Book Review – The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer by S. Alexander O’Keefe

Sir PercivalI was exteremely intrigued when I first read the description for S. Alexander O’Keef’s The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer and it promised to be the first novel in a new series. I go through phases of fascination with all things Arthurian so I’ll try just about any take on Camelot at least once. O’Keefe’s premise is an interesting one but while I can get behind the plot, the characters and style of story telling have me less likely to pursue this series beyond this first book.

It has been ten years since Arthur and Camelot fell in battle. Morgana and her mercenaries have the people of Britain under her thumb while she continues to hunt for her archenemy, Merlin the wise. Guinevere and a few of her ladies are protected in hiding by the church and via a promise Morgana made to one of her most capable knights. The Knights of the Round Table have been wiped out, or so everyone thought until Sir Percival returns from the holy lands with a friend. Having been sent to seek the Holy Grail alone, Sir Percival has failed in that quest but might have returned just in time to bring Morgana down and restore Guinevere to her rightful place as queen of the late Arthur’s broken kingdom.

The novel starts with a brief recap of just how Camelot, Arthur, and his Knights of the Round Table fell in the years before the novel takes place but it then proceeds to tell that same story approximately fifteen more times with only slight variations. There are so many scenes in which one character relates events past—not just the fall of the Camelot we know—but various events in their personal histories to another character and every time the scenes followed the same flat narrative style. Character A gives a lackluster narration to Character(s) B (and C) while the over-excited Character B frequently interrupts and gets chastised for interrupting, prolonging a scene that was already bordering on painfully dull.

The characters themselves don’t feel as vibrant (or different) as one would hope given the clearly drawn lines between the heroes and the villains of the story. They lack a natural depth and so much of their motivations are informed rather than organic; telling the reader that this is how they feel about one another rather than actually showing. Of course, part of this is because so much of their motivations stem from the events of the past and the majority of what the reader knows/sees/hears about that period is narrated in what—for me—was a ridiculously ineffective way. Having full flashbacks to the events surrounding the final battle of that first war would have been a better way to keep this reader engaged.

But I’m also not sure that O’Keefe is truly comfortable writing battle sequences, which might be part of why the one character telling the story verbally to another approach was used so often. There are several confrontations between Sir Percival and Morgana and her mercenaries where the build up to them is deftly handled but then the confrontation itself is either left out entirely or abbreviated with the story switching perspectives for another character to receive news of the outcome. It could be meant to build suspense but in a story like this where the lines of conflict are so blatantly drawn, there can be little surprise in the outcome of any of the battles that are fought. Most of the time I don’t think the various shifts in narrative focus––from Sir Percival, Guinevere, Morgana, and various other characters—are a problem, they serve a convenient work around for what might be trickier scenes rather than as a means of strengthening the characters themselves.

So while there’s nothing wrong with the plot, there’s nothing interesting enough about the way the story is told for me to worry about when the next book in the series will be published (and in fact, the narrative style caused an otherwise well-plotted story to drag).

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