Rejecting the modern convention of placing Arthur in post-Roman times, first-novelist James summons up the medieval Camelot of Malory and the French romances, while adding a few realistic touches of his own. One English summer's evening, peasant lad Micah of Greenfarm watches helplessly while four drunken Arthurian knights rape his adored sister, Rebecca, to death. Seeking vengeance, Micah becomes a servant at Camelot, where, despite King Arthur's command, his enemies continue to taunt and threaten him, and he's forced to flee. Advised by a mysterious monk to head for France, Micah--now calling himself Michel de Verdeur--enjoys various adventures, learns how to fight, and is promoted from servant to page to squire; in due course he saves the life of John, Baron of Craon, and is knighted. Returning to Camelot to plead with Arthur for the return of lands rightly belonging to Sir John, Michel must prove himself against Arthur's knights--and, since peasants can't be knights, resign himself to being regarded as a bastard son of Morgan le Fay. As all the familiar events of Arthurian legend unfold, Michel is secretly helped by Merlin in various guises--but, to his vast sorrow, his lady-love, Naime, turns out to be Merlin's Nimue, forever out of reach. Other than the setting, readers will find little here to surprise them. But James's assured debut skillfully blends traditional with imaginary characters and elements, and captures the spirit of the period with considerable insight.