Book Review: Camelot Lost by Jessica Bonito

3983873Title: Camelot Lost
Author: Jessica Bonito
Genre: Medieval Fiction, Fantasy, Arthurian Legend
Publisher: PublishAmerica
Publication Date: July 28th 2008
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Author Website
Rating: 5 stars
Review copy provided by the author.

Arthur Pendragon’s ascension to High King of Britain lays a doting world at his feet, but when the death of his sister, Morgaine, sends him into a downward spiral of destruction, his sons, Mordred and Amr, emerge from the shadows to assume control of his mind and, eventually, his throne. Camelot Lost delves deeper into the legend of Camelot than ever before, pitting father against son, husband against wife, and brother against sister. The raw qualities of love, war, and the passionate deceptions that inspire them are thoroughly explored through the relationships of the chosen, and for the first time ever, the story of Arthur’s lesser-known son, Amr Pendragon, is finally revealed. Spellbinding in its sensuality and vehemence, Camelot Lost passionately explores a timeless tale and introduces a vivid array of characters and conflicts that are sure to captivate readers and challenge all preconceived notions of the Arthurian legend.

I already read and reviewed one book by Jessica McHugh before, a psychological horror novel called Rabbits in the Garden, and I loved it. After finishing reading that, I immediately asked her if I could read another one of her novels, namely Camelot Lost, because I love Arthurian Legend, and I loved Jessica’s work, so I thought: those two things mixed together? That can’t possibly go wrong. Turns out I was absolutely right. In all honesty, this book was probably even better than I initially expected. Because I thought it was so incredibly good, I had a difficult time writing this review. It’s a lot easier to write reviews about books you don’t like than about books you think are absolutely fabulous. There are only so many words in the English language to say something is amazing. Well, I think Camelot Lost really is amazing. Jessica McHugh isn’t just an extraordinary talented psychological horror author, she’s also pretty brilliant at writing medieval fiction. I, for one, am very impressed.

Read my review for Rabbits in the Garden.

Camelot Lost begins by retelling us the Arthurian Legend we’ve come to know and love, but from a very original point of view, and a unique narrator’s voice. And then, just when you begin to think that you know which direction this book is headed, it starts its own spin-off, puts the spotlight on characters all too often over-looked in other books and television series, and brings a refreshing, exciting and at times utmost surprising take on the story of Camelot, King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon.

With Britain lying in ruins, the old wizard Merlyn pays a visit to Uther, the brother of the current king, and predicts to him that he is the future savior of Camelot. Urged by the words of the wise man, Uther claims the throne and reunites all the banners of Britain under one man: Uther Pendragon. Overwhelmed with ambition and confident that he is the sole savior of Britain, Uther is a ruthless and troublesome man, who only really loved one person: his wife, Igraine. He feels little for his daughter Morgaine, safely hidden away on the Isle of Avalon to learn the ways of becoming a priestess, or for his younger son, Arthur, destined to be king one day. Little does the Pendragon know however that Merlyn has started to train Arthur, and has told the young boy that Uther’s days of power will soon be over. After Uther dies, it is Arthur who becomes the new savior of Britain. While taking up Camelot as his main residence, and being a strong promotor of justice and equality, Arthur’s future is looking bright.

That is, if he ever gets over the feelings he has for a certain priestess from Avalon who brought him the magical sword of Excalibur. Totally and completely in love with this peculiar woman, Arthur barely even notices his own wife, Guinivere. Little does he know that this strange priestess from Avalon is in fact his very own sister, Morgaine. When they finally found out, many years later, the damage is collosal. Morgaine has already given birth to her and Arthur’s child, Amr. And then she tricks him into her bed once more, causing Arthur to banish her from court, and Morgaine returning back to Avalon, where she gives birth to Mordred, her second son. Then she succums to an illness so grave that it keeps her in a delusional state for plenty of years.

Mordred, a grown man now, returns to Camelot to set things straight. He reconciles with his father, King Arthur, and tells him the devastating news of Morgaine’s death. Arthur is prone to an overwhelming sadness and locks himself up day and night, feeling the guilt of his actions as he turned against the only woman he ever truly loved. With the true king going mad, Mordred has every opportunity to do what he was ordered to: to put Arthur out of the way, and to become the true savior of Britain. Aided by his brother Amr, Mordred is determined to take the titel of the Pendragon and to destroy his very own father. But will he succeed?

