THE DEATH OF ARTHUR is a climbing magnificence of a story, one that takes your hand gently, soothes you with two boys who just want adventure–only to find their lives completely turned upside down. I finished this book at 4:30am, hooked until the very last page. Even when I wasn’t physically reading it, I was thinking about it. It’s the kind of all-consuming book a person needs to read when the real world just–kind of sucks.
Whilst I have many messy thoughts scribbled down, I thought I’d write this for you, Yves, to give you some sort of collected feedback and be a good friend/beta! So here goes, in a very loose review-style way!
With some most chapters claiming reflective, in-retrospect thoughts, the book warns you right from the start: do not–DO NOT–be fooled. Do not trust. Expect chaos; expect badness. Yet the lull and rhythm, the grand storyline and strong bond between the characters make you forget that over and over. You can’t help but become wrapped up in the in-the-moment events. And I think that’s the purpose: you forget about the impending doom and focus on the “in the now”–and that was my first mistake. I fell hard for each character–and, in time, watched as they all broke apart, knitted back together, and, for the finale, turned on each other.
Yves has incredible strong points when writing: their imagery skills are everything to this book. This book would not be the same without the beautifully layered scene descriptions. It’s not just chunks of “this is this, that is that”; it is genuinely you need to know that this pastry is buttery, and that the winter night is this biting. You read, and suddenly you’re right there. From the start, Yves pulls you into the story, fingers curled in your shirt and yanking before you have a chance to cry out. But you never regret one moment–you never want to go back or stop the whirlwind of what you’re about to find out. A buildup of scents, sounds, colours, sensations, both Caer, the islands, and Willowtown come to life incredibly.
This book is a retelling of the story of King Arthur. So, granted, we need an Arthur, and he is situated from the start as Neil Pendragon–a very clever surname, I thought. There is a quiet bookish boy at his side, whom Neil calls his soulmate in every world. It’s not realised at first that Max is Merlin–that he would be Neil’s undoing, no matter how many times Yves warned through those reflective sentences I mentioned at the end of the chapter. At the start, Neil has only a matter of days left in Caer, a place he thought to call his home after existing in so many different worlds, so he takes Max on an adventure. The adventure is the catalyst to Neil realising that who he is–who has always been in any and all worlds–has led to a prophecy. That he’s not Neil at all; he is Arthur. Prince Arthur, will be King Arthur, and he will rule Willowtown.
Now this book follows the prophecy, the fate of each character seemingly ringing out in the background like a quiet bell, marking the hours passing. Faint reminders, again, not to fall in love with these characters because their destiny is greater than softness that allows them to live on in happy lives. It begs you to ask the questions: who is who? Look a little deeper, broaden your theories–who is who? In the end there stands Merlin, a fallen King, an prophecised Queen, and a fractured Round Table–and one knight who made it to the end. But before there was a crowned Merlin and Arthur who went through hell and back and thought they would never be divided, there were two boys: Max and Neil, who were ace, platonically in love, and would do anything for each other. There were two boys who wanted to see and read about more of the world. There were two boys whose love language wasn’t kissing or romantic declarations; it was fingers on each other’s neck; it was curled-up together on cold nights; it was screaming desperation to find each other when separated; it was not feeling right when they were apart. That’s one of the most potent things about this book: how in love these two boys are, how they are very much soulmates, but they’re not a couple nor never tried to be. Their asexuality is clear, made humorous at times, but does not at all lessen the story or the bond. Yves portrays their love in so many ways, skinship and comfort and you are my home and I’m not right when you’re distant or not here and I don’t know what I’d do without you. It’s a careful bond already in place at the start–and that bond only strengthens, hardens, as they grow up in Willowtown–as they come scholars, meet their Round Table, and meet their fate.
The timeline for this book is *chef’s kiss*. The way Yves writes the timeline is beautiful, noticeable, and feels right for the events of the book. The transition from boys in Caer to men in a university–even the transition from a gangly boy wielding Excalibur with all the grace of a fumbling baby deer to a king who fights for Willowtown, is stunning. I got to watch Neil and Max grow up, grow stronger, fall into their places and hone themselves into who they needed to be. The background to the main chunk of the book is Willowtown university, classes, exams, professors, and it’s done perfectly. Whilst it provides another purpose for them to learn and meet others it never takes away from the bigger plotline of the prophecy.
