M.K. Hume – The Last Dragon

mkhume-thelastdragonThe legend of King Arthur lives on…

King Artor lies slain and Ector, a mere boy, is acknowledged as the legitimate heir to the kingdom. But the land of the Celts is weakened and Ector grows up torn between a sense of doom and duty.

Meanwhile, in the Forest of Arden, it is revealed to young Arthur that he is the Bastard Prince, son of King Artor and Lady Elayne. Trained in the skills of a warrior, Arthur cannot challenge the position of his ruler and childhood friend, but nor can he stand back and watch Briton crumble under the threat of invasion. As the Last Dragon, he must ensure that his father’s legacy lives on…

King Arthur. How many ways can his story be retold and the myths surrounding him be re-invented? Apparently endlessly, as The Last Dragon is yet another Arthur retelling with a twist. Admittedly, M.K. Hume’s version of the story is an Interesting one, with the myth retold in a novel way. In fact, the Arthur who becomes known as the Last Dragon is the mythical Arthur’s illegitimate son and the series Twilight of the Celts, of which this novel is the first instalment, is set after King Arthur’s demise. The series is a continuation of two prior trilogies covering the lives of Merlin and King Arthur. I’ve not read these previous series and while I don’t know how the Matter of Britain has been covered there, familiarity with the original stories and their themes allowed me to find my way in this somewhat uncannily familiar-yet-different version of Arthur’s world. 

What becomes clear from reading The Last Dragon is the affection in which Hume holds the Arthurian mythos and how well she knows it. She structures her version of Arthur’s story in a triad of Arthurs, echoing a traditional Welsh telling of the tale which features three Gweneveres. Here we have three Arthurs: Artor or Artorex, Ector, and Arthur. The regular mythos has been broken up among them. Artorex is the version of Arthur that has the most traditional elements attached, but is also based on the more ‘historical’ view of Arthur as a Romano-Briton Dux Bellorum against the Anglo-Saxons, while Ector is the more politically savvy, yet kind-hearted version, and Arthur, our current hero, is the one raised in obscurity and ignorant of his heritage, yet he has inherited this sword. I thought this structuring a nice shift and it was interesting to see how Hume moulded the Matter to her tale. My biggest problem with The Last Dragon was its rather slow start, as the first two chapters are mostly build up to set up the story and very different in tone to the rest of the book. If found these chapters tough going and it was only when we finally switch to Arthur that the narrative smooths out.

Hume’s Arthur is interesting, though he does suffer a bit from being too good to be true and being The Chosen One. He is swept along in events and tries to hold to the morals he was raised with, using them as a guide to choose his path. But it only feels as if he’s making his own choices in the second half of the novel. I did very much enjoy the younger generation of new companions, such as Eamonn, Gareth, Lorcan, Germanus, and the three – again three – sons of Merlin, Taliesin, Glynn, and Rhys. They feel familiar yet new and I liked the way they interacted. There are also some captivating female characters with those I found most interesting being Anna, Elayne, Maeve, and Blaise. Anna was just such a powerful player in the story and I thought Elayne’s dignity and utter peace with what her life had been was fascinating. Here is a woman who bore a king’s bastard while married to his greatest captain and she has no regrets and isn’t shamed over it in anyway by her husband. And the two teenagers Maeve and Blaise were quite promising and seem to play a larger part in the next novel, which raises expectations.

In addition to great heroes, we are also presented with some cool adversaries, whose motivations are muddied and thus quite compelling. My favourite of these was Bran, as he’s so terribly complicated and I rather felt for his predicament, knowing he’s a lesser ruler than his predecessor and a less gifted leader of men than both his son and Arthur. He is however a ruthless and great strategist and I just really liked his story. The one villain I just really disliked and whose motivations felt a little cliché was Mareddyd. I understood why he was there, I just really didn’t like his character or his plot arc.

The Last Dragon is very much the narrative of the hero in training and we leave the story on a cliffhanger, though at a natural break in the story. After I got past the first two chapters and settled into Arthur’s narrative, I really enjoyed myself with this original take on the Arthur legend. If you like Arthurian tales, but would like to see them do something new, then The Last Dragon offers the first part of a trilogy that seems to promise to do just that.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.