Art Reyes is a soldier drafted in to enforce order following the outbreak of a devastating plague. As the plague wipes out most of the population and civilisation decays into chaos, Art discovers a talent for leadership. Life in post-plague times is hard, battling violent gangs and trying to find enough food to eat. However, as Art channels the power of King Arthur and works to provide a home for his love, Shanna, it seems there may be hope for a new golden age to rise from the ashes.
‘Arturo el Rey’ by Joan Upton Hall is a post-apocalyptic Arthurian legend set in plague-ravaged America. It’s a plot idea that immediately raises a few eyebrows and, coupled with the truly terrible cover art, it’s safe to say that expectations for this book were quite low. However, I’m glad I took a chance on this unusual book as it turned out to be a fairly good read.
We start off in the middle of the catastrophe with large numbers of the population dying after bioterrorists unleashes a deadly plague. Chaos reigns supreme and the terror and panic of the situation is put across well, though dealt with far too briefly to make a lasting impact. It quickly moves on a few years to the post-apocalyptic setting that is maintained for the rest of the book and the novel quickly gets into its stride.
Art is a very likeable character, struggling to accept the responsibilities of leadership with which he is burdened. We’re taken on his journey from soldier to hero, as he faces troubles from his past and tries to forge a new life in peace for himself and his companions. He’s nicely offset by some really nasty pieces of work in the shape of Gloria and Eddie. These two will make you squirm and are the perfect villains, thoroughly detestable but frighteningly realistic.
The King Arthur link is a bit tenuous and I think that ‘Arturo El Rey’ would have worked as a straight post-apocalyptic tale without having the slightly contrived Arthurian link in there. However, this is apparently book one in a series called ‘Excalibur Regained’ and perhaps the Arthurian legends will become more integral in future books. I also found the love story to be a bit stale and thought that the often complex relationships elsewhere in the book were much more compelling.
As a post-apocalyptic tale, ‘Arturo El Rey’ is pretty good. The chaotic and desperate world is brilliantly described and there are some really engaging characters within it. However, a few forced moments and the somewhat tenuous links to King Arthur stop it from being excellent. Overall, though, this was a pleasant surprise and I’d be more than happy to read the next instalment in the ‘Excalibur Regained’ series.
(pub: Zumaya Otherworlds. 373 page enlarged paperback. Price: $ 8.99 (US), £19.98 (UK). ISBN: 1-55410-258-8)
check out website: www.zumayapublications.com