Earlier this month the writer Lev Grossman wrote a piece for Time entitled How Harry Potter Became the Boy Who Lived Forever. Grossman, who in addition to his duties writing about technology at Time writes fantasy novels (The Magicians, to be followed by The Magician King in August, was a big success a couple of years ago), tackled the misunderstood world of Fan Fiction, which he describes as “what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker,” adding that it “is still the cultural equivalent of dark matter...largely invisible to the mainstream, but at the same time, it’s unbelievably massive.”
Having just finished the newest entrant in her Mageverse series, Master of Shadows, I’ve decided that Angela Knight’s turning the Arthurian legend on its 12th century ear is the commercial equivalent of Fan Fiction, down to, and especially including, the kink factor. Captain Kirk and Spock may not get it on in Knight’s Mageverse, but just about everybody else does.
The Mageverse was created by Merlin and his mate Nimue, who lived in a parallel universe, then migrated to Realspace (Earth) during the time period in which King Arthur is supposed to have lived.
To save mankind from itself, Merlin and Nimue created the Magekind with the likes of Arthur, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table—who drank from Merlin’s cup to become immortal. The men transformed into vampires and the women became witches. The Magus (the men) and the Majae (the women) form the Magekind, and they live in fabulous houses in Avalon created from magic summoned by the witches. Knight writes in Master of Swords that in the Magekind, “one could draw magic here as easily as drawing breath.” Something I didn’t realize until finishing Master of Shadows is that the story of its hero, Tristan, cuckolded by Isolde in Tristan and Isolde, apparently influenced the tale of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. How meta is that?
Knight builds a perfect symbiosis in her Magekind: The Magus need blood to survive, and if they don’t give blood, the Majae are in danger of stroking out. As for procreation, any children born of one of the Magekind is mortal. They are Latents, with a special gene that, if triggered, transforms them as well. The trigger? If a Latent shares three sexy times with a member of the Magekind, he or she transforms, but these transformations must be sanctioned because not all Latents can handle the results. If it goes badly, they go crazy and must be killed.
As a check on the Magekind, Merlin also created the Direkind, magic-resistant werewolves. Should the Magekind try to take over Realspace, the Direkind are to prevent it. Until the series began, the Magekind did not know of the Direkind’s existence. Warlock leads the Direkind from behind the scenes; most of the Direkind believe him to be a myth. Unfortunately, he’s all too real, pulling the strings of the Direkind without their knowledge, and over the centuries, with each war, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster that the Magekind did not stop, his paranoia grew to epic proportions. He is now determined to destroy the Magekind he considers evil, and is well on his way to convincing the Direkind to do so.
The Mageverse is not solely populated by vampires, witches, and werewolves. The land surrounding Avalon is also home to “plenty of magical creatures—unicorns, dragons, even the pointy-eared Sidhe, humanity’s cousins,” as well as “elementals” who were at one time gods, and Hellhounds, “long-legged and reptilian, with a mouthful of huge teeth and entirely too much cunning, [resembling] a cross between a wolf and a crocodile.”
Throughout the series, the battles the Magekind must win grow by epic proportions. First there’s Geriolf, one of the Dark Ones—con artists who came to Realspace thousands of years ago, convincing populations they were gods and requiring human sacrifice so they could feed on their victims’ life force—who creates an army of evil vampires. Then there’s Celestine, an evil witch who creates an army of dangerous werewolves. Those two were child’s play, though, compared to the more existential threat posed by Warlock, whose power continues to grow. He learned much by temporarily possessing the memory of an elemental in Master of Smoke; by the end of the book he gained even more magic as a result of killing a different elemental. Now, in Master of Shadows, he may finally be strong enough to destroy Arthur and the inhabitants of Avalon.
La Belle Coeur knows what they call her: the Whore of Avalon. As the court seducer, it’s her duty to break in recruits by sleeping with them—and to kill them if they turn out blood-mad. So when a new vampire murders a teenage werewolf—under orders, he claims—Belle feels it’s up to her to protect the young man’s sanity...
