Battle of Kings

Written by M.K. Hume
Review by Ray Thompson

First published by Headline in the UK (2011), this is the US paperback edition of Book One of Hume’s series The Merlin Prophecy, itself a prequel to her King Arthur trilogy. The story begins with the conception of Myrddion (Merlin) during his mother’s rape and concludes after the death of Vortimer, Rowena, and Vortigern, as he sets out for the European continent to discover his father’s identity and to further his knowledge of the healing arts. Included are such traditional elements as his mother’s claim that he was fathered by a demon, his vision of the warring dragons, and his prophecy to Vortigern, who plans to sacrifice him to stabilize the foundations of his fortress.

Hume’s major departures from tradition are to make Myrddion a healer and to rationalize the magic. Apart from his “second sight,” he possesses no supernatural powers, rather acquires his various skills from reading, learning, and close observation. She also offers cultural and psychological explanations for her characters’ actions, notably the rejection of Myrddion by his mother. This does make sense of extreme behavior, but it can impede the flow of the story, especially when the focus shifts to the highly emotional reaction of witnesses.

Hume conjures up a depressingly plausible vision of the real world in which the legend of Arthur is set, a land racked by the cruelty of suspicious and quarrelsome autocrats and the brutality of vengeful warriors, and as a healer, Myrddion must deal with its consequences for innocent and guilty alike. The novel will appeal most strongly to readers with an interest in the harsher side of life in a strife-torn Britain of the 5th century.