M. B. Gilbride’s latest offering takes us back to the Arthurian Age we all know and love. So far as I am aware, it is the first time he has set a story in that period, despite all the many reviews he has written for MedievalMysteries.com and the promise of a book set in the Constantinople of the Empress Theodora, who must have been the more or less exact contemporary of Queen Guenevere and Princess Morgana.
Now I come to think about it, Theodora had a lot in common with them, too: a reputation for being a beautiful harlot married to a great king who doted on her that only perhaps Guenevere in all history could compete with; and a reputation as an evil, scheming, witch that only Morgana could compete with.
But we’ll come back to Theodora when that other book is finally published. For now, our concerns are with the women in King Arthur’s life.
It being Gilbride, we would expect a very idiosyncratic view of the period, and he does not disappoint. The so-called Dark Ages here are alight and alive and brimming with vitality. And brimming, too, with sex.
But you could hardly have the adventures and misadventures of such as Gilbride’s girl-boy Fleur, his all-woman Guenevere, and his all-man Sir Hugue de Beau-Regard, taking place behind closed doors. Not to mention Morgan le Fay (Princess Morgana), whose magical seduction of her half-brother King Arthur is recounted in intimate and graphic detail – as are some of the irresistible Guenevere’s hilarious sexual adventures. (Definitely not for the narrow-minded, those who refuse to believe Guenevere was unfaithful to Arthur and think that if she was she should be subjected to the Taliban approach to “justice”. Oh, there are puritans cropping up in this society – representatives of an intolerant and repressive Church now invading and attempting to take over the magic realm – but they are the bad guys.)
Morgan’s seduction of Arthur results, as she intended, in the birth of Modred, Arthur’s heir and nemesis, and her continuous scheming to get rid of Arthur and install her son on the throne forms one of the major sub-plots of the novel.
It is a novel of sub-plots, so much so that it is difficult to say which of the three or four major sub-plots is the actual plot. But the sub-plots all intertwine and form a kind of plot among themselves – rather as things happen in real life.
You’ll just have to read it and enjoy it and see for yourself.
This is not only one of the funniest, and in places most moving, stories I have read for a long, long time, but for me now this will always be the Arthur and above all the Guenevere I remember to the exclusion of all other versions, no matter how pseudo-poetic on the one hand or pseudo-historical on the other. This is how I would love to believe it really was.