The Camelot Papers by Peter David.
This book is: dull and off-putting.
Other elements: an attempt at a satirical Camelot story.
Read it: if you’re a scholar of Arthurian interpretations and have read all of the others.
Overall rating: 3/10 (DNF)
So the first thing I have to tell you is that I didn’t finish this book (that’s what DNF stands for). It may be unfair of me to review a book I didn’t finish, but I have things to say about it so I am going to do it anyway.
I received this book as part of a recent epic fantasy StoryBundle and I was moderately excited to read it. I’m a sucker for a good Arthurian retelling – I even took a class in college that surveyed versions of the King Arthur story from its earliest existing incarnation through Spamalot – and I’m also a fan of Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing series. The Camelot Papers – or at least the first 45% of it – is absolutely nothing but a disappointment.
This book is a retelling of the Camelot legend from the point of view of “Viviana,” who appears in this tale as a slave who is capable of reading and writing and who keeps a diary. She befriends the “womanish” future king Arthur, the eerie child Mordred and the new Queen – strange, cross-dressing Guinevere – and therefore becomes privy to Camelot’s innermost workings.
Both the bizarre cover and any description of the book that I’ve seen suggest that this is supposed to be a satire, but nothing about it is funny. David’s writing does tend towards dark humor, but this book – with its clumsy focus on the main character’s history of sexual assault – feels pointlessly grim. The main character is flat and unconvincing, while the writing wanders between the fake old-timeyness of words like “ne’er” and “thy” and jarring contemporary phrases like “speak of the devil” and “Camelot itself was a standard sized gated community.”
I can safely say I’ve never read a version of the Camelot story that I disliked as much as this one. It’s not the irreverence that I disliked – I enjoy Monty python’s thoughts on King Arthur too much for that to be the case – but this just feels lazily written. The characters are all one-note shadows of the legendary figures they’re based on and the writing isn’t entertaining enough to carry them.
In The Camelot Papers, Excalibur is simply a coronation gift, remarkable because it’s pretty. What on earth is the point of taking on the epic stories of Camelot if you’re going take all the good parts and turn them into nothing? I get that David might be trying to make some kind of statement about how great political figures are presented a in a light that’s different from reality, but the King Arthur story with the magic and romance removed is just not worth anybody’s time.
Some of the other online reviews I’ve seen of this book wonder if the book would have been more successful if it wasn’t in journal entry format. I think it’s possible that the journal approach does account for some of the lack of tension and urgency, but for this to be an enjoyable novel several other elements would have needed to be significantly different as well. What I like about David’s other book – the creativity, the snappiness – is simply absent here.
I’ve been pushing through this in order to finish it so that I could give it a fair review, but I’m surrendering. I don’t care about what happens to any of the people I’m hearing about and the writing isn’t good enough for me to enjoy waiting around to see if things improve.
Therefore: I officially DNF this at 45%. Please excuse me while I go reread The Mists of Avalon.