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Nancy Springer – I Am Mordred

March 30, 2010

32. I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer (1998)

Length: 184 pages

Genre: Arthurian fiction (which I’m never fully comfortable calling either historical fiction or fantasy)

Started: 22 March 2010
Finished: 23 March 2010

Where did it come from? The local library booksale.
Why do I have it? Nymeth reviewed I am Morgan le Fay by the same author, which I thought sounded excellent, but I was able to lay hands on this one first.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 26 February 2009.

All hail Mordred: Cheer
up, mister original
mopey emo kid!

Summary: Everyone knew who he was… son of the king, born from an incestuous union, prophesied to murder King Arthur and end the dream that is Camelot. His name is known by all, and spoken as a curse: Mordred. His father tried to kill him when he was just a baby, consigning him and 40 other baby boys to the sea. But Mordred survived and was raised by a fisherman and his wife, a happy, normal child… until he is found by the sorceress Nyneve and brought to Lothian to be raised by his mother Morgause. There he learns who he is, and of the dark foretelling that causes everyone to hate and fear him. But Mordred has no reason to kill his father, and wants nothing more than a way to change his destiny… nothing, except his father’s love.

Review: Mordred is probably the character I find most interesting in Arthurian legend, provided he’s done right – I can’t stand retellings that paint him as a one-dimensional villain lusting after the throne. On that front, Springer gets it right; her Mordred is as complex and sympathetic as any I’ve seen. I am Mordred deals with some heavier themes than you might expect given its size; primarily of the constraints put on us not of our choosing – not only those of fate and prophecy, but also those of family, birth, kingship, gender, power, and the lack of power. Springer’s writing is deceptively simple as well, straightforward enough to occasionally seem geared toward a younger reader than I think was intended, yet simultaneously lush and evocative.

While I enjoyed Springer’s writing and her characterization of Mordred, there were a few elements that kept me from totally loving the book. The first was that the ending felt totally rushed. It seemed like Springer got to the tipping point of her story, then just sort of stopped; the entire fall of Camelot and death of Arthur all happened in less than three pages of epilogue. While I get that the point of the book was to examine how and why Mordred turned from a happy child into a patricide, not to dwell on the patricide itself, it still felt like it happened too fast to be an organic part of the story. Also, the magical nature of Springer’s world didn’t ever quite click for me. While you all know I have no issues with magical systems cropping up in whatever kind of book, I like them to be well-explained and internally consistent. In I am Mordred, however, magic only seemed to pop up when it was needed for metaphorical purposes or to otherwise make a point. Still, I read this book primarily for the character(s), not for the worldbuilding, so on that front, I got what I came for. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book primarily to those who are already at least vaguely familiar with Arthurian legend, especially those who think Mordred normally gets a bum rap.

One final thing: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books have been on my mind a lot recently. I’ve got two friends who I’ve talked into getting hooked on the series (Mwuahaha! Also, hi guys!), and I’ve been re-reading The Eye of the World in dribs and drabs over the past few months. In any case, the fact that I am Mordred had a character named Nyneve was *really* throwing me off. I know Jordan borrowed heavily on Arthurian myth to name some of his characters (among other things), but none of the previous Arthurian retellings I’ve read have had a character named Nyneve, or any variation thereof, so Jordan’s Nynaeve will always be the original in my mind. And Nyneve was not at all like Nynaeve – although I guess they can both do magic, but that’s about the extent of it – so it was really throwing me for a loop every time Nyneve showed up.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: I couldn’t find any. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Because he was the king, he could show no feeling about this.

Cover Thoughts: It’s a pretty dark book – it does start with baby-killing, after all – so that aspect is right on the money. I don’t really like that it makes Mordred out to be a soldier, though, when so much of the book is spent with him running away from fighting. (Also, in order for his eyes to be lit the way they are, he has to have a candle or two under his face guard. Hot! Also, owie!)

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 9: “The courser surged and curvetted under us, ramping onward three times as fast as a man could walk.” – leap of a horse from a rearing position, in which it springs up with the hind legs outstretched as the forelegs descend.
  • p. 19: “I thought at first that she was mocking me, but then she stooped, and from under a furze bush growing by the wall she drew a small white whimpering thing, soft and round, a brachet pup.” – a type of hound that hunts by scent; bitch-hound
  • p. 59: “The had an entire tower to themselves – a fair, airy place with silk oriflammes hung on the whitewashed stone, brighter than any tower of Lothian would ever be.” – any ensign, banner, or standard, esp. one that serves as a rallying point or symbol.
  • p. 104: ““The wee bodies lay in the boat like so many pollack,” he said.” – a food fish, Pollachius pollachius, of the cod family, inhabiting coastal North Atlantic waters from Scandinavia to northern Africa.
  • p. 125: “I put on his chain mail, his breastplate and visored helm, and tasse and cuisses and greaves and gauntlets.” – either of two pieces of plate armor hanging from the piece below the breastplate to protect the upper parts of the thighs; a piece of armor or padding for protecting the thigh.
10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2010 5:52 am

    I am presently working my way through Mists Of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and feel this might be a good book to read when I have finished.

    • March 30, 2010 8:45 am

      vivienne – I loved Mists of Avalon, and I do think that I am Mordred would be a good complement – somewhat similar perspectives, but not too much overlap in the stories, and one a lot faster than the other!

  2. March 31, 2010 9:35 pm

    Nancy Springer sounds awfully familiar… I think I read part of her Rowan Hood series in middle school!

    I hate it when novels spook and stuff the climax into a few pages (cough The Historian cough), but at least the characters made up for it.

    • April 2, 2010 8:32 am

      Omni – This is the first I’ve read of Springer’s work (that I know of), although I have a few anthologies she’s edited on my wishlist. I also tend to get her confused with Nancy Farmer, although maybe that’s just me.

  3. April 1, 2010 3:34 pm

    That’s too bad about the rushed ending! Sadly I can’t remember if the thing about magic was true in I am Morgan Le Fay too. But I also read it more for the characters than anything else, as I will when I finally get to this.

    • April 2, 2010 8:34 am

      Nymeth – I’m definitely still looking forward to I am Morgan Le Fay, if I can ever get my hands on a copy. As for the magic thing, it might have just been the wrong mood, but it felt like it wasn’t there as magic, it was Magic as Metaphor. Which is fine, but it needs to work as Magic as Magic, too, y’know?

  4. April 3, 2010 7:36 pm

    I’ve read one or two of Springer’s Enola Holmes books and liked her writing. I’ll have to try this series. Thanks for the review!

    • April 5, 2010 3:10 pm

      Shelley – You’re welcome! Now I’m going to have to hunt down these Enola Holmes books, too. :)

  5. leslie permalink
    November 12, 2011 9:02 pm

    i read I Am Mordred this year and I loved it!! this book really made me consider how there are more than one side to a story.

  6. benz permalink
    May 19, 2013 11:26 pm

    Just so other readers know, when the writer of this review says that there is no variation of Nyneve in Arthurian legend, that’s not correct. Nyneve is supposed to be Nimue. the same way this book showed the whole story of Mordred not just the bad part, it did the same with Nyneve (or Nimue).Nimue (Nyneve) wasn’t just some woman who tricked Merlin into teaching her everything he knew until she could trap him for the rest of his life. She is not that at all. Mordred and Nyneve usually get an unfair portrayal, and I think this book is a refreshing and understanding new side to the Arthurian legend we all know and love.

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