I received this as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I wavered for along time on the rating for this one and I think if I think about it anymore, it would end up being two stars. So, I will go forward as is, trying to review a book that all at once seemed to know its direct purpose and path, yet seemed to get lost along the way.
The idea of myth are interesting and so are all the figures addressed here: King Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, Ned Kelly, Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and Elizabeth I. Some are, of course, real historical people who lived and died in well-documented ways. Others are figures who may have had some basis in reality but over centuries have evolved into something bigger than their humble beginnings.
Truthfully, I found the historical aspects of all those discussed to be far more interesting than the actual premise of the book, the politics behind these myths and how they can used and misused to further the ideas and agendas of others well into our own century. Even Ned Kelly, who is easily the one I knew the least about - along with Sherlock Holmes - was able to keep my interest for the history and facts, though I am not inclined to seek further information about him.
One major issue I do take with the book aside from its meandering, is the fact that there are only nine figures discussed, yet three of them are figures who are very much entwined in one anothers' stories - Arthur, Guinevere and Merlin. Were there seriously no other mythical figures in history that fit this idea that the author had? I find that hard to believe, though when you look at the figures, there are all of British, French or Australian origin, so perhaps that says something about the intent as well.
Unrelated to the purpose of the book, some things I appreciate greatly include the fact that Mary was given a bit better look here when discussing Elizabeth's reign. Certainly Mary does deserve more credit than she gets about the positive things she did in her short reign and I dig that. I also was pleased to see this author does not think Shakespeare is anyone other than the Stratford man we know him as. None of these other supposed writers are given much credit, nor should they be, as I do not buy into the nonsense that Shakespeare was a secret identity.
Speaking of Shakespeare, I have a bone to pick with the author about this line when discussing the Bard in the 20th Century: "...and Kenneth Branagh in some unremarkable recent films." Now, I never saw him in 'Hamlet' (1996), but I most certainly saw 'Much Ado About Nothing' (1993) and I certainly hope that is not what the author is referring to because Much Ado was fantastic. I would suppose they are the films he is referring to though, as these would still qualify as recent (within the last 22 years) when discussing someone who has been dead for 400 years. So, boo to that. I love Much Ado.
Anyway, this is one I can take or leave. it was okay, but I found myself skimming more and more toward the end. Perhaps I am just not the target audience for this one.