As a Knight of the Round Table, Tristan isn’t afraid of bloodshed. He killed his wife, Isolde, after an unforgiveable betrayal. But in order to prevent a futile war with the wolves, he’ll have to take a greater risk: trusting the beautiful Belle, a woman who awakens his darkest jealousies—and deepest passions...
Belle and Tristan are convinced that the execution was masterminded by Warlock, the werewolf wizard and the sworn enemy of Arthur. To prove it, they’ll have to come to grips with the rising heat between them, even if it means opening more than a couple of old wounds...
Okay...that’s enough about the world-building. As for the series itself, it’s inventive, lively, and sexy as hell. When Knight started the series in 2004, it was considered Out There in terms of mainstream romance’s sexual content. Like MaryJanice Davidson, Knight came out of e-publishing, and as we all know, one of the outcomes of mainstreaming e-published authors has been a change in what is acceptable, sexually speaking, in a mainstream-published romance. In 2004 it was too Out There for me; I didn’t actually start to read the series until 2007, with Knight’s short story, Moondance, in the Over the Moon anthology. It fits only tangentially into the Mageverse, but it left me wanting more. I promptly read the previous three full-length novels and two additional short stories, and have stayed on top of the series ever since.
Right now we’re involved in a bit of renovation on our house, so I thought we might focus a little on Avalon itself. Tristan, for instance, who once lived in a “Tudor-era monstrosity,” now lives in an Arts & Crafts home designed for him by Guinevere in the late 1800s. The “beige stone and dark wood” one-story house features “square wooden columns with stone bases support[ing] the roof of a wide porch that wrapped around the front of the house. The decor was just as aggressively masculine. The furniture was downright massive, tending toward big leather and wood pieces set off by wrought iron light fixtures and dark hardwood floors.” Doesn’t that kinda sound like Mission furniture—which I learned about playing in YoVille on Facebook, and is associated with the A&C style? There’s no limit to what a person can learn reading romance or playing time-sucking games, is there?
As for Belle, the book’s heroine, she’s nearly as old as Tristan, and lives in:
...a pretty little place, not as ostentatious as some Majae homes, two stories of stone walls and arched stained-glass windows. Stone was a popular building material in the Mageverse, since it held up to the centuries better than anything else. The stained glass protected any vampire guests against the sun, and was damned pretty to boot. A blooming riot of flowers surrounded Belle’s cottage: red roses climbing trellises, pink and white azelea bushes, pansies in multihued beds, cherry trees and magnolias. Their scents filled the air, so rich to Tristan’s vampire senses he could almost taste them on his tongue.
He followed her through the arched wooden door and through the foyer beyond, boots clicking on the red-ceramic tiled floor. As they stepped into the kitchen, his gaze lingered on Belle’s delicate back and the sweet curve of her ass. Suddenly he was intensely aware of her, the grace of her walk, the rich female scent of her hair wafting in her wake.
“’Want a drink?’ She strode to the fridge, a top-of-the-line stainless-steel appliance which stood among the black granite countertops. Belle was serious about her cooking...
Well, at least that’s her house as described in Master of Shadows. It’s somewhat different in Master of Smoke, she lives in a three-story house. That continuity error aside, here’s what her master bedroom looks like:
The furniture was dark cherry, intricately carved in a whimsical tangle of ivy and honeysuckle. Fairies, dragons, and unicorns lurked among the leaves—here a sinuous tail, a tiny face framed by gossamer wings, over there a proudly lifted horned head. She’d spent more magic on the canopied bed alone than most social-climbing witches blew on entire mansions.
These descriptions of how the immortals live make the books come alive. And as Avalon and the area surrounding it is a place of such magic—elementals run in hidden forests, dragons gather in lairs, and festivals at night are filled with magical sparks and lights that would make the best Fourth of July fireworks seem mundane—Belle’s modern kitchen, top-of-the-line yet commonplace in any upper-end suburb in the U.S., grounds the place. That said, though, I’m equally drawn to the descriptions Knight conjures for the more elaborate mansions in Avalon, the ones any Real Housewife of New Jersey might covet were her Jersiliciousness surgically removed.
