My formative King Arthur works were the 1963 Disney movie The Sword in the Stone, and 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When I discovered Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, as a preteen, my life as a reader of fantasy and romance was set. I’m a King Arthur enthusiast, but not a purist (except for Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur – great cast, beautiful visuals, terrible movie that should never have been marketed as “historically accurate”). Hearing that a work is a retelling of or inspired by King Arthur will prick up my ears. When I saw an anthology of short stories based around King Arthur edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington on NetGalley, I smashed the request button hard. Look at this list of authors: Alexander Chee, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Sive Doyle, Maria Dahvana Headley, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Daniel M. Lavery, Ken Liu, Sarah MacLean, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jessica Plummer, Anthony Rapp, Waubgeshig Rice, Alex Segura, Nisi Shawl, and S. Zainab Williams.
Overall, this was an excellent anthology. Some of the stories were perfect bonbons that did not need any additional words. Others I would love to see developed into longer stories, or more stories told in that world. All of the stories expand the world of Camelot, some by bringing in a different perspective, some by relocating the mythology in place and time, and others by re-focusing the lens on characters in the world.
Many of the Arthurian legends focus on destiny and prophecy. Some of my favorite stories focused instead on choices. The anthology starts strong with Ausma Zehanat Khan’s “The Once and Future Qadi,” which brings a Muslim scholar’s wisdom into the mythology of the British Isles. We see King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot acting out their tragedy through the eyes of an outsider. Preeti Chhibber wakes Merlin and Morgana up in contemporary Great Britain and gives them another chance to make better choices with Arthur, now Arjun, in “Once (Them) & Future (Us).” One of my favorite stories was Roshani Chokshi’s “Passing Fair and Young” which gives young Elaine a choice – does she want to be a legend, or a footnote in the legends of others.
Other stories took elements of the Arthurian legend and placed them in a post-colonial context. Waubgeshig Rice’s “Heartbeat” locates the Sword in the Stone legend on an Anishinaabe reservation, where a young First Nations boy reclaims the heritage outlawed by the British colonizers. Another favorite, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “A Shadow in Amber,” transplants the sadness of Lady of Shalott into a near future Mexico City.
Many of the stories brought queerness to the mythology. I loved Daniel M. Lavery’s brutal and yet gentle skewering of chivalry in “How, after Long Fighting, Galehaut Was Overcome by Lancelot Yet Was Not Slain and Made Great Speed to Yield to Friendship; Or, Galehaut the Knight of the Forfeit.” The story I most want to see expanded is Alexander Chee’s “Little Green Men.” Set on a human colonized Mars, it’s a retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Night with all the anxiety of a fragile life in space and the intrusiveness of a constant audience.
I’ve only touched on a few stories. There is more in here to discover.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.