Book Review : The Camelot Betrayal

Book Review : The Camelot BetrayalThe Camelot Betrayal (Camelot Rising, #2) by Kiersten White
Published by Delacorte Press on November 10th 2020
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 384
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The second book in a new fantasy trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White, exploring the nature of self, the inevitable cost of progress, and, of course, magic and romance and betrayal so epic Queen Guinevere remains the most famous queen who never lived.
EVERYTHING IS AS IT SHOULD BE IN CAMELOT: King Arthur is expanding his kingdom’s influence with Queen Guinevere at his side. Yet every night, dreams of darkness and unknowable power plague her.
Guinevere might have accepted her role, but she still cannot find a place for herself in all of it. The closer she gets to Brangien, pining for her lost love Isolde, Lancelot, fighting to prove her worth as Queen’s knight, and Arthur, everything to everyone and thus never quite enough for Guinevere–the more she realizes how empty she is. She has no sense of who she truly was before she was Guinevere. The more she tries to claim herself as queen, the more she wonders if Mordred was right: she doesn’t belong. She never will.
When a rescue goes awry and results in the death of something precious, a devastated Guinevere returns to Camelot to find the greatest threat yet has arrived. Not in the form of the Dark Queen or an invading army, but in the form of the real Guinevere’s younger sister. Is her deception at an end? And who is she really deceiving–Camelot, or herself?

Following my reading of The Guinevere Deception, I pre-ordered The Camelot Betrayal immediately.  I may have read The Camelot Betrayal entirely in one sitting, but I didn’t think it was as strong of a novel as its predecessor. Mainly, I found myself disappointed in Guinevere and Lancelot’s development in this novel, and that the directions the story went in were often very odd, disjointed, and anticlimactic. What’s more, is that the novel couldn’t seem to decide whether it wanted to be a new feminist take on Arthurian legend or it wanted to follow in its classic footsteps. This resulted in The Camelot Betrayal’s themes feeling confused. Regardless of all this, Mordred was by far my favorite part of The Camelot Betrayal. 


“Guinevere realized with a start that what she missed most about Mordred was the sense that he saw her. In every room, in every situation, he had seen her first and foremost.”


Every time Mordred, who betrayed his uncle Arthur and his beloved Guinevere in the previous novel, enters a scene, he lights up the page. With his black hair, green eyes, sarcasm, intelligence, and conflicting loyalties, I wondered if I’m really reading this series for him at this point. It’s certainly not for Guinevere anymore, nor was it for bland Arthur or Lancelot. In The Camelot Betrayal, I found Guinevere to be whiny, a poor decision maker, and very much like many depictions of the classic Guinevere. And I have no idea what she sees in her husband, Arthur, who seems so irrevocably bland in comparison to his nephew, Mordred. He’s married more to his kinghood and duty than to Guinevere, and his neglect and absent-mindedness towards everything else, especially his wife, is a hard pill to swallow. 


“Arthur could not put Camelot second to Guinevere, ever. Lancelot could put Guinevere first, always.”


It made it very hard for me to believe that there is even a love triangle in The Camelot Betrayal, as Mordred is so much better in every way that it’s practically appalling that Guinevere wastes the time of day moping after her busy husband. And if I hoped that Lancelot being a female would spice things up a bit, I was even more wrong. At this point, I don’t even understand why author Kiersten White made Lancelot female. During my reading of The Guinevere Deception, I hypothesized that the two most likely possible reasons White made Lancelot a female was for her to compete with Guinevere for King Arthur’s affections, or to enter into a romantic relationship with Guinevere. To my dismay and bewilderment, neither of these things happen. Instead, Lancelot follows Guinevere around like a lost puppy, protecting her and claiming she wants to become her friend. The novel tells us repeatedly how Lancelot fits neither in the knights, as both a woman and Guinevere’s dedicated knight—not King Arthur’s—or among the ladies of Camelot. So, this woman, like imposter Guinevere who wasn’t raised as a lady, is often on the outs of Camelot’s society. 


“He always took knights, but never Lancelot. Lancelot was her knight, specifically, but Guinevere wondered how that made Lancelot feel. She had earned her place among Arthur’s knights, the same as any of them. Better, even. She had gotten further in her tournament than any other knight ever, fighting Arthur himself to a draw. And yet she was always left behind. Just like Guinevere.”


So Guinevere and Lancelot, who both seem to have very strong cases of imposter syndrome, form a rather unremarkable friendship. There are scenes View Spoiler » that border on queer baiting, especially with Guinevere remarking that Lancelot, like the only other character who makes her feel passion, Mordred, is the only one that sees her as herself, and not as the false Queen of Camelot. I think a lot of readers will find this relationship disappointing, whether from a perspective of queer-baiting, or just from the author’s lack of doing anything interesting with her female Lancelot—both were certainly the case for me. Though there are some hints to what female Lancelot’s true purpose is, View Spoiler » I found this terribly uninteresting. I would’ve liked to see Arthur fall for Lancelot, only for this female Lancelot to betray Camelot to the Lady of the Lake, or something more interesting than simply being a plot device or missed opportunity. 

I was also dismayed by other narrative choices of The Camelot Betrayal. In an incredibly random turn of events, Guinevere decides to go on a quest to rescue Isolde, of the Tristan and Isolde legend, from being burned at the stake. Um, if characters need to tell the readers several times that they are going on a quest and how exciting it is, that should be a sign to the author that what she is writing is extremely random and an odd decision. Basically, it felt like playing a video game, when suddenly a side quest that most of all the characters decide is extremely important for various, questionable reasons, locks all the progress for the rest of the game until you complete it. 


