REVIEW: ‘Sword Stone Table’ Puts A New Twist On Arthurian Legend

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sword Stone Table Old Legends, New Voices

Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices is an anthology of 16 stories curated by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington and published by Vintage Books. The stories feature different takes on the legend of King Arthur and its multiple characters, including Merlin and Lancelot. The anthology is split into three different sections. Once features stories set in various points in the past, Present contains stories mostly set in modern-day times, and Future puts a sci-fi spin on Arthurian lore.

Krishna says that the inspiration for the anthology came from a question that Northington asked her: “Where are the gender-bent Arthur stories? The race-bent retellings, the queered ones?” Twists on Arthurian lore are nothing new. From comics, including Once & Future to Netflix’s Cursed and Wizards: Tales of Arcadia, there have been plenty of stories that recast the normally white and/or male protagonists as female, BIPOC, and/or LGBTQIA+ characters.

Sword Stone Table is also refreshing in that many of the tales feature characters other than Arthur. I’ve told a few friends that the way to keep Arthurian lore fresh is to dig deep in every corner of the legend. We’ve seen Arthur’s ascension to kinghood and his death in multiple adaptations. So I’m glad that most of these stories focus on other characters.

Out of all the sections, Present was the one I resonated the most with. The idea of translating ancient mythology to the modern day has often yielded great stories and often serves as a test of a writer’s skill. The two stories that play the most with this idea are “Jack and Brad and the Magician,” written by Anthony Rapp (Star Trek Discovery, Rent), and “Once (Them)  & Future (Us),” written by Preeti Chibber (Marvel: Avengers Assembly). Both stories feature Merlin in the modern-day, with the former taking place during the height of the AIDS crisis in New York and the latter in modern-day London. Both stories also feature queer and BIPOC characters: Jack is a Thai lawyer taking care of his boyfriend Brad, and a newly awakened Merlin—now christened Emrys—struggles to reconcile his feelings for a reincarnated Arthur who is now an Indian man named Arjun. The Arthurian legend has always been grand and full of romance, but seeing it filtered through these new prisms was rather heartwarming.

Once continues the trend of expanding upon other characters in the Arthurian mythos, particularly in the story “The Bladesmith Queen” by Sarah MacLean. This recasts the Lady of the Lake as a skilled blacksmith who gains a reputation for the “curse” that befalls those who kiss her and for forging one-of-a-kind swords sought by warriors from across the land. A mysterious warrior comes to the Bladesmith one day and asks for a sword in exchange for inflicting her vengeance on those who have misused her blades. This story is mysterious and sexy and will draw readers’ attention until the very last paragraph.

Finally, Future merges science fiction, which happens to be one of my favorite genres in fiction, with Arthurian lore. The results are a wonder to behold. “A Shadow In Amber” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexican Gothic) takes a trippy approach to Guinevere and Lancelot’s love story in a world where the wealthy can purchase and relive memories; think “King Arthur meets Inception.” “Little Green Men” is another sci-fi twist on fantasy, combining Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with the premise of The Running Man as Gawain—called Gavin in this retelling—undergoes an obstacle course on Mars.

Sword Stone Table: Old Legends New Voices takes a genuinely diverse and refreshing approach to the legend of King Arthur, filtering Arthurian myth through a variety of perspectives and genres thanks to a collection of talented authors. As someone who’s loved the legend of Arthur all his life, I genuinely loved reading this anthology, and I’d recommend it to every reader I know. Sci-fi, fantasy, and romance; there is literally something for everyone in this anthology.

Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices will be available wherever books are sold.


Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices
  • Rating
4.5

TL;DR

Sword Stone Table: Old Legends New Voices takes a genuinely diverse and refreshing approach to the legend of King Arthur, filtering Arthurian myth through a variety of perspectives and genres thanks to a collection of talented authors. As someone who’s loved the legend of Arthur all his life, I genuinely loved reading this anthology, and I’d recommend it to every reader I know. Sci-fi, fantasy, and romance; there is literally something for everyone in this anthology.