Oh my God this book was long and a slog. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time caring about the Tristram-Isoud-Palomides love triangle, which seems to be the emotional hook on which this entire book is based. When it’s not talking about Tristram or Palomides, it’s talking about Mark. In theory, the lovely Isoud ties them all together, but she’s such a nonentity that the book has zero throughline.
So for starters, once the business from Book IX has been wrapped up, Tristram and Palomides plan out a duel, without a whole lot of justification, and then Palomides ends up in very convenient prison, which causes Tristram to end up fighting Launcelot, just as Merlin predicted. Which is an event that has zero in the way of long-term consequences! I mean, yes, Tristram goes to Camelot, finally, and is formally introduced to people, but there was no reason that couldn’t have happened another way. All the way back in Book VIII Tristram visited Camelot while Arthur was out of town or something, at which time he met most of the Knights of the Round Table.
Anyway, after Malory moves Tristram to Camelot, and away from King Mark, he shifts focus to Mark and getting Mark to Camelot. Mark’s trip to Camelot is almost hilarious, because there is literally nothing redeeming about Mark. He’s not even a good antihero; he sucks at everything. He cringes and can’t joust, he lies all the time, he takes advantage of laws of etiquette and courtesy without honoring them himself… he just sucks.
In the middle of Mark’s story, Malory loses interest in him and shifts back to Palomides. Now Palomides is almost an interesting character, inasmuch as he’s constantly chafing under Tristram’s shadow, plus he’s Muslim which is unusual enough that folks remark on it regularly. But his dramatic arc moves in circles: he’s jealous of Tristram, he gets over it, he’s good in his own right, Tristram shows him up, he’s jealous of Tristram, repeat forever (around chapter 57 you think it’s going to go in a novel direction, with a strange adventure avenging King Hermance, but no, Malory has to rope Palomides right back into the all-jousting, all-love-triangling Book X mess).
But anyway, Malory isn’t done with Mark, because then there’s this story about Mark’s war to defend Cornwall from Elias, and his roping Tristram in, and the final betrayal with the forged messages from the Pope, plus the whole Alisander thing. The story of Sir Alisander is totally out of place in this book, though I don’t know where you’d put it. It explicitly takes place well after everything else, since the Alisander who is a contemporary of Tristram’s is a little boy, and the Alisander who deals with Old King Mark is full-grown. But it’s got Mark in it, and fortunately, after this book there is basically zero additional Mark in Le Morte D’Arthur. So really, I’m happy to get it out of the way.
And then: Lonazep.
I can’t believe Lonazep. Remember back when I started this, and I noted that some of my friends had very harsh things to say about Le Morte D’Arthur? About it being jousting fanfiction written by someone who is not very good at writing jousting fanfiction? They were talking about Lonazep. Chapters and chapters and chapters of jousting.
There’s some actual plot happening in Book X, compared to Books VIII or IX; things happen which have future ramifications. They’re things that have nothing to do with any of the main characters of the book (Tristram, Palomides, or Mark) but they happen! Arthur hears about the Gawaine/Lamorak feud and admits that it’s escalating and he should probably do something and he’s on Lamorak’s side but he does nothing. Gawaine conspires to murder Lamorak and somehow that becomes Gaheris killing Margawse and blaming Lamorak for it. Lamorak dies! Mordred pulls a heel turn somewhere in there, and Percivale (who I think ends up being kind of important) shows up, too.
But mostly, after Lonazep, Malory’s concerned not with Gawaine or Arthur or Launcelot, but with Palomides and his interior life. Palomides likes Isoud! He’s jealous of Tristram! He and Tristram feud! Woop woop woop, around and around, over and over.
What really gets me is the way even Malory couldn’t come up with a better ending than oh no here we go again with regards to Tristram and Palomides strange adventuring off into the sunset. All in all, Book X is easily my least favorite book of Le Morte D’Arthur so far. I apologize if, particularly in the second half, my discontent with the story became reflected with shoddy prose and limp writing in these entries. The worst is over. It’s downhill from here. We’re almost two-thirds of the way through Malory’s story.