New interpretations of Arthurian myths are hardly new by definition. These stories have been reshaped and told for centuries. In the last few years alone there have been countless variations – from Lavie Tidhar’s stubbornly modern though medieval-set By Force Alone, to Giles Christian’s Lancelot and Camelot (which we reviewed on Grimdark Magazine), epic historical novels, to April Genevieve Tucholke’s Seven Endless Forests, taking a more liberal and feminist approach to these stories. Other notable entries into recent Arthuriana include 2019’s Cursed, which has since been turned into a Netflix show and the radically different Legendborn by Tracy Deonn which took Arthurian mythology as a basis to explore race relations in contemporary US society. And blazing in to this crowd of interpretations, engines rearing, comes Laure Eve with Blackheart Knights. While reading, I sold this book to my friends as “King Arthur on motorbikes” – which, while true to the cover, isn’t strictly the most accurate description of the content of the book. But it is the spirit of it.
This is set in a world in which motorbikes take the role of horses, and leather-clad bikers are the closer visual than traditional knights. Blackheart Knights takes these familiar stories and makes them into something that is new and inventive – a gritty, grimdark take on a futuristic London, in which magic is forbidden and legal disputes are often fought out through melee battles. Enter Red. A girl with magic and a desire for revenge, enmeshed in a world of knights and fights bigger than herself. She ends up taken under the wing of the Sorcerer Knight and training as a Knight of the Callabria. Boiled down to its essence, the plot of Blackheart Knights isn’t the most special or innovative, but it is well-written, compelling and packaged in a way that keeps the reader guessing (there was strong foreshadowing for a twist that it took me a very long time to realise, and looking back, I should probably have been able to see that one coming much earlier).
The character work in this is simply splendid. Red manipulates and fights her way to the climax of the story, alongside a second narrative that shows the rise of the young Arthur and his court. I think as a whole package, Blackheart Knights worked as well as it did because of the ways the characters managed to make the most of sparse details, of hints. It is not a book that relies on lavish descriptions or flowery prose, but rather has a distinct voice carrying the story through to its conclusion. Think of this as an old school thrash metal gig like Slayer or Metallica at their heyday – loud, fast, fun and satisfying as fuck.