Rhianna has lived her entire life on the idyllic island of Avalon, never knowing her parents or seeing anything of the world beyond the isle. But the truth comes out in Britain’s darkest hour, when the wizard Merlin arrives on Avalon’s shore with the body of King Arthur Pendragon, slain in battle by his nephew Mordred and missing his sword Excalibur.
Rhianna learns she is the secret daughter of Arthur and Guinevere, hidden from the world at birth and now rightful heir to Camelot’s throne. It’s a lot for a young girl to absorb, but when she realizes that hope for the future lies with her finding the Four Lights (the sword of light, the lance of truth, the crown of dreams and the holy grail) that could reunite the kingdom and restore her father to life, she can’t wait to leave home and fulfil her rightful destiny.
Naturally it’s easier said than done. She’s lived a sheltered life, and not everyone on the mainland is convinced by the appearance of a girl claiming to be Arthur’s heir. Saxon hordes run amok, and Merlin has gone missing. More than that, her cousin Mordred was not killed in battle, but is currently hunting down the four treasures for himself.
Joined by her Avalonian friend Elphin and the last remaining Knights of the Round Table, Rhianna begins her quest to find the treasures, rescue her mother, and restore her father to life.
There are plenty of books out there that explore the possibility of Arthur Pendragon having had a secret son or daughter (Susan Cooper‘s THE DARK IS RISING sequence springs to mind) and Katherine Roberts does well in melding the traditional elements of Arthurian legend with her own ideas about the next generation, as well as a sense of magic (dragons, enchantments, mermaids) and realism (injuries, cold winters, torture, death).
As a long-time fan of Arthurian legend, it’s interesting to note some of the changes Roberts made from the traditional stories: in this tale Mordred survives the battle of Camlann and becomes Rhianna’s primary antagonist, Guinevere isn’t in a convent, Lancelot is still alive, and there are enough Knights of the Round Table left alive to mount a defence of Camelot.
Likewise, although there are hints of things such as Guinevere’s adultery with Lancelot, the incestuous angle between Arthur and Morgan is entirely erased, with Mordred as Rhianna’s cousin instead of her half-brother.
The structure of the four-part series is pretty clear: each book pertains to one of the magical treasures (or “Lights”) that Rhianna must find if she’s to restore peace to the land, the journey for which is a self-contained adventure with a few overarching elements. It’s a neat little premise, though Rhianna herself can be irritatingly stubborn and short-sighted. Granted, a character has to start off as immature if she’s to have any decent character development, but it wouldn’t hurt if she was a tad more gracious and intelligent to begin with.
As someone who has always read Arthur’s death as the end of an era, it’s a little disconcerting to read a story in which Camelot’s defenders rally so quickly (Excalibur is barely back in Nimue’s possession before Rhianna heads out to reclaim it again). The context of the wider mythology loses a little of its poignancy in this sense, but hey — it’s a children’s series. On the whole Sword of Light (2012) is a strong start to what promises to be a rewarding story.