Book Review : The Excalibur Curse

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Book Review : The Excalibur CurseThe Excalibur Curse by Kiersten White
Published by Random House Children's Books on 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Wizards & Witches, Historical, Medieval, Arthurian
Pages: 368
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Source: NetGalley

The gripping conclusion to the acclaimed Arthurian fantasy trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White finds Guinevere questioning everything--friends and enemies, good and evil, and, most of all, herself.
While journeying north toward the Dark Queen, Guinevere falls into the hands of her enemies. Behind her are Lancelot, trapped on the other side of the magical barrier they created to protect Camelot, and Arthur, who has been led away from his kingdom, chasing after false promises. But the greatest danger isn't what lies ahead of Guinevere--it's what's been buried inside her.
Vowing to unravel the truth of her past with or without Merlin's help, Guinevere joins forces with the sorceress Morgana and her son, Mordred--and faces the confusing, forbidden feelings she still harbors for him. When Guinevere makes an agonizing discovery about who she is and how she came to be, she finds herself with an impossible choice: fix a terrible crime, or help prevent war.
Guinevere is determined to set things right, whatever the cost. To defeat a rising evil. To remake a kingdom. To undo the mistakes of the past...even if it means destroying herself.
Guinevere has been a changeling, a witch, a queen--but what does it mean to be just a girl?

The Excalibur Curse is the final entry in The Camelot Rising trilogy. I wish I could say I was surprised by how disappointed I was by the ending, but I’ve had a feeling I wouldn’t like the ending since The Camelot Betrayal. I guess what was more shocking to me was why I didn’t like the ending. After two other books in the series placing Guinevere in a love triangle with King Arthur and (his nephew, in this retelling) Mordred, Guinevere finally decides she’s in love with Lancelot. 


I have been completely perplexed throughout the trilogy, which decided to make Lancelot a woman. It just seemed like such an odd narrative choice because the character and her new gender, were completely underutilized. In fact, I even remarked in my review for The Camelot Betrayal that I had no idea why Lancelot had ever been made a female. She didn’t enter the legendary love triangle with Arthur and Guinevere or even a plain Sapphic romance with Guinevere. Well, unfortunately these remarks must have been some sort of a prophecy, because in the eleventh hour of the series, after Guinevere finally admits and acts her feelings for Mordred, she then decides she’s actually in love with Lancelot! 


“Mordred had been told all his life who he wasthe eel, Arthur’s nephew, the fairyson, the Dark Queen’s savior. And still he carved his own path, chose where to walk and followed no one. She had shied away from his pain because it was a mirror to her own. But he lived in it, did not run from it. He made mistakes and then kept going. And he always, always saw her.”


I had to laugh at this development, because otherwise I would feel like crying, at the fact that I didn’t even get to enjoy Mordred and Guinevere acting upon their feelings. Blink, and it was over, and Guinevere was realizing, and repeatedly telling readers, that all along it was actually Lancelot, not Arthur or Mordredthe main love interests throughout the entire trilogythat made her feel understood, complete, etc..  This is after reading in two other book in the series, and heck, even in The Excalibur Curse, that rightly claimed Mordred was the only one who saw her So once again, poor Mordred, the feminist, the one who always saw Guinevere, the “fairyson” of The Green Knight and Morgan Le Fay and the one who loves and talks to animals, is used and abused. And he takes it so well, that it hurts even more.


“‘I will save you in spite of yourself,’ he whispered into her ear. ‘I will save you even if I am saving you for someone else.'”


I kind of wished that The Excalibur Curse had least gone the Mists of Avalon route, and had a polyamorous relationship with Mordred and Lancelot, at the very least, instead of so brusquely and suddenly pushing the object of Guinevere’s desire aside. As the trilogy so badly wants to be a feminist reimaging of Arthurian legend, and Mordred is respectful of Guinevere’s feelings for Lancelot, as he only wishes for her to be happy, why didn’t they just enter into a relationship with the three of them? To make matters worse, at the end of The Excalibur Curse, Guinevere holds hands with both Arthur and Lancelot!


