Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve is a book that takes a somewhat more realistic approach to the legend that is King Arthur and Merlin, and their rise to fame. It won the Carnegie award in 2008, and I was part of the presentation team for this book at my school! I remember making a life size sword out of tin foil as a prop in my lunchtimes fondly. This award is just testament to the greatness of this book. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy or a girl – it’s a truly fantastic read!
Our protagonist is a young girl named Gwyna. King Arthur raids her village, burning it brutally to the ground, and she is left without home or family. She escapes the raid by swimming in the river and Myrddren the bard finds her. He quickly realises that Gwyna is the missing piece he’s needed to complete his next story. He gets her to swim in the river and deliver a sword to King Arthur in a mysterious way that makes her look to both the King, and their onlookers, like she is the Lady of the Lake, a mythical pagan goddess. This serves to increase King Arthur’s repute, and so Myrdden adopts Gwyna as his own. She has to be disguised as a boy, Gwyn, in order to continue travelling with Mydden and the King’s forces. This means that she can learn Myrdden’s craft with no suspicion falling on her for being there.
When Gwyna reaches puberty, Myrdden takes her away as a boy, and brings her back as the girl that she is, telling everyone that she is Gwyn’s half-sister. Gwyna then spends a number of years as a lady in waiting to Gwynwhyfar, Arthur’s wife. It is here that the court politics begin to make itself apparent. Gwyna get caught in a web of secrets in which she must be incredibly intelligent to move through without causing any trouble for herself or anyone else. This of course is impossible.
This almost-history book is a perfect mix of action, adventure and drama. It’s a complete page turner and there is something for everyone within its pages. Here Lies Arthur is a one off book by Philip Reeve, so you don’t need any prior knowledge to read it. You don’t even need to know anything about King Arthur! It might even help if you don’t as it’s a little hard to get it into your head that Reeve’s King Arthur is not quite the kind and noble knight of all the television series and films we’ve seen on the subject. His is something grittier and much more realistic!