice, and the way the deft characterizations swept me into the story. The second thing that hit me was the writing style. It's impressive. So are the underlying ideas, and the cohesive vision painted from the lore of many cultures. The author is unusually literate, both in his use of language and his wide-ranging knowledge of classic and mythic lore. This is not to imply that the book is stodgy and academic. To the contrary. This book has both depth and sparkle. Rob King's sense of humor is disarmingly off-beat. This is clearly the work of someone who loves the sounds and shapes and textures of words. As such, it offers a genuine and rare treat for like-minded readers.
I'm guessing that fellow Arthurian buffs, an admittedly varied and contentious group, will find much to enjoy here. The book is both fresh and familiar. I found myself sometimes nodding in recognition, and sometimes delighting in new explanations to well-known situations. The motivation behind the characters and events is cohesive and believable. The story behind Excaliber, in particular, was startling, but logical and resonant.
Although most of Rob King's previous work has been in game-related fiction, his fans will not be disappointed. There's enough action to please the most avid readers of adventure fantasy. The battle choreography is exciting and visual. And it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't warm to Merlin's sublime silliness.
A word about characterization: terrific. The scene that introduces a young and boastful Kay is both funny and spot-on. Guinevere's portrayal offered a nice respite from the usual tortured, adulterous queen. And although I love Arthurian lore, the portrayal of the central character occasionally leads me to wonder what all the fuss was about. (Tennyson's Arthur, for example. MZB's, for another.) Let's face it: Arthur is a tough character to portray. King's king makes you understand why men followed and bards still tell his tale.
I could go on, and usually do. But you've got better things to read than this review. Get the book. Get two copies, and give one to someone you really, really like.