Before this moment, I thought that the only good thing about Guinevere’s realization of feelings for Lancelot is that her feelings for King Arthur were finally pushed aside. Throughout the entire Camelot Rising trilogy, I’ve either been indifferent to or outright disliked Arthur, who always felt wooden and like a horrible, neglectful husband. For me, the character never reached the heights of legend. But to my horror, after she realizes he’s married to the job, and not her, she tells reader’s she still loves him too! I really wanted to scream. Though I thought my worst nightmare for the ending of this trilogy was one where Mordred died, perhaps at the hands of Arthur, as in legend, or to save Guinevere, I was quickly proved wrong by what happened in the actual ending, with View Spoiler »


To me, it was almost like the author had suddenly decided that her retelling of Arthurian legend should end at least somewhat similarly to the legend, even though the trilogy had not put in the work to build up to that ending. It felt very random and unbelievable to me that Guinevere suddenly recognized her feelings for Mordred, then was over them, and in love with Lancelot, while still harboring love for Arthur. But suddenly, Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot were the main love triangle. Though the kingdom of Camelot is not left shattered in the wake of this particular love triangle as per legend, my heart definitely felt shattered. I also don’t understand the hints of this romantic open relationship between these three characters, as Arthur has never liked Lancelot and used her poorly, and Guinevere knows that. Mordred and Lancelot, on the other hand, actually bantered and trained together. Make it make sense!


“But she had not been able to tell Mordred she loved him. And she had not been able to imagine a future with him, because it meant a future without Lancelot. It broke her heart that Lancelot thought no one ever valued her enough to try to protect her other than the accursed, faithless Lady of the Lake. Guinevere, would not, could not leave her behind.”


My other main issue with The Excalibur Curse was every single one of Guinevere’s other decisions! As if her romantic feelings weren’t already giving me whiplash, the woman tears around making decisions with potentially catastrophic consequences at the drop of the hat. She never once stops to think things through or consider these ramifications, and sometimes, she even turns around from making a huge mess of things to making another horrendous choice to try to fix the previous mistake. She never listens to the advice of people around her, even those that have a better grasp of the situation or consequences eithershe always assumes she actually knows better! It was so frustrating to me! What kind of Queen doesn’t listen to advisors?


“She had thought she was waging war, when really she was just being moved around, a piece in a game controlled by more-powerful players.” 


Honestly, this kind of impulsive and rash behavior from Guinevere, which is usually motivated by emotions, is the reason why I have tried to limit my reading of young adult fantasy. I cannot stand female protagonists, especially those in positions of power, who act immaturely, selfishly, and like their decisions don’t affect those around them. This is not to say that all young adult fantasy novels have female protagonists who act like this, but I find that these characterizations are more common in young adult fantasy and I especially cannot stand them in the face of a novel that is marketing itself as a feminist retelling. I just can’t relate to these types of characters as an adult. Maybe it’s hubris, but I don’t think I ever acted so carelessly as a young adult, whether with other people’s feelings, and I sure wouldn’t have with the fate of my kingdom at stake. Being a young character or simply being in a young adult novel, should not excuse characters to ignore their development, personality, and goals all for the sake of driving the plot forward or causing drama.


Another thing that really bothered me about the trilogy was that it led up all of the magic in Camelot being destroyed. I am guessing that what the trilogy was going for was that Guinevere didn’t need magic to be a good queen, but it ended up just being a letdown to me. What kind of story about Arthurian legend consistently strives to destroy magic? Plus, I thought one of the coolest ideas about this trilogy was that Guinevere was the daughter of Merlin, and had magic of her own to protect Arthur. It just kind of felt like a letdown for her to not actually be Merlin’s daughter and for her to lose all of her magical powers. I wasn’t as disappointed with the reality of Guinevere’s true identity personally, as I did feel there was plenty of build up to the revelation, but I was definitely not a fan of how she reacted to it.


“At last Guinevere knew who she was. And she would do anything to fix it.”


Despite not being able to stand Guinevere or any of her horrific decisions in The Excalibur Curse, I somehow enjoyed reading it, mostly in spite of itself. I read the entirety of the novel in a day or two, and I never wanted to put it down. This in spite of Guinevere constantly “telling” her feelings instead of showing them, and not liking the ending. The one thing that has felt very consistent to me throughout The Camelot Rising trilogy is that I never know what to rate the novels, because though I really enjoy them, I know that the writing could be better, and now, The Excalibur Curse made me very unhappy.  It’s really a conundrum! I guess I can chock up my love for these novels as guilty-pleasure.


Ultimately, I’ve decided to give The Excalibur Curse 1.5 stars, because though I really enjoyed reading it, I found the ending to be very unsatisfying on almost every level. If, like me, you’ve been with the trilogy since The Guinevere Deception, by all means, read The Excalibur Curse in order to know how the trilogy ends. However, I would definitely prepare myself for disappointment.



Book Review : The Excalibur Curse - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 16, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

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