A novel of royal intrigue centers on an eccentric queen in the time of young King Arthur.
Hall (A Man Called Plenty Horses, 2018) presents a visitor named Darien who arrives at King Arthur’s court. Darien has quite a story to tell and it begins with a king named Ballizar. Although readers are informed that Ballizar will eventually be remembered as “the Benevolent,” the beginning of his rule was anything but. Ballizar, in his days as the “Bachelor King,” had a penchant for trying and raping women in a bizarre, brutal ritual called First Night. In the second year of this practice, a beautiful woman named Syrenya came to the king’s court. Syrenya was able to please the monarch sexually (and any other takers, male or female) and soon thereafter was crowned queen. The royal, though fair in her dealings, refused to wear clothes and so became the Naked Queen of the book’s title. Naked though she was, Syrenya was hardly a flouncy pushover. She doled out advice and even requested an exorcism for her husband. She eventually adopted the then-10-year-old Darien and taught him about the world. But not all were happy with Syrenya’s rule. A rebellion brewed and the future of the kingdom was hardly certain. The author’s whole story sets an odd tone. At first, it seems Syrenya’s rule will be an erotic one, seeing as how she pleased the king when she “brought his tormented stiffness a little more into her mouth.” Yet such bawdy scenes are short-lived. Later portions include the details of an attack on a castle and even a song from a representative of the Vatican. Such diverse fare can be disorienting; readers can never be sure where it will all lead. And some dialogue becomes tedious, as when Syrenya gives a lengthy speech as to why she decides to be naked. This includes the odd information that in her place of origin “we have never taken up the habit of clothing ourselves.” Nevertheless, this serpentine tale of a mad king and a (literally) naked queen offers a host of tantalizing possibilities and should certainly hold readers’ interest. Even King Arthur, as he takes in Darien’s story, is nothing short of surprised.
A tale that delivers an eclectic mix of courtly affairs.