Published: June 16, 2020
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 416 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 2.0/5.0
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
A retelling of Arthurian myth for the age of Brexit and Trump, from World Fantasy Award-winner Lavie Tidhar, By Force Alone.
Everyone thinks they know the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.
The fact is they don’t know sh*t.
Arthur? An over-promoted gangster.
Merlin? An eldritch parasite.
Excalibur? A shady deal with a watery arms dealer.
Britain? A clogged sewer that Rome abandoned just as soon as it could.
A savage and cutting epic fantasy, equally poetic and profane, By Force Alone is at once a timely political satire, a magical adventure, and a subversive masterwork.
Have you ever come across a book that you just don’t know how to rate? Or one that was SO not what you expected? This is that book. I went in to this book with so much certainty that it would be that dry, British humor that I so love with a dash (or more) of glorious Monty Python. Well, let me tell you reader – IT WAS NONE OF THOSE THINGS. I mean, it’s described as political satire, but I feel like that strongly implies some humor. It wasn’t funny. AT ALL.
This is a host of supremely unlikable characters ranging from Uther Pendragon’s drunk, lecherous self to his power hungry thug of a son and everyone in between. Merlin and Guinevere were the most likable of the lot and that ain’t sayin’ much. It’s like the author thought to himself… what if we took every good trait these characters had in the original stories and just sort of threw it away and made them cold, greedy villains. Yes, I get that they’re power hungry and they give no heed in stepping on those who might lift them to the lofty heights of a throne just like politicians (and so many others) today. The metaphors are not lost on me. It doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t really care for it.
That being said, I also didn’t really want to put it down because it was also really, really weird. There is a portion that reminded me so much of the Misery in Ed McDonald’s Raven’s Mark series and it was one of my favorite sections of the book. It was so bizarre and out of place compared to the rest of the setting and I swear there were aliens. Like, what? It was mundane for so long, like yeah yeah… the Romans aren’t coming back, all the gutters are full of crap and rats and bums, and Arthur’s a thug with grandeur. And then WHAM, radiation and weirdness dude!
Honestly, this is a really tough one to rate. I definitely didn’t like it but I’m also still rather peeved that it wasn’t funny, so I might be a little biased. It was well written, but it seemed to have these big jumps forward in the timeline and I also felt as if much of it was skimmed across. Like you were a mere observer of these pitiful ants trying to build a kingdom. Ultimately, this book wasn’t for me but it seems like many other early reviewers did enjoy it. If you want a dark version of Arthur where he isn’t noble (or doesn’t have the propaganda budget) then check it out.