The Idylls of the Queen: More than a good murder mystery

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Phyllis Ann Karr Idylls of the Queen: A Tale of Queen GuenevereThe Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr

Phyllis Ann Karr’s The Idylls of the Queen is so much more than a good murder mystery. It is a good murder mystery, but unlike an ordinary mystery, you can reread it (even knowing whodunit) without any of the fun being spoiled. The murder is one that actually appears in the legends, so some readers may recognize the bones of the story, but again, it’s enjoyable even if you know the murderer’s identity. The mystery is sort of a backdrop to the real show: an original take on the personalities of Arthurian legend, and a different look at chivalric ideals.

The narrator is the oft-maligned Sir Kay, the grouchy but well-meaning seneschal of Arthur’s court. He’s not a bad guy. He is a sarcastic curmudgeon, having seen countless self-serving buffoons win glory and adulation while his own hard work goes unnoticed. He is also secretly in love with the Queen.

Kay shares an uneasy friendship with a wonderfully written, morbid, fatalistic, and sympathetic Sir Mordred. Together they set out to clear Guenevere’s name of a murder charge, meeting fascinating characters right and left. Morgan and Iblis are especially engaging, and Karr uses them to voice some cutting insights on chivalry and religion. Morgan defends her mixture of Christian and pagan ways, and Iblis observes that justice is different for women than for men according to the moral code of the period. Also worth mentioning are the subtle taste of magic provided by the Lady of the Lake and the touching platonic relationship between Kay and his Queen.

If you’re an Arthurian buff, definitely look up a copy of The Idylls of the Queen. It’s a quick read, and a great way to spend a lazy afternoon or two.

The Idylls of the Queen: A Tale of Queen Guenevere — (1982) Publisher: The arrangements for the dinner party were overseen by Queen Guenever herself. She selected the apples with her own hands. And before the evening ended, a young knight lay dead… and Arthur’s beloved, unfaithful queen stood branded as a murderess and condemned to death! Phyllis Ann Karr has taken Celtic legendry and given it a fresh new twist in this magical murder mystery of knights and sorcery, romantic entanglements and courtly intrigues. This is a tale that explores the passions and motivations of the men and women who stride through the pages of Mallory’s romance: Sir Kay, the sharp-tongued seneschal; Nimue, the elusive Lady of the Lake; Morgon le Fay, Merlin’s complex nemesis; the tormented sons of Lot and Morgawse; and Mordred, Arthur’s own bitter, terrified son.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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