The King’s Name, by Jo Walton

The Kings Name, by Jo Walton book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher:  Tor
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Reviewer: SJ Higbee

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last–and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms–and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentant usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hard-won Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies–and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens.

Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.

SJ Higbee

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