Young Galaad follows his visions on a quest with King Artor in 498 AD, Detective Sandford Blank and his companion Roxanne Bonaventure investigate a series of bizarre and grisly murders on the eve of Queen Victoria’s jubilee and in 2000 AD, Alice Fell runs away to London based on her visions she sees during epileptic fits. In End of the Century, Chris Roberson deftly weaves these three story lines together to tell the ‘real story’ of the King Arthur myths.
Roberson knows a good thing when he sees it, especially if he’s written it. His series of novels starring the Bonaventure-Carmody clan (Here, There and Everywhere, Paragea and Set the Seas on Fire) are uniformly excellent, covering quite a bit of science fictional ground. And much like Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton books, Roberson’s series can expand to encompass just about anything, in this case King Arthur.
King Arthur never ceases to fascinate me so it’s a distinct pleasure to read a novel that brings something new to the Arthur mythos. In this case, Roberson gives us not one, not two, but three hard-core science fictional ideas in this book that together help explain the ‘real story’ of King Arthur and the myths surrounding him. I can’t really tell you what those ideas are, though nothing really new, without spoiling the story for you. Suffice it to say they bring something fresh to the story of Arthur and should satisfy any reader looking for science fiction in their story. The stories start off like fantasy, but end together with a giant SF-nal bang.
With three distinct time periods we get three different ‘lead’ characters: Galaad, Sandford Blank and Alice Fell. Of these, I found the Sandford Blank character and story to be the most interesting. Blank is described as the model for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and it shows. He and his companion Roxanne Bonaventure are called upon to assist the police in solving a series of gruesome and bizarre crimes that leave the victims hacked to pieces. Of course neither the killer nor Sandford Blank (or Ms. Bonaventure) are what they seem and the story behind them veers off into SF-nal goodness quite early on, even if you don’t realize it at first.
However, with three different stories I found Alice’s to be just okay and the Galaad story to be the weakest interest wise. Roberson does a good job interweaving the stories and bringing them to the conclusion, but I was always a bit disappointed to leave the Blank and Alice lines and move back to Galaad’s. Most likely because Galaad’s is the closest to a traditional fantasy setting, albeit it does pick up towards the end.
But perhaps the biggest thing that bothered me was how some of the science fictional aspects where used as a deus ex machina to set things right. I understand the how and the why behind the use, and it makes sense in the story, but it’s still a bit too convenient for my tastes. You can blame the end of The Night’s Dawn trilogy for making me really sensitive to this sort of thing.
All in all, End of the Century is a fine addition to Roberson’s expanding Bonaventure-Carmody stories and it’s a darn fine read in it’s own right. Anyone looking to mix a little SF with their King Arthur ought to pick this book up.