The King Arthur stories are so numerous and varied that they offer a lot of opportunity for reworking. This appealing re-telling of the legend for young adults adds diversity, a coming-of-age aspect, and unexpected romance and gender reversals. Most significantly, the focus in this version of the legend is on Guinevere, Arthur’s bride, rather than on Arthur. As the author writes in her Acknowledgments at the end, she wanted to emphasize “the girls and women overlooked in stories and in life, who still find ways to create magic and grow in power and truth.”
Princess Guinevere, 16, comes to Camelot because Guinevere has been matched in marriage with 18-year-old Arthur, the King of Camelot. Arthur was anointed after he was able to remove the sword called Excalibur, deeply embedded in a stone, which had previously held fast against all other attempts to extract it. The great wizard Merlin, Arthur’s mentor, pointed out that only the “true king” of Camelot could remove the sword from the stone. Arthur, thus recognized as King of Camelot, vowed to bring goodness to the Kingdom. In order to do so, he had to push back the forces of the Dark Queen and magic. Alas, this also meant banishing Merlin from the land.
Merlin believed in Arthur, and refused to leave him unprotected. Thus he sent his daughter to claim she was Guinevere, the princess from a faraway kingdom promised in marriage to Arthur. Although she felt like a fraud, Guinevere also believed in Arthur’s vision, and would do whatever she could to protect him from any threats. While she did not possess the full panoply of Merlin’s skills, she did know some elements of magic, and she knew how to sense it in others:
“Until magic was truly gone, it could threaten him. She would be the shield against any magic seeking to destroy what Arthur was doing here. As ill-prepared as she felt, she would not fail him. She would live up to Merlin’s legacy.”
As for Arthur, he thought the problem was elsewhere:
“[It is with] other men. We do not need a dark queen when we have so much darkness within ourselves. But we will beat back the chaos and the darkness.”
Guinevere was not so sure, and saw perils that looked like magic all around her. And indeed, there was increasing menace in the kingdom. Not least, a mysterious masked knight who was winning all the tournaments seemed not quite human to Guinevere. And one of the biggest dangers of all? You might say it was Guinevere’s hormones. She knew, as only an “arranged” wife, she was a companion to Arthur but not a priority to him. She desperately wanted to be loved.
Evaluation: Some young adult books seem “too young” for me at my advanced age, but this one was endearing and entertaining. It helped that there was more at stake in this story than high school and homework; the very future of civilization was at risk. Moreover, while the men were physically adept, their strength was no match for the intelligence, creativity, and courage of the young women in this story. I thought it was an excellent retelling of King Arthur. Best of all, it is only the first book of a trilogy. Unlike some first books of trilogies, I did not feel cheated at the end, and it can even be read as a standalone. But I can’t wait for the next installments.
Published by Delacorte Press, 2019