As you might have gathered from my small (but rather descriptive, although it barely mentions half of the book) synopsis above, Camelot Lost starts with the Arthurian Legend we’re all pretty familiar with. King Uther Pendragon falls madly in love with a woman called Igraine, a love so pure and so utterly overwhelming that he devotes his entire life to her, and is unable to care even about his own children. Then we see Arthur’s rise to kingsip with the help of Merlyn, and how he gets hold of the most powerful sword in the history of powerful swords: Excalibur. He meets his sister Morgaine but, unaware that she’s actually his sister, he falls utterly and completely in love with her. Then babies get born, and Morgaine gets banished. Although that’s the familiar part, Jessica McHugh has such an authentic and original writing voice, that it doesn’t sound familiar at all. Sure, you might know the basic plotline, but the author manages to put some very surprising twists and turns here and there. Plus, the way she sketches her characters make this book feel very innovative and refreshing as well. But more about that later.

Let me first talk about the second part of the novel, where Jessica McHugh goes into an entirely new direction, and creates her own spin-off for how the story of Camelot should have ended. We see mystery and intrigue, revenge and ambition, loyalty and suffering; all these raw and honest emotions, passing by as the story continues. Focusing on Mordred as a nice primary character and shedding a new light on the characters of King Arthur and Queen Guinivere, the author manages to give her own original view on how King Arthur and his beloved Camelot eventually perished. It is innovative, refreshing and highly entertaining. I find that it’s sometimes even more difficult to take a story everyone knows and turn it into your own, adding your own unique voice to it and your own little plot twists, than to make an entire story from scratch. Jessica McHugh really does succeed in turning the well-known Arthurian Legend into her own story. It feels familiar and new at the same time, and that is exactly what I was hoping for.

My all-time favorite character in the Arthurian Legend, from the first time I read it as a child (in one of those dusty old classic looking books my father used to collect, filled with difficult worlds, but luckily for me, some pictures as well) is Morgaine of the Lady. When I read Mists of Avalon about four years ago, I learnt a different side of Lady Morgaine, a less darker side (she was portrayed as quite the villain in the first Arthurian books I read) and I loved her all the more for it. Now, while reading Camelot Lost, I was actually confronted with a side of Morgaine that is not dark, evil or vindictive at all. We don’t meet her as the scary and powerful Lady of the Lake here, although that is her title still, but we see her as a star-crossed lover, as a loving and caring woman towards her children, as the tragic priestess who died from lovesickness, as the girl who happened to fall in love with her own brother. I didn’t think that I could like this character even more than I already did, but Jessica McHugh proved me wrong.

That said, the other characters are sublime as well. I wasn’t fond of Guinivere while she was with Arthur – but then again, I’ve never really liked her. I have to be honest and say that I did start to like her by the time the second half of the book began, and Arthur had begun his descent into madness. I prefer her as a real, intelligent and strong person she is in Camelot Lost rather than the whiny version I’ve come across way too many times before. And King Arthur…thank god that he’s finally lost his one-dimensional personality! One of the many complains I had about Arthurian stories before, was the fact that King Arthur, albeit being the main character, was always portrayed as a one-dimensional character, without a lot of emotions. Yes, he’s honest and just, but that’s basically all there was to him. In Camelot Lost, I met a King Arthur who was driven by a lot of emotions, and not just the desire to do the right thing. He was straight-forward, passionate, ambitious, righteous, doubtful at times and confident at others, and an actual, genuine person with actual, genuine emotions. It makes him all the more interesting.

I could go on and describe all the other characters in detail, but that would make this review far too long and way too detailed. Let me conclude by saying that Jessica McHugh manages to turn all her characters into multi-facetted human beings rather than simply names on paper. The most intriguing, original and interesting thing about her characterization though is that no character she mentions is one hundred percent good or one hundred percent bad, and that’s what I think is the strongest point in this book. No one is ever really good or really evil. We’re all made of Yin and Yang, of good things and bad things, and book characters should make no exceptions of that. We can be caring and loving, but ruthless and reckless at the same time. We can be headstrong and determined one day, but weak and humble the next. We are made of contradictions, as are the characters we are introduced to in this book, and it makes them all the more entertaining, and all the more loveable.

The writing style is fabulous. I’m intrigued by how authentic the narrator’s voice in, and by how easy it was for me to be completely overwhelmed by this story. The descriptions are beautiful, the dailogue witty and inventive. The story kept me glued to my chair from page one, and left me breathless by the end of it. The plot is fast-paced, action-packed and surprisingly original. Can I make it anymore obvious to all of you that I absolutely, undeniably loved this book?

If you’re a fan of the Arthurian Legend or medieval fiction in general, than you definetly should get yourself a copy of Camelot Lost. With its intriguing setting, original plotline, beautiful narrative and outstanding characterization, it is certainly a must-read.


  1. […] of Jessica McHugh’s writing. I’ve previously read and reviewed two other books by her: Camelot Lost and Rabbits in the Garden, both whom I enjoyed a lot. I was thrilled to participate in the book […]

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