I had personally never heard of this book until I was perusing a Penguin Teen email about their newest releases, and it stated that this was becoming a Netflix adaptation! I was intrigued, and Penguin kindly sent me the movie tie-in of the book in exchange for a review, so thank you Penguin Teen Australia!
This book is authored by Thomas Wheeler but there is also artwork in between the story which was created by Frank Miller. From the reviews on Goodreads before reading this, I was optimistic that I would enjoy it especially because I love the Arthurian Legend retellings. I was a huge fan of the TV Show Merlin back in the day and I find it super interesting; I mean, even my favourite Harry Potter fanfiction uses the Arthurian legend. Anywho, Let’s get onto the review!
The Lady of the Lake is the true hero in this cinematic twist on the tale of King Arthur created by Thomas Wheeler and legendary artist, producer, and director Frank Miller (300, Batman: The Dark Night Returns, Sin City). Featuring 8 full color and 30 black-and-white pieces of original artwork by Frank Miller.
Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.
But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?
Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave…
That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else.
Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.
But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.
From the beginning, I was excited to get through this story because the Lady of the Lake has always intrigued me. For those who don’t know much about the Lady of the Lake or Nimue, she’s portrayed differently in many stories of the legend but in most, she is an ally to Merlin and helps Arthur take the throne as the one true king.
In this instance, Nimue is a young girl perpetrated as a witch in her own village of Fey people (who are also called Druids), because of an accident where a demon bear hurt her as a young girl. Ever since she’s had these strong powers where she can use the ‘Hidden’. Nothing is ever really explained about what the Hidden is but it seems like these are the sources of power and ‘other’ that the Fey people can access compared to normal humans. Just not as much as Nimue can, as a special druid child.
Anyway, Nimue, as a Fey and a supposed witch, ultimately ends up in the crossfire when this angry mob of priests calling themselves the Red Paladins decide they should casually commit genocide and eradicate their people to ‘cleanse the earth for God’ etc. As she’s escaping these enraged religious men with an extreme lack of originality in fashion, her mother’s dying wish is for her to bring a big sword to Merlin. This then ensues a mission to give this special sword that seems to act as a conduit to her magic, to Merlin as she teams up with Arthur to help her people against the Paladins and other leaders in power in England (or Great Britain).
This book was definitely a little hard to get into but after maybe 100 pages, I was really into it. I saw a few comments about how this book was written more for the screen rather than for literary purposes but I personally really enjoyed it anyway. I’m definitely more of a plot-driven reader for certain books and this story gave me a solid plot.
I loved the way it was reimagined in general, where the Arthurian characters were scattered in different roles across the story and especially the big emphasis on why can’t Nimue be a queen with the magic sword? Yes for feminist vibes. The story was also more complex and engaging in that it involved so much more than just Nimue going on a journey, we got to see the other leaders in Britain and got a sense of the politics involved in helping her save her people. It gave me vibes from the TV show Reign and Merlin, and although it got a bit gory, it somehow also felt kind of authentic.
The side characters had some great development considering this book packed so much into only 400 pages but it would’ve been even better if the sub-races of the Fey were explained a bit more. It would have added some more depth so that we could understand Nimue’s people a bit more. Side characters I really enjoyed reading was Squirrel, the Weeping Monk was a very interesting character, Arthur & Gawain were also characters that had roles I didn’t expect. The minor romance in the book didn’t feel overwhelming to the story which was a great positive, and although there were a few tropes, I think they were done well and in moderation. It was so fun reading the story and finding out which characters from the original Arthurian legend are who in this specific story. It brought the same vibes you feel when you read a multi-generational book series like the Shadowhunter Chronicle and meet an ancestor of a character you can recognise.
There were of course, a few other downsides to take into account, that removed a star from my rating.
One is the art; I was not a fan of the art style at all. It just didn’t look good to me, it wasn’t always clear who the artist was trying to convey in these drawings and it sometimes felt like there was more than one art style going on. Some of the art was not too bad and some were almost like unfinished sketches. The movie tie-in copy that I was sent doesn’t have the original full-colour pages of drawings so perhaps the colour was a big part of it and I might’ve missed out on that experience. Overall, not a fan of the art; the writing was way better.
Second was probably the gore. I do like action but there were a lot of graphic death scenes, more than I’d expect in a YA novel and this would definitely cater to a more mature teenage audience.
Even though it might read as a fleshed-out screenplay or script, I really enjoyed this book. It had action and great characters that were full of emotion and passion. The plot continued to move in directions I wasn’t expecting and I’m very excited to continue watching the adaptation because I personally think it’s already doing this novel justice.
So far, I’m really enjoying the TV show as well. The way they weave in the Nimue’s backstory and flashbacks are so well done, and although the CGI isn’t amazing, it has given me the same TV quality as Merlin but with a female protagonist. I’m also really loving the music and the setting of the show. The locations look way more beautiful than I imagined when reading and the music has also been great too.
The fact that this novel wasn’t very mainstream means that I don’t doubt they were working on the adaptation before the book’s release (first released October 2019) – which isn’t a bad thing. I’m not sure whether there will be a sequel in the works, but the ending of the book does leave room for more even if it ended somewhat comfortably.
Are you a fan of the Arthurian legend? Will you be watching the Netflix TV show?
Until next time,