About a month ago, Miraselena asked if I’d be interested in participating in a blogging tour for a soon-to-be-released book. Intrigued, I agreed. Today is the agreed upon day for my review of Virginia Chandler’s The Green Knight’s Apprentice, which will be available on Oct. 17th.
My philosophy for offering feedback is to give constructive criticism in place of brutal knock-downs. That being said, I am a writer in my own right and I reviewed this novel (which is more the size of a novella) with a critical eye. I enjoyed the background, creativity of ideas and a few other things which I will detail below, but the entire thing feels like a rough draft rather than a completed manuscript.
The story has an overall disjointed feel. The chapters seem to be used as dividers for when the author wants to jump around, so as a result I feel like there are a number of different mini-stories with the same protagonist. This means that we as readers aren’t sure why any given character is where s/he is at any given time, and can’t really relate them to each other. When things do come together, the emphasis is in all the wrong places. The stories that could be really captivating—like Gawain becoming the Green Knight—are summarized in a handful of sentences. These are things that can be fixed though, because the heart of the adventures is already here on paper.
I’m not sure why the story is told from Rhowbyn’s point of view, and I’m not at all attached to him. Obviously he’s a special kid (I called him “the kid” for the duration of the novel because he doesn’t feel like a man at any point), and I thought the further in I got his importance would become clearer, but I just didn’t see it happening. Even having finished, I don’t know why Rhowbyn is there. I would have rather gotten the story from Gawain, or Lady Morgan, or even Marrin. Marrin’s tiny introduction and then subsequent jumping into bed notwithstanding, at least her perspective as a woman in the thick of a war would have given room for readers to connect and the character to develop.
I get that the story is supposed to feel like an epic tale, like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic Mists of Avalon, and it does have that feel. What dampens it though is the lack of tension. Tension between people, between opposing forces, even within a single character—it’s just not there. For example, when the axe is stolen, Rhowbyn and Morgan set off to retrieve it, but when they find the likely culprit, they converse without any hostility like they are talking about the weather, and then the man takes them by boat to his castle, where he boasts that they will be glad he stole the axe because now they can sample his legendary table. All the potential epic battles are played off in this fashion, so I had no emotional response to any of them.
The only part that did peak my interest is Rhowbyn’s and Gawain’s capture, just because it was the first time I felt they faced real danger. Even this scene is lack-luster though, with the whole situation being glossed over. I wasn’t attached enough to Rhowbyn to be worried for his life, so when Morgan and Arthur led the charge to rescue them, my reaction was just, “Oh, of course.” Seriously though, a couple more pages worth of actual details and a tweak to the rescue and this would have been an awesome climax to the story.
In terms of technique… There were a lot of inconsistencies. Not grammar or spelling—there are few enough of those. It is things like the kid killing the Saxon archer without any emotional reaction and then twenty-five pages later the description of how he killed his first (second) Saxon, and the closet-room being described as having two chairs facing each other, and then all of a sudden there’s a table with goblets there too. There are three things in particular that I have to nitpick here though. When Rhowbyn kills the enemy archer he does not clean the blood from his blade, even though it would only take a couple of seconds to wipe the blood off on the dead man’s clothes. Blood is corrosive to the steel of a sword or dagger, and that kind of weapon is too precious and expensive for any wielder to neglect it so. The second thing is the gold being in Gawain’s helm. Gold is soft and a really stupid choice to defend yourself with. It’s fine if it looks like gold, but the author should be making the distinction between it actually being there and the metal looking like it. The third thing regards the kings’ champion battles. Guys in full armor cannot fight for hours on end (from dawn to the sun’s highest point), especially not at the rate this Brynwulf brute seems to be going. You’re lucky if they last half an hour.
Those three are things that just need to be fixed, but a lot of the other huh moments can be addressed with editing. For example, when Mabon is captured and Rhowbyn enlisted to free him, the two of them end up in room behind a waterfall exchanging riddles, and when all the riddles are done, the boy walks out of the room. Now, if he was never truly trapped to begin with, if it was some kind of test for Rhowbyn, then that’s fine—but there is so much randomness before then that I have no way to gauge if it is a test or reality.
All this being said, there were parts of the story that I enjoyed, namely the spells and songs. Each one was simple and beautiful. I can also appreciate the lack of the word “magic” even though there are parts where there is obviously magic being used. I also liked the concept of the Forest Lord because it reminded me of the Beltane rite from the Mists of Avalon.
I really can’t think of another way to describe the story other than “rough draft.” It’s got the intent, but needs refinement.