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Book Review

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By Force Alone (Hardback)


Author: Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Head of Zeus
505 pages
RRP: £18.99
ISBN: 978 1 838 931278
Publication Date: 05 March 2020

After centuries of rule, with the Western Roman Empire in its death throws, the Empire finally retreated from Britain. In their wake they left an island increasingly fragmented and open to invasion from the Saxons. The rule of law was quickly replaced by the rule of the sword...

By Force Alone (505 pages) is a retelling of the Arthurian legend by Lavie Tidhar, a multi-award winning fantasy writer. If you haven’t read his A Man Lies Dreaming, you should really check it out.

Tidhar strips away the notion of chivalry and the image of traditional knights, if for no other reason than the fact that this did not appear until another six hundred years had passed. He keeps the bare bones of the story, but places it in its correct historical setting.

The mythical story of Arthur is similar to the story of Robin Hood. Neither account dates back to when they were supposed to have existed and as time passed, both stories garnered embellishments along the way. The truth is that neither are likely to have existed and worse, Arthur is a mostly continental creation. It was this lack of a truly British mythology which drove Tolkien to try and create one, resulting in the Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

This is not to say that Tidhar has turned his back completely on the fantastic. Merlin still appears as does Morgana. They come from a fairy dimension, but it is not how you would imagine it, nor would you like to go there.

The story opens, traditionally enough, with Uther Pendragon’s conquest of his enemies and his impregnation of Igraine, wife of Gorlois. This not only sparks a war but leads to the birth of Arthur, who is whisked away by Merlin. So far, so easily expected.

Following Uther’s death the story moves forward a few years and this is where things really start to change. Arthur is not living in some idyllic pastoral fantasy waiting to pull the sword from the stone. The empire has disappeared and the world has become a dangerous place. In Londinium, Arthur runs around with Kay thieving and selling narcotics for a living. This is a dark world and what little humour can be scratched from its surface is as equally dark.

As Tidhar weaves the story of Arthur’s bloody rise to power, he has not forgotten to add in some of the better known parts of the story, but inevitably with a Tidhar twist. It may seem fanciful here to mention that Lancelot knows Kung Fu, or that Guinevere is the leader of her own gang of thugs, but somehow it just works in the context of the story. I even accepted the science fiction elements of the quest for the Grail.

The book is at turns, bloody, inventive, funny and genuinely interesting. That said, some may be put off by the author's writing style. No fan is he of the apostrophe and much of the novel is written in short sentences. It is not unusual to find half a dozen, three to four word sentences making up a paragraph. Not that this makes it unreadable, but it is noticeable.


Charles Packer

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