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Readers Advisory: Camelot Burning by Kathryn Rose

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Flux, $9.99 trade paper, ISBN-10 0738739677, May 2014

By day, Vivienne is Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting. By night, she’s Merlin’s secret apprentice, indulging in the new mechanical arts and science of alchemy. It’s a preferred distraction from Camelot’s gossipy nobility, roguish knights, and Lancelot’s athletic new squire, Marcus, who will follow in all knights’ footsteps by taking a rather inconvenient vow of chastity. More than anything, Vivienne longs to escape Camelot for a future that wouldn’t include needlework or marriage to a boorish lord or dandy. But when King Arthur’s sorceress sister, Morgan le Fay, threatens Camelot, Vivienne must stay to help Merlin build a steam-powered weapon to defeat the dark magic machine Morgan will set upon the castle. Because if Camelot falls, Morgan would be that much closer to finding the elusive Holy Grail. Time is running out and Morgan draws near, and if Vivienne doesn’t have Merlin’s weapon ready soon, lives would pay the price, including that of Marcus, the only one fast enough to activate it on the battlefield.

Exciting? Yes. Imaginative? Yes. Well-edited? Um…

On the one hand, the combination of Arthurian legends and steampunk layers surprisingly well. Rose lays the steampunk elements on thickly, in fact: Vivienne is always talking about wearing fancy corsets and metal hairnets, and in her spare time, she’s tinkering with cogs and gears and goggles and steam in Merlin’s workshop. Interestingly, this world also has magic; Merlin, in fact, is recovering from addiction to it. Rose recasts elements of the Camelot myths to fit her vision without making the stories unrecognizable. Vivienne is a strong heroine, a bit impulsive but smart and capable, and plenty of action keeps things exciting.

On the other hand, I sincerely hope the editors take another pass at this before it’s released. The writing is mostly of average quality early in the book, but as the reader goes on, it becomes more and more awkward. I paused over several sentences, trying to figure out what the heck they meant. Also, this idea that Vivienne’s instalove Marcus is the only person who can activate the weapon (a nifty metal dragon) comes off as unfounded and silly. Maybe if they’d had some kind of competition to decide this fact, I would have bought into it, but instead, it pretty much goes, “We’d need someone strong and fast to operate the weapon. Marcus is strong and fast. Boom! He is the Chosen One!” From there, Vivienne’s in frequent agonies of worry because only Marcus can possibly do it! Really? Are there no other young, strong squires or knights in all of Camelot? I wanted more backup for the Marcus = only talented athlete mentality.

Recommend to: Steampunk, action, and/or Arthurian legend fans

To buy or not to buy: Not a first purchase. Also, only available in paperback.

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