Ten years after 'King' Arthur's defeat in the 'last great battle' against the Saxons, Britain is a leaderless land, fallen into famine and desolation. Arthur has disappeared, feared dead, and the Saxons are preparing to sweep through the country and take over.
For those ten years, Galahad has lived in a remote monastery in the marshes, expecting that one day he will become one of the brotherhood who guard the Holy Thorn of Joseph of Arimathea, but fate has more exciting and dangerous things in store for him - first when he meets the spear-wielding, Saxon-killing girl, Iselle (she saves his life), then when famed warrior Gawain arrives, determined that Galahad should join his band of men and help oppose the Saxon advance. And off they go, on a series of quests, to find Arthur, the druid Merlin, and a magic cauldron, and hopefully rid Britain of the Saxon invaders.
Camelot is an interesting retelling of the story of Galahad, son of the Lancelot, which mixes legends about King Arthur and the Round Table with fairly accurate historical setting of the turbulent post-Roman 'Dark Ages'. For this isn't a tale of gallant knights in shining armour, but of a people plunged into despair, vaguely remembering the glory days of Arthur and his knights, but lacking the will to band together and bring back those days. In contrast, Gawain and his men may be grizzled old warriors, somewhat past their prime, but they still believe in the cause they once fought for, and are ready to give their all for one last chance to push back the encroaching Saxons. The involvement of Merlin and his (rather dubious) magic, takes the story out of straight 'historical fiction' and adds a 'fantasy' element.
Oddly, because it is primarily a story filled with fighting and unpleasant deaths, it's not necessarily quickly-paced. There's a lot of description of settings from the marshes of Somerset, to cliff top castle at Tintagel, to atrocities encountered along the wayside, but these help build the atmosphere of place and time (and to be honest I sometimes find blow by blow fight scenes tedious)
The author describes Camelot as a 'companion' rather than sequel to his previous novel, Lancelot, and it certainly worked well for me as a stand alone book.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Bantam Press
Genre - adult, historical fiction, fantasy