King Maker (Knights of Breton Court #1)
by Maurice Broaddus
Angry Robot Books (2010)
I had the chance to read the second book in Maurice's Knights of Breton Court trilogy, King's Justice, last year, which wound up being one of my ten favorite novels of2011. In the latter half of 2011, I won this copy of the first book in the series with an optimism that I'd enjoyed it as much, if not more. But did my expectations and preconceptions hold up?
King Maker kicks things off by depicting the tragic death of the title character's father, Luther White. Jump ahead and King James White is a young man coming into his own, but a bit listless and without a destiny, though he feels he has one. He lacks purpose, pure and simple, while living on the streets of Indianapolis. But, oddly enough, King Maker focuses more on the supporting players and those on the outer fringes than on King himself.
The book, for me, acted as a prelude to all the action I read in King's Justice, as Maurice sets the stage--and the stakes--inside the section of Indianapolis known as Breton Court. Drugs, gangs, poverty, and an apparent neglect from the rest of the city (even some within Breton Court) have left the place in a quagmire. And all the while, two gangs makes plans against each other in hopes of superiority, while King and his motley crew of "knights" weight their chances of offering a better way and maintaining some measure of peace.
For a while, the book seemed to be left wanting for heroes, but they are there and this novel acts as much to show their emergence as it does for the various villains and outcasts. Very few of these characters are painted strictly virtuous and downright evil--though there is a brother and sister who come off as downright monstrous, labeled "Rogues" in Maurice's cast of players. The surprising lack of King at the forefront of the story took some getting used to, but I came to appreciate the way he developed so many characters, including ones with only modest parts to play in the overall story. While reading the book, I was also working my way through the third season of Deadwood on DVD, and I noticed one striking similarity between the two: David Milch and Maurice Broaddus both apparently strove for their universes to exist as character studies, and for the towns themselves to be characters.
Where the similarities between those two tales ends is where the fantastical elements enter Breton Court. It starts off a subtle at first, with no scenes really bludgeoning the reader with magic or supernatural creatures, but when it happens it's done to great effect. And much like King's Justice, the character of Merle is a real treat to behold as the insane wise man.
I didn't really love this book as much as I did its sequel, and I wonder if I'd have hurried to read King's Justice if I'd read King Maker first. It doesn't hone in on King and his Knights like I'd hoped, and it really takes a while for the big picture to come into focus. That said, I think the two books work well if read back-to-back, and with the third book in the trilogy, King's War, nearly here I am eager to see what the climax of this epic and modern Arthurian tale has in store.