The Idylls of the Queen
Phyllis Ann Karr
Malory meets Sherlock Holmes: the Guenevere murder mystery! Based on a brief incident near the end of the Morte D’Arthur, this novel chronicles the attempts of Sir Kay to prove Guenevere innocent of murder after a knight is poisoned at a dinner hosted by the Queen. The main joy of the book is seeing Arthur’s court through Kay’s cynical eyes: the characters are almost like the traditional versions, but not quite. Kay himself is wonderfully characterized: he’s not the traditional oaf, yet neither is he perfect. He’s a sympathetic character who’s sarcastic, curmudgeonly, and sometimes jealous; but also brave and at bottom good-hearted. Mordred, too, is excellently done, as are several other characters. Karr’s prose isn’t sublime, but it’s wry and humorous. The pacing is fast, the dialogue often snappy, and if you haven’t read Malory recently than you probably won’t guess whodunit. It’s a lot of fun.
There isn’t much moral content in this book. There are a few bits of swearing, and the standard Arthurian extramarital relationships. Morgan le Fay mounts a spirited defence of adultery and neo-paganism. But, well, she’s Morgan le Fay–like we’re supposed to believe her? The novel is sometimes a bit ambiguous in its treatment of adultery, but not nearly enough to make it offensive.