“All things strive.” – Terry Pratchett
It’s easy to dismiss stories that aren’t “your thing.” Entire genres get shunted to the dustbin by those who say it’s not “real” writing. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, just about any genre you can think of has at one time or another been considered passé by one gatekeeper or another.
And in many ways, no genre has it rougher than Romance, despite it being the most sold genre in the world by far—twice as much as crime and mystery and more than twice that of science fiction and fantasy. But it’s also the genre that is most quickly dismissed as trash.
But one always has to remember Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap (though I prefer to be generous and say “only okay or worse”). And that includes your favorite genre too, whatever it might be.
When I became a content editor for a romance publisher, I was only thinking about paying the bills. But working with my authors I was quickly reminded of something Terry Pratchett wrote in Hogfather: “All Things Strive.”
I realized every author I worked with believed in what they were writing. They felt they had something to say. They felt their work was, even if only in a small way, something more than the stereotype people envisioned. They strove.
I bring this up because this sums up my feelings of A Connecticut Fashionista in King Arthur’s Court. This is a romantic comedy where the title pretty much tells you everything you need to know: Kat, a thoroughly modern fashion editor and city girl is sent back to the time of King Arthur. Hilarity and spicy romance ensue.
This is not my kind of story (though it could make for a fun Netflix movie), but I wanted to explore a romance book I wasn’t the editor of, while still finding an angle that might appeal to KODT readers. All in all, it’s a fun little time-waster. But it also strives.
Mari Mancusi writes using a first person POV, which means the narrative is filled with sarcastic big-city girl talk. At first, it seems like a one-note joke, but it’s necessary for the story to work, I think. This is a lighthearted story (even if a number of people do get killed) and keeping to her perspective helps that along.
And while Mancusi is not trying to be an Arthurian scholar, she did do her homework. Now, is it going to be exactly true to Le Morte d’Arthur or The Once and Future King, or even the movies Excalibur or Camelot? No, of course not. But if superhero movies have taught us anything, it’s that mythos can be reinterpreted over and over and still feel true.
Which Batman movie franchise is the “true” one? Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan couldn’t have had more different takes, and yet they are both Batman. That’s how I look at this story. She’s clearly borrowing from a few sources, but for her world-building, it works fine.
Mancusi picks and chooses elements that suit her version of Arthurian England, keeping the bright colors and fairy tale vibe when it suits her, while referencing the more realistic and practical aspects of the period when necessary. Of course, the fact that this was never real is something you have to allow for right from the start.
Something Mancusi does well is having a reason for the heroine to be brought into this story in the first place. Essentially, Merlin and the Lady of the Lake (who here is the religious leader of Avalon) are trying to change fate. They know the fall of Camelot stems from Guinevere and Lancelot’s forbidden lust, and hope to avoid that by finding someone else for Lancelot to fall in love with. Which apparently isn’t easy, since they have to hijack someone from the 21st Century to do it. Only it turns out Lancelot doesn’t actually have feelings for Guen, so is something else at play?
Since this is a story about time travel and possibly changing history (well, “history”) there are a few possible roads this could go down: 1) Fate is unchangeable, and no matter what Kat does Lance and Guen will still do the horizontal tango. 2) The attempt to change fate is, ironically, what causes said fate to happen. 3) The fate we know of might not be what actually happens—the whole prophecy changed by a comma kind of approach. 4) Fate is simply what might happen and can be avoided.
Without going into details, this story goes for a mix of 2, 3 and 4. By the end, you can sort of imagine how historians (well, “historians”) will record these events as we now remember them, even though they don’t unfold the way we were told. It depends a lot on your perspective.
By the end, I wondered if Mancusi was a fan of Army of Darkness, because something about the ending reminds me of the original planned ending for that movie.
So, to sum up, while this story was never meant for me, I did see it strive to be something more than I expected, and I can appreciate it for that.
For previous book reviews as well as bonus links, please visit: https://www.noahchinnbooks.com/articles/off-the-shelf/