I’d never read anything by Nancy Springer before and I’d been dithering about getting this book for the longest time.
‘From the start, Mordred’s life is not his own. The great wizard Merlin has prophesied that King Arthur – the one True King – will die at his only son’s hands, and everyone in Camelot knows it. Mordred himself knows it. All he wants is for his father to love him. All he wants is a way to fight his fate. And fight he does – to his father’s fated death and his own.’
I love Arthurian tales, but wasn’t sure I’d like a tale that featured one of literature’s most recognisable archvillains as the main character. Turns out I like the story – no, I love it. Very much.
About her story, Nancy Springer has this to say:
“Are all children born innocent? Not according to the medieval worldview. A child born wrongfully – out of wedlock, for instance – could be assumed to be bad right from the start. When young King Arthur, then, made the mistake of having sex with his sister, the resulting child was assumed to be morally evil… Mordred was born guilty, condemned as his father’s killer long before the deed was done. It was fascinating to approach the traditional Arthurian material from the modern point of view that Mordred was born innocent…”
Except for the prologue, Mordred’s is the voice that takes us through the story, and he proves to be quite the charming guide; there is nothing sneaky or crafty about him. His innocence, his confusion and growing turmoil are realistically depicted, just what you would expect from a teenager trying to find his place in the world.
Another character who Springer presented as more complex, more complete was Nyneve, or Nimue, as she’s more commonly known. The Nyneve that I’ve come across in other Arthurian tales never appealed to me, but I fell in love with Springer’s version.
For those who know the stories of Arthur and his knights, of Camelot, will recognise the familiar points, which are all present. Springer has taken those points and used them to enhance her telling of the tale, making them flow into what could pass as a true-life version of events.
She has a graceful, easy style, which evokes a bygone age while still using every day, familiar language.
“The wind blew cold off the sword-gray sea…”
“It was a strange, exalted and terrible thing to be the King. Everything he did sent out echoes like a great bell.”
“Across a rising sweep of green meadow, there it stood, the flower of castles, tower above tower above outer wall and inner wall and barbican and bastions and keep, as mighty as if it had grown out of the bones of earth, as if the stone giants had raised it there, but – shining white. Not stony gray but white, like cloud froth, sea spray. Camelot aspired so mighty yet so water-lily white in the morning sunlight…”
Although the book is marketed for a young crowd, the subject matter could be considered adult. Springer doesn’t shy away from talking of violent, bloody acts but there are no gratuitous details. And it’s a story that makes you think, talking as it does about questioning your fate, fighting your fate.
I’m aware this isn’t a long, detailed review, but I feel to say more would be to give too much away.
I found this a beautiful story, masterfully told in just over 180 pages. Springer has woven a tale that, for me, has become the definitive version of Mordred. The ending made me cry, and it’s not just because I knew how it had to end.
A very well-deserved 5* from one very satisfied reader.