“No one was safe around her. She was not a protector. She was a curse.”


This side quest was very frustrating, bizarre, and above all, unnecessary and only led to Guinevere making even more extremely poor and impulsive decisions. The Camelot Betrayal tries to use this side quest and Guinevere’s rash decision-making as a bonding point for her and for King Arthur—the weight of the crown and all that jazz—but I didn’t find it convincing or interesting, just forced. Guinevere was already interesting in her own right without costing the lives of others with her magic and blaming herself for it—this just made her seem weak and unsure to me—more like the typical, classic indecisive Guinevere, who is constantly torn between two men and unable to make a rational decision to save her life. I much preferred in The Guinevere Deception where she believed herself to be the protector of King Arthur and was more confident in her own abilities to protect him. Though I think The Camelot Betrayal wanted to make her more sympathetic and pull her closer to Arthur, I didn’t like her lack of conviction and belief in herself, and her blindness to the matters of her heart. The Camelot Betrayal’s Guinevere no longer felt like a false, capable Guinevere, but the old and familiar one, which was sad to me.


“Mordred thinks you are something special. Something new.” Morgana frowned, pressing her forehead against Guinevere’s in an embrace. “But we are always special. We are always new. Until they manage to destroy us.”


What was more entertaining to me than the character development of Guinevere or Lancelot, as well as their foolish side quests, was the appearance of Guinevere’s younger sister, Guinevach, at Camelot. Guinevere is plagued with worry that Merlin’s spell to make her appear as the true Guinevere, and not an imposter, has not worked on this younger sister. And with not having the true Guinevere’s memories or even her own, she is woefully unable to play-act the part of the real, deceased Guinevere that her sister knew. I was very intrigued by this twist, which never occurred to me at all is in the realm of possibilities for what could happen in The Camelot Betrayal


 “Ah, yes. That story. That is what happens when men tell your stories. Would you like to hear the real story?”


But much like the case of Lancelot’s, the conclusion to the mystery of Guinevach’s intentions were entirely anticlimactic and disappointing. After all of Guinevere’s worrying, and Arthur’s refusal to believe Guinevere’s worry that her sister is any threat to Camelot or to his own wife herself, it View Spoiler » To me, this really undermined one of the greater themes of the novel, that men rewrite history to suit themselves, not believing in the agency of women to have any role in this same history. I thought this entire storyline and how it was handled so simply, like that of Tristan and Isolde’s and Lancelot’s, really did a disservice to the series. It was also shocking that appearance of Morgan le Fay, the most devious witch of Arthurian legend, made so very little waves.


I also wished that the series would make up its mind on one of its other main themes, of men or women being the true villains of history. The series really seems to change its mind on this theme constantly, one moment showing men willfully unable to comprehend the true power of women, their own ways of fighting through gossip, back-handed compliments, or societal scheming and the next making it appear that men are the only ones with power and the ability to change things. I think perhaps originally Lancelot was made female to further show Arthur and his knights discounting the ability of women to fight or to be capable of more than embroidery, but then the series constantly backtracks by making it seem like Guinevere will actually be the one to destroy Camelot and those important to her. Can women accomplish things or not? It’s as if the series can’t decide whether or not to follow the roots of the legend, with Guinevere ultimately leading to the downfall of Camelot and its virtues, or to create a new, feminist version where these ladies are powerful and capable of saving the men and their kingdom. It’s a shame, because the series could’ve been far greater and more coherent if it had just simply decided on what it wanted to be—a world run entirely men, doomed to be ruined by women, or saved by women’s same secret, unrecognized power.  Instead, The Camelot Betrayal swings back and forth between these two dichotomous possibilities, and as a result feels messy, indecisive and like one giant missed opportunity for decisive and decent foreshadowing.


“My sweet, foolish boys. My stolen brother and my tragic son. You may yet be the death of them both.”


Despite this indecision in story-telling and other, lacking writing choices in character development as well as in the constant telling and not showing that was present in the first novel as well, I really enjoy these books. And after writing this review especially, I’m not exactly sure why I like them so much. Whether it’s my love for the character of Mordred or just seeing the classic characters in new situations, I tear through this series, and I can say with certainty that I will be reading the next entry in the trilogy. I’ve even thought about buying physical copies of the trilogy to put next to my other King Arthur retellings, but I’m going to wait to see how much I like the conclusion of the trilogy. The Camelot Betrayal leaves off on quite the cliffhanger, but as it promises much more Mordred, I hope to be very happy in the next entry of the series. It would be a deal breaker for me if something bad happens to his character, and I imagine I would not want copies of the series if author Kiersten White decides that his character needs to meet a tragic end, as the character so often does in legend.


With all this in mind, I really struggled with what rating to give both entries in the series, The Camelot Betrayal especially. Though I really enjoy these books, I know the writing is subpar, so I can’t in good conscience give them higher ratings. And as I found The Camelot Betrayal’s meandering storyline and lackluster characterization even weaker than its predecessor, The Guinevere Deception, I have to give it a 2.5, which could arguably be too generous for all the issues that plague its pages. But as I really like these novels despite their weaknesses—and as they’ve even reawakened my desire to reread other stories of King Arthur once more—I think it’s a good middle ground rating. I am trying not to get my hopes up for the next and final entry in the series, but hope it gives a happy ending to Mordred and Guinevere, at the very least, and a more satisfying conclusion to characters like Lancelot. 

Book Review : The Camelot Betrayal - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 16, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

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