It’s not your father’s Camelot: Tattooed knights in eye makeup and piercings party hearty, downing absinthe and ogling hussies.
As for lascivious Lancelot, “[u]p close, he’s nothing more than an obnoxious drunk with messy facial hair,” observes narrator Vivienne, 17-year-old lady-in-waiting to Guinevere. Secretly, she’s apprenticed to Merlin, a recovering magic addict (to the practice, not the game) who now practices the mechanical arts. How this blend—furnaces, steam, pipes, copper, hooks plus alchemy—differs from magic or why, unlike magic, it’s acceptable to Christians isn’t clear. While knights carouse, Vivienne helps Merlin prepare Camelot’s defense against Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s sister, whose ultimate objective is the Grail, believed to confer immortality. Vivienne longs to see the world, but Camelot’s vulnerability (and Marcus, Lancelot’s handsome squire) distracts her. As Merlin fights pain and addiction with alcohol and opium, Vivienne enlists Marcus’ help finding Excalibur, but their deepening attraction is thwarted as knighthood, his goal, requires virginity. (Religion’s invoked purely for plot purposes.) No heart—magic or mechanical—beats in these cardboard characters or by-the-numbers narrative. To care what happens to Camelot, the Round Table and the Grail, readers must believe they’re worth saving.
Part Arthurian high fantasy, part steampunk, laced with belle epoque drug- and absinthe-fueled decadence—the concept’s so high it floats, but that doesn’t mean people will want to jump up and catch it. (Fantasy. 14-18)