Science fiction and fantasy                                            

King Maker

by Maurice Broaddus


An Indianapolis ghetto might not be the first place you'd think to look for Arthurian knights. But in the run-down Breton Court neighbourhood they need all the knights in shining armour they can find. Drugs and gangs have turned the area into a squalid no-go zone riddled with crime and desperation. Gangsters mete out violence with a casual disregard for the law, or for other people's rights. Life is cheap and nasty here, even before the supernatural gets its oar in.

From the macho posturing of street soldiers and the cruelty of dog fights to the scheming desperation of addicts, Maurice Broaddus depicts gang culture unflinchingly. The hopelessness and misogyny can be hard to stomach. King Maker is quite grim, with its harrowing insights into the mentality of the people trapped in gangland life. It's eye-opening, but you really have to be in the right mood for that much awareness.

Most of the characters have names that echo their legendary counterparts, although they're not all recognisably heroic at first. King James White knows the rules of Breton Court, rules like not appearing weak and the need to give as good as you get. He carries himself like a gang member, and it's only his quite but growing anger with the situation that sets him apart to begin with. Percy is a gentle yet simple young man whose lack of interest in exploiting others seems to single him out as a potential victim. There's Lott, a security guard, who is one of the few characters to hold down a lawful job. Another is Wayne, an outreach worker whose good deeds are confronted with apathy. Wayne tries to make a difference, but whatever he does seems futile in the face of so much corruption.

Rivalry between Dred's gang and Night leads to escalating violence that the characters are caught in the middle of. Yet there's more to it than human squabbles and arguments over territory. Behind the scenes there's magic and dragons, trolls and fey. The earthly violence is shocking enough, but Maurice Broaddus adds and edge to the horror by introducing a number of fantastic characters who put this tale of gangland tensions into the context of the eternal struggle between good and evil. However these characters are never so fairytale that they negate the gritty realism of the narrative, and I think that's the point. The haggard Merle is more like an aged bum than the wizard Merlin, and his strange pronouncements go largely ignored. It's as though the epic battle is going on all around us, in the most unlikely situations and in the form of the humble children of junkies living in dilapidated apartments. King Arthur's values can be found in the darkest and most unlikely places.

With its barely-comprehensible street slang and its harsh gang life, Breton Court can be an alien neighbourhood. Yet the stranger you find it, the more worthwhile reading about it will be. Because in spite of the bleak tone and the rasping violence of King Maker, and the unpalatable world views expressed by some of its characters, it's ultimately a very uplifting novel.

10th May 2010

Book Details

Year: 2010

Categories: Books


  Not For The Squeamish  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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