Author: Kathryn Rose
Length: 408 pages
Source: eGalley from NetGalley
By day, Vivienne is Guinevere's lady-in-waiting. By night, she's Merlin's secret apprentice, indulging in the new mechanical arts and science of alchemy. It's a preferred distraction from Camelot’s gossipy nobility, roguish knights, and Lancelot’s athletic new squire, Marcus, who will follow in all knights’ footsteps by taking a rather inconvenient vow of chastity.
More than anything, Vivienne longs to escape Camelot for a future that wouldn't include needlework or marriage to a boorish lord or dandy. But when King Arthur's sorceress sister, Morgan le Fay, threatens Camelot, Vivienne must stay to help Merlin build a steam-powered weapon to defeat the dark magic machine Morgan will set upon the castle. Because if Camelot falls, Morgan would be that much closer to finding the elusive Holy Grail. Time is running out and Morgan draws near, and if Vivienne doesn't have Merlin's weapon ready soon, lives would pay the price, including that of Marcus, the only one fast enough to activate it on the battlefield.
Protagonist: Vivienne is the queen's lady-in-waiting by day, but by night she secretly studies the mechanical arts and alchemy from Merlin himself. As a woman in Camelot, it's not appropriate for a woman to be learning anything other than maintaining a household and how to catch the attention of a suitable husband, but Vivienne dreams of more than a life at court and a loveless marriage to some noble or dandy. She wants to learn new things and build mechanical feats of brilliance. While I did enjoy the character of Vivienne, I also found her to be a bit too much of a cookie cutter "strong and inquisitive heroine." most of the time she has a fairly logical mindset, but when her emotions come into play she can be impulsive and charge headfirst into danger. She is a great character, but I feel she lacks something to set her apart from the archetype she embodies.
Romance: This book did get off to a great start in terms of the romance. Vivienne is intrigued by Marcus, Lancelot's new squire, and that curiosity eventually blooms into attraction, though she knows nothing could come of that attraction since knights are required to be celibate, a requirement that it seems everyone knows isn't actually kept, but any sort of marriage with Marcus is still off the table. However, while this romance starts off at a slower, but very enjoyable pace, at a certain moment I feel as though there's a skip in the romantic development, and before I could fully get on board with these two characters' romance they suddenly were sharing their intensely strong feelings toward one another. Now, I'm not opposed to these characters being together, in fact, I think they work really well together, but the abrupt jump in their devotion to one another is extremely jarring. My hope is that in the next installment we'll see more chemistry between these two characters so that I don't feel as though I missed a bunch of romantic development between these two characters.
World Building: A Steampunk Camelot? Sign me up! I was really excited to read this book on the Arthurian Legend aspect alone, but a steampunk element really amped up my excitement to read this story. (Although it did take me nearly three years to get around to, please don't judge me!) One of the elements to this story I found the most compelling was that the author didn' romanticize the famous characters from Arthurian legend. They all have flaws, some more than others, and it helped to bring a nice element of realism to this magical and mechanical world. Now as for the settings that we get to see, I was a bit bummed that Camelot felt sort of generic, much like our heroine, in that while we hear about Camelot as this wonderful utopia-esque place, there's nothing that really separates it from other kingdoms and since we don't get to see much of the world outside of Camelot, there wasn't all that much to this world, at least from a setting standpoint that stood out to me. As for the steampunk and alchemical elements to this story, I sort of felt underwhelmed by them, I mean there were definitely a few really cool steampunk scenes, but I felt as though the alchemy wasn't explained the best it could be and while I'm sure we'll get a greater understanding of it in later installments, I wish it was explained better in this book.
Predictability: As far as predictability goes, I was also similarly underwhelmed. I mean, there were quite a few surprising twists in this book. There were things I had no way I could see coming just pop right up, but in most of these cases, I never got the shock factor that I usually get when a surprising twist is revealed. One of the twists, I'm not going to go into specifics because I don't want to spoil anything, but one of the twists was actually a trope I've seen a lot of times before, but since there was no real foreshadowing for it, there was no way I could have seen it coming, and yet when it happened I sort of just brushed it off. Now, that's not to say that I was never shocked, nor was there never a time that I was able to predict something and get super excited that I got it right, but they were very few and far between.
Ending: Honestly, as this story started to wrap up I had a lot of theories about what was going to happen next, but I was surprised and even shocked, to learn where all of the characters end up by the time this story is over. The ending of this book actually had the majority of shocking moments for me in this book, and most of them happened during an epic final climax. There's a lot of tension as this book ramps up toward the ending and there are a few "blink and you'll miss it" moments. As the story winds down we get to see where the story will be going and how Vivienne and those she cares about factor into it.
I do sort of feel like I've trashed this book more than I meant to because it is a really enjoyable book, but there were a lot of things that just felt underwhelming or didn't pop in the way I wanted them to. I will be continuing this series, but probably not for a little while.