But again, I held my breath over and over, questions of “who is who? who is going to betray who?” in my head. I went frantic, searching for clues, not trusting any new characters. Soon enough, Neil/Arthur has a compiled Round Table: Reet, Yvanna, Arcite, Palamon, Caspian, Dorian. The love the Round Table have for each other that falls from the page hurt my heart to read. It’s so clear in the way they pile into a small tower room, have each other’s backs, will do anything for each other. They fall in love with each other, much reminding me of the dynamic in THE RAVEN CYCLE. It’s not always romantic love–it’s unending, I will fight for you, love. Yvanna, in the beginning, was a bitch, but there was a beautiful montage of her bonding with Neil over detention in the dragon’s stables (KAI YOU LEGEND, YOU MADE IT OUT ALIVE). At first you don’t think she’ll be too important but oh Good Lord, she is. In the end she is the one who stayed. She stayed at Neil’s side, never ran, never left, always fought to her last chance. In the end she saves Neil’s life, gets him to the lake, to meet the Lady of the Lake.
Before there was Dorian, sweet boy Dorian whom I wasted time with at the start not trusting, there was Tion who was Round Table. He was shifty at times, secretive, yet very much a necessary character. Whilst his death killed me (he’s alive and kicking in my AU’s, thank you, Yves), I understood it’s purpose. Without him killing the boar they wouldn’t have realised the importance of Lavatia’s curse, her power, her involvement in their eventual end. I loved Tion, and his death was only the first to break my heart.
But back to the timeline, because I’m bad at writing in chronological order, one of the most notable things about the character was Max. He was shown to grow more than anyone. His persona changing to adapt to being Merlin because he knows he’ll likely lose his best friend and soulmate, so distances himself, becomes the best wizard he can be to give Neil the best chances–it was all stunningly executed. He always whispers that Neil is lost to him but I think it was always Max who was losing himself–and Max, who, in the end, lost their fight in trying to end it.
The ending scene killed me right off. I sobbed violently through it all, heaving gasps I tried to muffle at four in the morning, because I was destroyed. Dorian’s part shifts from squire to knight, to sacrificial prince, to brave soldier, to being killed by Caspian in his loyalty to Neil. That, for me, was incredibly important: Dorian drawing his sword on Caspian, only to be killed by him. When the characters met, Dorian idolised him. I got the sense that Caspian was Dorian’s first crush–at least that he was fully aware of, until Dorian discovered kissing with Arcite. Dorian would have trusted Caspian, followed him, only to die by his sword–and sweet Dorian, Dorian, my son, I cried endlessly for him.
In the end, Neil is left with a Round Table either dead or run off to safer grounds and a wizard who died as a traitor but Neil still needed to see that Max wanted to save him. “Max, tell me it’s not true.” Neil broke my heart with that line when Palamon revealed Max’s betrayal, that he sold Neil out to the princess trying to kill him. In the end, Neil lies bleeding and dying next to Max, as it had always been, and makes a deal. He will go to Avalon if it means he never knew the people who fought for him, loved him, died for him. He will sacrifice what he built and had in his life for their second chances–even if it means they would forget him. And when it was time for them to go to Avalon, they would be reunited. The ending leaves an open hope, a bare hint of, “Will Neil be okay? Will they be okay? Would lives would they lead if not following the prophecy?”
To conclude, I’m heartbroken, full of magic, love, wonder, awe, at this magnificent book. And I would happily get my heart broken over and over if it means I get to be surrounded by the wonderful world-building, characters, and story. Yves, thank you for letting me read this. I’m sorry I took so long but I’m also super glad I savoured everyone at a slower pace when they were alive. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This book needs to be published–this book needs to be out there and known and be cried and loved over.
Also please find below a list of fanart I would die to see created one day:
- Neil looking at the dragons in the sky before leaving for Holyrood
- Max and Neil embracing after their many fights, Max’s fingers in his hair
- The blue protection wall in Queen Amoria’s sitting room–just that whole dynamic read wonderfully
- Dorian facing down the Green Knight in Willowtown and the chapel
- Dorian and Neil curled up in the tower when Dorian can’t settle anywhere
- The Round Table around the tree at Neil’s coronation
- Neil pulling Excalibur out of the lake
- The whole group studying in the tower room
- The mermaid throne room
- Kai flying with Neil and Max on her back