the Little Red Reviewer

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus

Posted on: March 29, 2015

king makerKing Maker, by Maurice Broaddus

published in 2010

where I got it: purchased

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I have a soft spot for mythology retellings, for folklore characters reimagined in modern times. How will the author handle changes in social mores and expectations?  How do you blend old myths and a new world, and make it work?  Maurice Broaddus’s debut novel King Maker is the story of King Arthur told in present day inner city Indianapolis. Blending the trappings of urban fiction and dark epic fantasy, Broaddus gives us characters and a world that I’ll bet most SF/F fans have rarely, if ever, come across.  The dialog includes a lot of urban street slang, and yet there is a Shakespearean flavor to the timber and rhythm of many of the conversations.

 

The characters from the Arthur story are all here, if changed and modernized: Luther White is Uther Pendragon; his son King James White (yes, King is his first name) is Arthur; King’s friend Lott Carey is Lancelot; the homeless and possibly crazy guy Merle is Merlin; Lady G is Guinevere; Dred is Mordred, and so on. You’ll even find the Green Knight, Percival, and some fae interference. Even the physical trappings are here:  Excalibur becomes a custom-made gun called the Caliburn, and the throne of Britain is reflected in the Breton Court neighborhood which serves as the epicenter of King’s domain. There is additional mythos blended in as well, including immortal spirits, and a set of unforgettable assassins.

 

Merle speaks in riddles and prophecies, and King puts up with him, because the old homeless guy is surely harmless. King doesn’t want to get sucked into the world of drug dealing, but with so few options to get out of the city, he may have no other choice. King knows he’s made some enemies, but he isn’t intimidated by the thugs on his street who try to hustle his neighbors. He protects the vulnerable people in his neighborhood, and generally tries to make his home a better place.  His fearlessness leads Merle to believe that the King has returned.

 

But instead of noble kings, knights in shining armor, princesses and magicians, the names you know from the King Arthur myth are transformed into poverty stricken inner city youths, drug dealers, teen mothers, prostitutes and homeless people. Broaddus doesn’t sugar coat or glorify anything, and neither do his characters. We’ve turned so many old stories into romantic tales of brotherly love and chivalry, but what parts of their stories never made it onto the parchment or into the songs and poems?  In King Maker, we’re given the idea of the noble and romantic Hero’s Journey right alongside destitution,  bleak street life, homelessness, drug deals gone wrong, and women who turn to prostitution because they have no other way to feed their family.  it’s brutal, it’s honest, it’s in your face at all times.

And that got me thinking. Why am I perfectly okay with a brutal murder or brothel scene in Game of Thrones, but I was made uncomfortable with the scenes of prostitution in King Maker? Why do I laugh snarkily at a prostitute joke in a Jeff Salyards book, but I wanted to throttle characters in King Maker who view (and treat) the neighborhood women as bitches and ho’s? To be far more blunt about it,  am I ok with it when it’s white people in a pseudo-european environment who are glossing over the reality of their situation, but not ok when the situation is people of color in a modern inner-city environment that is only a few hours from where I live?

 

It really had me thinking about why I am ok with certain things.   Is it the glossing over? is it something else? Do I not want this much brutal reality in my fantasy? Is King Maker not really a fantasy novel? Lots to think about.  And something to make you think – that’s what we’re all looking for, right?

 

The first book in a  series, there are a handful of characters in King Maker who are introduced, but their storylines don’t really go much of anywhere. Such as the police officers Detective Octavia Burke and Lee McCarrell, both of whom had a lot of potential to interact in important ways with King and his group, but for the most part stayed on the sidelines; and the fey girl Omarosa, as well, gets some page time, and makes me quite sure she’ll be more important later. I got frustrated with the middle of the novel, where not much happens, it’s mostly characters just sitting around, smoking some weed, or getting a hook up, and it began to feel rather repetitive. I wish there had been more “moving the plot forward” in those middle sections.

 

I must, however, tell you about a fantastic scene near the end of the novel, which doesn’t spoil anything, or at least not much, especially since I’ve edited out the names of characters who are talking:

 

“. . . I don’t think I like the way you be looking at my girl, dog.”

 

. . .

 

“How’s that? With respect? Like she’s a person?”

 

Yeah, I loved that scene!  King Maker, similar to old mythology stories, follows traditional gender roles (and not just to follow them just for followings sake, there is a complex reason why). Women are put in a gilded cage, protected, patronizingly treated like property. But it doesn’t have to be like that, and unlike most of the men in his neighborhood, King realizes the women in his life are his friends and allies.
King Maker has failings typical in many debut novels – pacing issues, loose ends, and just too many characters to try to develop, but even with that, it was a pretty good read.  If you like mythology retellings, and are looking for something edgy and brutally honest about innercity life, this is one you should keep your eye out for.

4 Responses to "King Maker by Maurice Broaddus"

I’m afraid the dreadful cover doesn’t communicate ‘Arthurian Legend” to me, but rather looks like an urban gang threat novel. Too bad.

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for what it’s worth, the guy on the cover is a very good representation of the main character of the book.

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Good review – not sure that this one is going to be for me. Part of me likes the sound of it and part of me is a little put off. I’m on the fence for now.
Good review – it’s good when a book gets you thinking – even if you don’t have the answers it’s good if something stays with you for a little while after finishing.
Lynn😀

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Interesting. I hadn’t realised this was an Arthurian retelling. I think I should keep my eye out and see if I can maybe get a copy of this from the library, give it a try that way.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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