Title: Camelot Burning
Author: Kathryn Rose
Series: Metal and Lace #1
Publication Date: May 8, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary eARC in exchange for a honest review.
By day, Vivienne is Guinevere's lady-in-waiting. By night, she's Merlin's secret apprentice, indulging in the new mechanical arts and science of alchemy. It's a preferred distraction from Camelot’s gossipy nobility, roguish knights, and Lancelot’s athletic new squire, Marcus, who will follow in all knights’ footsteps by taking a rather inconvenient vow of chastity.
More than anything, Vivienne longs to escape Camelot for a future that wouldn't include needlework or marriage to a boorish lord or dandy. But when King Arthur's sorceress sister, Morgan le Fay, threatens Camelot, Vivienne must stay to help Merlin build a steam-powered weapon to defeat the dark magic machine Morgan will set upon the castle. Because if Camelot falls, Morgan would be that much closer to finding the elusive Holy Grail. Time is running out and Morgan draws near, and if Vivienne doesn't have Merlin's weapon ready soon, lives would pay the price, including that of Marcus, the only one fast enough to activate it on the battlefield.
I really wanted to like this one! I did! A retelling with steampunk elements? That sounds right up my alley!
Unfortunately, this book didn't work for me. This biggest problem for me was the world-building. I love creative takes on old stories, but I need to understand what is going on. I felt very lost through a lot of the book. I still have no clue what "stealing magic" means or why it's a bad thing or how it is different from alchemy, which just seems like enchanting metal. I also didn't understand anything about the world outside of Camelot. The author mentioned real places like Jerusalem and Spain and Greece, but also Lyonesse, which I don't think is a real country (although I imagine it as being near France). Maybe all of this is explained in the old Arthurian legends and the read is expected to know or look it up. Either way, I was confused and I really wish magic and alchemy had both been explained better.
My other big issue was with Vivienne. I just didn't really like her. She is supposed to be super gifted at alchemy, but her thoughts and narration don't strike me as all that intelligent. Plus partway through the book, she announces that she doesn't like horses, so that was a deal breaker for me.
The third issue I had was totally personal, but I'm really not a fan of forbidden romances, especially when I don't understand why they are forbidden. Vivienne's love interest is a squire, who will take a vow of celibacy when he becomes a knight. Yet in other parts of the book, it talks about knights sleeping with women, so I don't get it. I think celibacy is stupid anyway.
Basically, I still think this could have been an okay read for me if the world-building had been a bit better and had more clearly explained what magic and alchemy were and the difference between them and why magic was bad and why you had to steal it in the first place and... you get the idea.
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