My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Following a fierce battle by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table to defend the home of Princess Gwynevere, Merlin the Magician is deeply shaken by a terrifying premonition of the fall of Camelot. Guided by magic, Merlin travels to the distant Empire of China where he meets a boy who Merlin believes will one day rescue the Queen and save Camelot from destruction.
Right from the opening, the book begins with a battle. What better way to get the reader right into the story as well as acquainted with the main players and the roots of one of the main conflicts that will affect the rest of the story? Right away, I had a good sense of the characters, which were well described and each had a distinct personality. Merlin was particularly enjoyable (like a less grumpy Gandalf), and Arthur and Lancelot were pleasant to read. It was a treat to meet characters I’ve read in romanticized fairy tales presented as ‘real people’ in a novel. Refreshing. Sheng was also a passionate, intelligent young man, and I enjoyed following his adventures.
The writing is quite good. As stated, the characters are well rendered, as are the descriptions of places and events. The fight sequences were quite detailed, and anyone interested in envisioning exactly what is happening would get a kick out of that. I also particularly liked the immersion in Chinese culture, which was presented with enough detail to feel authentic.
My biggest concerns were the following: (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT: skip to the next paragraph if you are sensitive to spoilers). It made no sense to me that Merlin, after receiving the vision of coming disaster, would disappear like that without giving his *king* notice, especially considering the length of time he was gone. He was the king’s most trusted adviser and friend! And it also amazed me that, after what could have been considered desertion, Arthur had such a weak response to his return. The other issue I struggled with was with how easily Sheng’s father agreed to Merlin’s outrageous request: let his only son leave to save a Queen in a kingdom basically half-way across the world–why should he care? Considering the importance of lineage and honour to many cultures in that time, it seemed unrealistic that after only a long talk (of which no details are shared) that Sheng’s father would agree. I kept waiting for a good explanation for that. Finally, as a reader who is used to third-person limited point of view storytelling, it took time to adapt to the third person omniscient point of view used in this story.
Those points aside, the story is engrossing. Sheng’s personality is fun and he’s always up for adventure, of which there are many good ones in the novel, including his trials to become a night and his quest to save the Queen. Also, I appreciated that Vale chose to write about a main character who is an Other, especially one that is integrated into a traditionally European tale. The Forgotten Knight: A Chinese Warrior in King Arthur’s Court is a very good read and I am happy to recommend it.