While I don't generally read a lot of urban fantasy, and usually find the insertion of epic fantasy elements into contemporary society problematic at best, I am a huge fan of Arthurian fantasy, especially when Excalibur is involved. For that reason, when Shannon Phillips contacted me about a possible review, I added The Millennial Sword to my TBR pile with equal parts trepidation and excitement.
Fortunately, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, largely because of how deeply Phillips commits herself to the fantasy elements. Rather than just borrowing a few convenient elements or putting a thin fantasy veneer on her story, she makes the tried-and-true elements of Arthurian fantasy an integral part of her world. There are enchanted swords, monsters, magic, fairies, and all the other fantastic elements you would hope for, laid carefully alongside the banality of everyday life in the modern age.
Viveka makes for an interesting heroine, already out-of-place in a new job in the big city, long before the legendary Excalibur is awkwardly bestowed upon her. Rather than try to put her forth as some gender-flipped reincarnation of King Arthur, Phillips takes an interesting tack and set her up instead as the new Lady of the Lake - rival to the legendary Morgan Le Fay. Given the attention paid to the local gathering of the Society for Creative Anachronism, I kind of expected Viv to go all-out in recruiting them to train and prepare her for her duties, but there's no instantaneous jump to destiny. Instead, for the most part, she continues living her life, and deals with her new responsibilities as they arise.
It's a fun story, lighthearted and humorous where it can be, but serious and action-packed where it needs to be. Given the rather fantastic premise, it's a remarkably believable story, owing as much to Viv's character as to the way in which Phillips pays equal attention to both worlds. In that respect, she makes the most of her setting, using the real San Francisco as a solid backdrop, as opposed to just going with a generic big city. I've never been, but the setting feels genuine, as if you could use the story as a roadmap around town.
It also needs to be said that despite Viv being armed and designated for a special role, she's no victim of prophecy or destiny. This is not one of those stories where things happen despite the characters, but because of them. Well-told, with engaging characters, and a generous mix of humour, romance, and adventure, this is a book that I suspect will have a lot of cross-genre appeal.