Friday, November 10, 2017

Review of Traitor Knight by Linda Workman-Crider

Book Review: Traitor Knight by Keith W. Willis

Review by: Linda Workman-Crider

Morgan James McRobbie—Knight-Commander of the Legion of Kilbourne, Viscount of Westdale, damsel defender, friend to the king, and …traitor to the kingdom?

For Morgan McRobbie, being known as the Dark Knight due to his mixed heritage wasn’t that bad, but the new double meaning that included “traitor to the kingdom” was quickly becoming an issue. This becomes obvious when he rescues Marissa from the impending jaws of a dragon, an event which she treated as almost trivial, only to be horrified at discovering the identity of her rescuer. Still Marissa agrees to the obligatory dinner to show her gratitude, which turns out to be heart-flutteringly enjoyable for the both of them, until she questions Morgan’s loyalty to Kilbourne, a matter he has made an oath to the king not to discuss. A second date finds Morgan stabbed, Marissa kidnapped by Morgan, and both of them brought face to face with the Rhuddlani spy whom Morgan was trying desperately to avoid. From here, this mostly fast-paced tale includes enough court intrigue, espionage, murder, and mayhem to satisfy the intellectual, while the seemingly star-crossed romance and well-timed humor keep the rest of us involved and entertained. This is a Knight’s tale that satisfies childhood fantasies, as well as the adult mind.

The plot-line for this book is much more intricate and detailed than I had expected. While being an excellent knight’s tale, this is also probably one of the best spy plots that I have ever read. At one point, I had a mini-mental war with myself over if this might be more of an espionage novel that could work in any setting. I was surprised that I couldn’t untangle this plot from Morgan and Kilbourne. Willis has wed them together so naturally that it felt wrong, on many levels, to try to tear them apart. If you are a plot-driven reader, this plots for you.

A quote of self-description from Morgan: “I am no spy. I don’t have the subtlety necessary for intrigue. I certainly don’t have the thick skin required. Of course I’ve gotten used to the whole ‘half-breed’ thing over the years. But that’s something I have no control over—I am what I am, for good or ill.” Morgan will prove himself wrong on the first three sentences. He is delightfully rounded, containing as many human qualities as he does heroic traits.

A quote to understand Marissa: “Snaring a man is not my ambition, as you well know. And, considering the current crop of eligible men in Caerfaen,” Marissa observed with some asperity, “such a task doesn’t rate a particularly high priority. Peacocks in dress, peacocks in brains, the lot of them…” Marissa is no easy target for affection for any man, regardless of his station. Still she finds herself falling for a traitor, enough so that this damsel will desperately try to save her knight (a fact that I hope both the author and the reader will forgive me for revealing. This role reversal is just too good to leave unmentioned).

Keith W. Willis gives us almost complete backstories on our main characters. I could probably reveal more about Morgan and Marissa than I even know about some of my own family members. These characters are not just well-rounded, they are heftily weighted with history, experience, and emotion. Even the side-characters, of which there are many, hold dimension through unique traits, mannerisms, and styles of voice. They are intricate ingredients to the settings, scenes, and tone of passages. Willis creates believable textualized humans and not just merely props to propel the story. The only way a reader would avoid becoming embedding within this community, is if they suffer from anxieties which may leave them feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of people they are being surrounded with. These are not characters that are easily ignored.

I recently read an online article in The Conversation entitled, “How Kazuo Ishiguro Won the Nobel Prize in Literature – According to Research.” A portion of a quote from Ishiguro shared in this article comes to mind when I contemplate Keith W. Willis’ world-building in Traitor Knight. Kazuo Ishiguro said, “…We live in small worlds and big worlds at the same time and we can’t … forget one or the other.” Ishiguro and Willis (who graduated from Berry College with a degree in English Literature) must have this one thought, at least, in common when it comes to their writing and word-building. The world of Traitor Knight reaches outside of the bubble of our main characters, outside of court, spills out into the streets of Kilbourne, and reaches distant lands and leaders to span through time, generations, and history. On top of this expanse, lay tiny bubbles of smaller worlds, like the Legion, the Council, or the Watch. The amount of skill, effort, and talent to communicate these interconnected worlds to the reader is not small. As a creative writing student, I am in awe of Willis’ ability to keep all of these little worlds contained in a way that never harms, but only adds to, the telling of the main story. I would nominate Keith W. Willis for a Nobel Prize in world-building, if I could…though he might want to do something with the first two pages beforehand.

The first two-pages of this book are not any indication of the depths we will soon be diving within the realm of Kilbourne. In fact, the first two pages seemed a bit over-the-top and cliché. However, they are extremely important to the rest of the story. I look back upon them as a portal of sorts that allowed me entry to into Kilbourne. I view them as a key to and a caricature of the world that soon follows where humor and sharp wit abound, but where the reader has a bit of work to do to keep up. There is, as mentioned, a large number of names to keep track of, especially during a scene that contains a meeting of the Council. It is impossible to know who among these many names will be majorly important later on in the story. I feel strongly that if you are up to taking on this type of challenge, the enjoyment found in this book is well worth every effort. I also recommend buying this particular book in print form. Not only will there will be passages that you will wish to highlight and read again, I think that there is a unique quality to this book that deserves a physical presence. Keith W. Willis has earned himself a fan with Traitor Knight. I believe you may find yourself becoming a fan, too.

Traitor Knight is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, at Barnes & Noble, and at the Champagne Bookstore.

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