I can’t help but compare the rather ridiculous Christmas party featured in the July 17th episode against Master of the Night, in which Reece, the hero, sprawls on an iron bench surrounding Avalon’s main square, watching the witches dance during a celebration:
Ageless, immortal, and beautiful, the Majae circled in an energetic eighteenth-century reel, jeweled and glittering as they stamped and clapped.
All around the square, the city of Avalon thrust into the Mageverse sky. Medieval castles, French chateaus, and thoroughly modern townhouses shouldered against one another, each designed to suit the individual whims of its magical owner. Towering Mageverse trees stood between them, draped in swags of fairy moss, surrounded by drifts of jasmine and roses.
What Teresa—the table-flipping, “prostitution whore!” screaming Housewife whose ridiculously decorated abode may have contributed to her family’s bankruptcy—tried to artificially create with spectacularly tacky results, is organic to the style of the immortal Magekind. Just read the author’s description of the Round Table chamber in Master of Shadows:
The room had a twenty-foot ceiling and, like its centerpiece, was circular. A massive chandelier hung over the table, its countless iridescent crystals shaped like swords. Gorgeous tapestries covered the walls, depicting knights and their ladies fair, unicorns romancing virgins and dragons trying to eat them. Though the hangings were hundreds of years old, the magical thread was so brilliant with shimmering color, each tapestry looked new.
But the Round Table dominated the room. The surface of the gleaming stab of oak was carved with images of Arthur and his original knights gathered around Merlin, the boy sorcerer, and his beautiful mate, Nimue. Twenty-four seats surrounded the table, enough for twelve knights and their chosen ladies.
Knight’s characters are masters of irony, and always are more than they seem to be. The author describes Guinevere in Master of Smoke as a sort of soccer mom, wearing skinny jeans, a polo shirt, and Nikes. Yet she is a witch of immeasurable power. Knight describes Guinevere’s husband, Arthur, the brawny, capable once-King, in Master of Shadows as a powerful nerd:
[His] hand flexed on Excalibur’s hilt. He wore the magical blade hanging from a scabbard belted around his narrow blue-jeaned hips. Its jeweled magnificence clashed with the blue T-shirt that stretched across his powerful chest, emblazoned with a Superman logo. Arthur was an unrepentant geek.
His collection of T-shirts is one any dude down the street would be proud to own. In Master of the Night, for instance, the slogan on Arthur’s T-shirt reads “Once a King, always a king—but once a Knight’s enough.”
As for Tristan and Belle, they began working together in Master of Smoke against Tristan’s wishes, because Belle generally spends her time transforming Latents into vampires. But it’s almost impossible to find a witch willing to work with Tristan, because, well, “he’s also an arrogant prick.” Unfortunately, Arthur wants him on the job, which means he’ll need to “quit being such a jackass.” His obnoxious behavior with witches, of course, is born from the pain of his experience with Isolde, and though he realizes Belle is not Isolde by the time they get together in Master of Shadows, he’s got a lot to learn.
Belle, for her part, takes her job as seducer very seriously and personally; while she doesn’t decide whether a Latent should be transformed, it’s up to her to kill those who go blood-mad. Knight’s got a lot of nerve, hooking up a guy wary of women for whom sex seems freely used with a woman who basically sleeps with guys for a living. By creating characters with wry senses of humor, though, she’s able to create magic of her own.
The battles fought in the Mageverse are epic, as are the love stories, but it’s the author’s painstaking world-building, her characters’ sense of irony—Eve, the heroine in Master of Smoke, calls herself in wolf form “Fluffy”—and her descriptions of who they are and where they live that keep me coming back for more. For those who love to imagine what an author’s words look like, this is the series for it.
While I recommend the entire series, my favorites are Master of the Night, Master of Dragons, and Master of Smoke. Are you a fan of Angela Knight, and if so, what do you think of the Mageverse series?
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.