Review: The Book of Gaheris

I like Arthurian stories, provided they don’t take liberties. Of course, my definition of ‘liberties’ is subjective, not least because my interest comes from reading a lot of them in my adolescence, and concluding then that I much preferred Mary Stewart to T H White. No idea if that’s still true of course…

This book does not take liberties: quite the contrary. The author is a medieval scholar and she really knows her stuff. There were moments that felt like they were there for Arthur geeks like me; there were probably also moments where I was not enough of a geek to appreciate them. Not that you need to know more than the most basic ‘facts’ from the legends, which any western reader will, to appreciate the story.

The author is aware how much baggage any Arthurian tale comes with, and refers quite obliquly to the most heavily-laden characters and best-known events. So Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot are present, but only in the background; Arthur himself is referred to as ‘the king’ (no capital letter) or when we’re in Gaheris’s viewpoint, ‘uncle’.

The book employs several viewpoints, as it is actually a set of four linked novellas centred on the minor character of Gaheris. Each one explores a different aspect of the Court of Arthur. The Court – and by extension the land itself – exists in a state of civilised near-perfection which never seen before: this world feels simultaneously eternal and fragile, which I found very interesting. There is just enough conflict make the characters’ interactions compelling, and just enough magic to enhance but not unbalance this world of grace and chivalry.

Each novella has a subtly different flavour and perspective – the knightly life, what it was to be a ‘damsel’, a magical quest given a human touch, and the gathering darkness (because such perfection cannot last). Between them they cover a helluva lot of ground within this sub-genre. In the afterword, the author also talks about her choices and researches, giving a new perspective on the stories, should the reader want it. All this in an eminently readable book shorter than the average novel.

If you like your Arthurian tales, or even if you didn’t but like interesting perspectives on classic stories, give The Book of Gaheris a try, ideally direct from the publisher, though it’s also on Amazon.

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