Book Review



  • Author: Thomas Wheeler, Frank Miller (illustrator)
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2019
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

CONTENT WARNING: religious intolerance, discrimination/prejudice, murder, violence, blood, gore, torture, parental abandonment, alcohol abuse, death of animals

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true king. But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave …

That is, until Red Paladins slaughter her entire village, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of nothing else. 

Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk, from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, and battles paladins and the armies of a corrupt ruler. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.

And perhaps the one thing that can change destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.

I’ve had the Netflix series on my watchlist for a few months now, but true to form, wanted to read the book first. However, this is one of the rare times in which I suspect that the show is going to be better than book. To my recollection, this has only happened one other time, and please don’t hate me for it, but I honestly think that the LOTR movies are better than the books (which I just couldn’t get into at all, although I do like the movies). 

I’m all about the King Arthur stories. I always have been. It’s kind of my secret weakness when it comes to retellings. Okay, maybe not quite a secret. So this sounded like a dream come true — a feminist, gender-swapped retelling. But once I started reading, I realized that it left me completely off-balance. None of the characters were the ones that I recognized from any other story before. The characters who were traditionally good weren’t always in this story. And the villains weren’t necessarily villains in this retelling. But there were some really intriguing twists that I never quite saw coming, and by the end of the story, the major players in the traditional story were accounted for — Merlin, Arthur, Nimue, Lancelot, Guinevere, Gawain, Percival, Bors, Ector, Uther, and many more that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Just don’t expect them to be who you think they are.

“Merlin the Magician was Merlin the Fraud. His magic was lost and had been for almost seventeen years. It was only spy-craft and will and pride and the gullible nature of men that had sustained the lie all these years.”

The story is told in a kind of choppy style, bouncing between various different characters. There’s a ton of action, as Nimue strives to become the protector of her people, and the others work towards their own goals, either with her or against her. It’s a gory story, pitting the Fey Folk against the Red Paladins, a Catholic army hell-bent on eliminating all threats, including the Fey, in the most brutal ways imaginable. And they don’t limit their attacks to adults — they even torture and kill children. So this isn’t a story for the soft-hearted. 

I struggled with a few aspects of the story. First of all, it’s fairly clear early on that Nimue has a little training with wielding a sword, but it isn’t one of her strongest skills. She’s easily disarmed while play-fighting with Arthur, but once she finds the Sword of Power, she’s magically granted super-powerful sword fighting skills. She doesn’t even have to practice, and shows no inclination to practice to get any better. She rapidly goes from the outcast of her own village to leader of all the Fey Folk, without doing anything differently other than having this sword. I get that it’s magical, but how powerful is this sword? And while the artwork is beautiful, it didn’t quite match up to the story at times. The drawing of how Nimue got her scars specifically talks about her being in a nightdress without shoes, yet somehow in the drawing she’s fully dressed and wearing shoes. It bothered me more than it probably should have. 

This just feels like the kind of story that would definitely translate to the screen better than it does to the page. The vivid imagery, the rapid switching between perspectives, and the frequency of battles and action scenes just seem made for an adaptation, and as I’m writing this, I’ve already started watching the Netflix series. So far I’m starting episode 2, and it looks like I’m right, as much as it hurts my heart to say the dreaded words … the show is better than the book. 

Finally, the ending is left fairly open, clearing a way for a second book, even though there isn’t anything definite. The acknowledgements hint at a sequel, although nothing formal has been announced. I find myself kind of hoping that there is, if only so that I can find out what happens next.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 15

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