King Maker is the first book in Maurice Broaddus’ trilogy The Knights of Breton Court. It is Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Percival, and the Arthurian cycle retold, played out in the forgotten gangland of Indianapolis.
Indianapolis. Arthurian legend. Ghetto. Not combinations you’d usually imagine together. But it works.
King Maker is an urban fantasy, and there is magic, reincarnation, war and power struggles; it is also social commentary. Street kids finding their way by steeping on each other to grab a little bit of power or influence, drugs, prostitution, and turf wars are the backdrop. The people we get to know are living in a world I cannot relate to. I’m glad I can’t, frankly, but it’s not easy to read, knowing it’s a world and a life that’s all too real for a lot of people. Good fiction not only entertains, it causes readers to think; in this way, Maurice Broaddus’ novel is the best kind of fiction.
King Maker opens with mundane reality. Breton Court is a neglected development of condominiums in a part of Indianapolis that has been forgotten by the rest of the city. It, and the Phoenix Apartments, are where a large part of the action takes place, becoming opposing fortresses, as it were, in the turf war between rival gangs.
I liked the way Broaddus gradually worked in the magical elements, though the full-out magic toward the end felt like quite a leap, given the way it was secondary throughout the story. I really, really liked the way that Indianapolis itself–specifically this lost and forgotten, neglected and overlooked part of it–is a character. The setting is as important to this story as the characters, and it is fleshed out as well as any of the people who live there, and sometimes better.
The third person omniscient narrator means we get a peak into every one’s head, getting needed a perspective on motives, goals, and the magical elements of the story. Unfortunately, it also seems to relegate everyone to secondary characters, with no one person feeling like he or she is the protagonist, despite the way Broaddus has populated the roles that are familiar from Arthurian legend. I know Arthur and the legends, so I know who the main character(s) ought to be, but spending to much time with the broad cast meant that even though the narrative kept pointing huge arrows at King-as-Arthur, he almost felt lost in the shuffle of Merle, Lady G, Percy, Dred, Green, Lott, Prez, Parker, the troll brothers, and others.
Overall, I enjoyed the story and the clever retelling of a classic story cycle in a thoroughly modern urban scenario, even if the setting is a disturbing one. All the more reason to read it, actually. It’s good to be kicked out of your comfort zone from time to time.
Book two of The Knights of Breton Court, King’s Justice, releases in the UK in February and in the US in March.