Twenty years ago, I used to read every Arthurian novel that was published—there seemed to be three or four a year—but then the self-publishing revolution happened, so now there are more than I can ever read in a lifetime; therefore, picking which ones to read is extremely difficult.
I stumbled upon The Maid of Camelot since it came up when I looked for my own book, Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One, at Amazon because its subtitle is Arthur’s Legacy: Volume One. Well, there’s no copyright on book titles and I actually was intrigued that someone would come up with a similar title. After reading the description of the novel, it sounded like the maid of the title, Fleur, might just be one of King Arthur’s descendants, and since I had documented all the known (to me at the time) treatments of possible descendants of Arthur in my nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children and predicted that more Arthurian novels would begin to depict children for King Arthur, which has been the case, I was interested in seeing how the author—J. Hannigan—would treat the subject.
Now, as I said, there are a lot of Arthurian novels being self-published, and sadly, a lot of them are not very good; The Maid of Camelot started out very well—many self-published novels do, but about halfway through, it started to be plagued with too many typos and regrettable periodic switching from first to third person point of view. Hopefully, Hannigan will find a good editor for future books in the series. That aside, I was intrigued and thought the book showed a lot of promise as I started reading.
I won’t summarize the entire plot, but just the opening scenes, along with mentioning one plot twist that will be a spoiler alert if you haven’t yet read the novel.
Yes, the novel is about a descendant of King Arthur—sort of, as I’ll explain shortly. It opens in Thessaly with Fleur, who learns that her maternal grandfather, King Arthur, has died. Fleur is the daughter of Orlando, son to the King of Thessaly and Melora, daughter of King Arthur. Melora is a minor character in this story, but she has her own sixteenth century romance, Eachtra Mhelóra agus Orlando (The Adventures of Orlando and Melora), an Irish story that was heavily influenced by Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, in which Orlando, son to the King of Thessaly, travels to Britain and falls in love with King Arthur’s daughter, Melora. I thought it fabulous that Hannigan used Melora in the novel. I don’t know of any other modern novelist who has revisited the story of Melora, although many authors have created daughters for King Arthur in recent years. Needless to say, I was hooked by the book at this point.
And it only got better because Fleur decided she would disguise herself as a female knight and travel to Britain with Parsival, who happens to visit Thessaly. Of course, they believe that Mordred slew King Arthur, but when they arrive in Britain, they find that Constantine, the Roman Emperor, was trying to conquer Britain, and also that Mordred did not kill Arthur, but rather, the story of Arthur’s death was spread to confuse his enemies.
Now I was both interested and also a little confused. I’ve always preferred to think Mordred was a good guy, as several traditions exist that he was. I also, in my own novels, have made Constantine out to be the cause of Arthur’s downfall—after all, history is written by the conquerors, so I always figured he blackened Mordred’s reputation. I was thrilled that J. Hannigan seemed to have the same idea.
But the problem is that in the traditional legend, Constantine is Arthur’s relative, usually in some unspecified way, and from Cornwall. Of course, Constantine is a Roman name and it might imply he is of Roman descent, but he couldn’t be the emperor of Rome. There hadn’t been a Roman emperor of that name since Constantine III who died in 411 A.D. That led me to wonder what year the story takes place—something that J. Hannigan either didn’t think through or decided wasn’t important. At one point, we are told the Christian religion is three hundred years old, which made me think Constantine I (r. 306-337) is the Constantine referred to. That would make sense given that Rome is trying to take Britain—and the Romans left Britain about 410 A.D. But later, we are told that Arthur knew Clovis, King of the Franks, who died in 511, a century later. It’s even more confusing when Hengist shows up in the story—he supposedly came to Britain in 449. And of course, the traditional date for the Battle of Camlann is 539 A.D. or thereabouts, so just when does this story take place? There wasn’t any Roman Empire in the West after 476, so it just doesn’t add up.
Then comes the mystical part of the story, which adds to the dating confusion. Because Arthur was betrayed by his wife and Lancelot, he missed the opportunity to bring about heaven on earth—the chance is only available once every 1500 years. Once Fleur meets Arthur, he explains that they now have to wait another 1500 years, but to be conscious and live so long would drive them mad, so they’ll hibernate in a cave and wake up 1500 years from now. I assume that means they will wake in the present, so roughly 2015, and if that’s the case, the story takes place in 515—again, too late for the Roman empire to exist (unless one is referring to the Byzantine Empire, which called itself Roman at the time, but I don’t think that’s what Hannigan meant).
And then I realized the story was going into modern times and my interest in it started to wane. Arthur explains that he and Morag (his sister, apparently Morgan le Fay or Morgause—why Hannigan didn’t stick with one of those names I don’t understand) and some others are really Atlans—people who survived the destruction of Atlantis. They need to find Scala, Arthur’s sword, which is fashioned from a dragon’s tooth. Morag denies they are really brother and sister, but she and Arthur are related and they have been at work on earth for thousands of years.
Anyway, the characters all go to sleep and wait for 1500 years to pass. Next thing we know, Fleur wakes up in the twenty-first century. At this point, the story became a bit hard for me to follow—I somewhat lost interest in it, and it seemed kind of full of mayhem. It also switched from Fleur’s viewpoint to that of other characters, including Parsival and a modern-day bodyguard named Janet, along with the awkward point of view shifts I mentioned.
I won’t summarize the rest of the plot but just reveal one key point at the end—Fleur finds out she is not Arthur’s granddaughter after all. Her real mother is Morag, and that means Mordred isn’t her uncle but her half-brother. She was hidden and raised by Melora to protect her. Stranger yet, Morag had mated with Dharg, the dragon whose tooth Scala was formed from—he was in mortal form at the time—and Fleur is the result of that union.
Therefore, while Melora is Arthur’s descendant, Fleur is not, and that means this isn’t really a significant novel for the treatment of Arthur’s descendants. I have to admit I was disappointed by this revelation, plus the novel, because of its focus on characters in the modern day, just wasn’t my cup of tea; even with the cliffhanger at the end, I probably won’t go on to read the sequels since I doubt any further treatment of Arthur’s descendants will be included.
All that said, I am glad that J. Hannigan and so many authors continue to write on Arthurian themes. For me, however, the historical time period of Arthur is what most interests me, and even though I have many modern scenes in my Arthurian novels, ultimately, projecting the Arthurian characters into the twenty-first century doesn’t do it for me as much as the sixth century did. But the Arthurian legend is vast and has no borders, and that makes it timeless and able to adapt and continue to be retold century after century.
The Maid of Camelot is available at Amazon. I could not find much on the author except this at http://awesomegang.com/the-maid-of-camelot/
“Raised on stories of knights and heroism, J. Hannigan had a lifelong dream to bring chivalry into the 21st century.
“J’s first novel, The Maid of Camelot, treads new ground in dealing with the actual personalities of famous Arthurian figures in a real world context.
“Always open to feedback and interaction, J welcomes suggestions, criticisms and general rapprochement.”
I hope J. Hannigan, if he (or she) reads this, does not feel too much rapprochement from my criticisms and continues to write about Arthurian themes and characters.
Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy and Melusine’s Gift, and he has written the nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.