Book Review : The Guinevere Deception

Book Review : The Guinevere DeceptionThe Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising, #1) by Kiersten White
Published by Delacorte Press on November 5th 2019
Pages: 352
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three-stars

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.
There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.
Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom's borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution--send in Guinevere to be Arthur's wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king's idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere's real name--and her true identity--is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.
To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old--including Arthur's own family--demand things continue as they have been, and the new--those drawn by the dream of Camelot--fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur's knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.
Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?
*THE FIRST BOOK IN THE CAMELOT RISING TRILOGY*

Fun fact about me, I’m actually a bit of a King Arthur geek. I’ve read countless retellings of the legend, as well as Morte d’Arthur, and even pretty extensively studied Sir Gawain and The Green Knight in college. So I was not only pretty excited when a new retelling was out, but also psyched that it focused on Guinevere. And for once, Guinevere seemed to be a strong female character, and not just a helpless queen. What’s even better is that in The Guinevere Deception, Guinevere is not actually a sheltered princess raised for a political marriage to King Arthur, but is actually an imposter who marries King Arthur to protect him from magical threats after the banishment of Merlin from Camelot. I really loved all the unique spins on the classic legend in The Guinevere Deception, and found myself tearing through the book. Despite these interesting twists and a love for the characters and Arthurian legend as a whole, I found that the writing, world-building, and magical systems left a lot to be desired.

 

“You are Merlin’s daughter. And that makes you far more valuable than any princess.”

 

I really loved author Keirsten White’s interesting take on the tried and true Arthurian legend. I was fascinated that The Guinevere Deception’s false Guinevere’s is the daughter of Merlin! So of course she’s not without her own brand of magic. Unfortunately, Guinevere’s knot magic, formed by knots made from her hair, blood, or iron thread isn’t very well explained, nor is the rest of the magic in the world of Camelot.  One can assume that this lack of explanation is due in part to the fact that magic has been outlawed in Camelot, with the threat of banishment or death looming for practitioners. That means anyone practicing magic, is highly secretive, including Guinevere, but I really wished the novel had taken more time to explain how it works—where one learns magic, how one gets the skills or the energy to practice, and where all these magic practices came from. In fact, Guinevere herself doesn’t even know where she learned her abilities.

 

“It was for the best. Magic and Camelot cannot exist in the same space. Magic—even good magic—thrives on sacrifice and chaos. Pain.”

 

All the readers really know about magic is that it is illegal because of the mysterious threat of an unnamed Dark Queen, who thrives on chaos, which The Guinevere Deception explains simply as being magic itself. There’s not a whole lot of explanation of why it’s believed to be so dangerous, but The Guinevere Deception frequently tells the reader that Camelot is order, and the chaos of magic will destroy that order somehow. This lack of knowledge is somewhat explained by Guinevere not having all of her memories. In all honesty, however, I think The Guinevere Deception assumes it’s readers are familiar enough with Arthurian legend that Merlin can just be stated as a powerful wizard without any further explanation other than vague notions that he can see all possibilities throughout time. As magic is such an integral part of Arthurian legend, touching everything from Arthur’s birth to his knighthood, to his kinghood, I really struggled with the lack of explanation of how magic worked in this universe. It was especially difficult to believe Guinevere as Merlin’s daughter and a powerful sorceress in her own right, as she had so little understanding of magic and the world around her.

 

“He is like the sun. When he is focused on you, everything is bright and warm. Everything is possible. But the problem with knowing the warmth of the sun is how keenly you feel its absence when it shines elsewhere. And a king must always shine elsewhere.”

 

Despite my disappointment in the description of the magic system, I was thrilled to find that I actually felt Guinevere was sympathetic for perhaps the first time in Arthurian legend, and I believe the author White’s more feminist take is to thank for that. In most iterations of Arthurian legend, I can’t stand the woman and find her to be weak-willed at most, and at least, a very poor decision maker. In The Guinevere Deception, Guinevere worries about not being a burden, protecting Arthur, and shows a lot of tenacity and level headedness, despite her naïveté. She’s also very human and suffers from the inattention of her very famous and busy husband, who is more King than actual husband. I liked her portrayal as a strong heroine, not as damsel in constant distress, a lot. Whether this is because her true identity is not really Guinevere, I didn’t care! It worked for me and it’s clear that the author wanted to give more dimension and focus to Guinevere and these other women of legend. I loved to see it.

 

Though I really liked Guinevere’s portrayal and found it such a fresh take on her classic portrayal, I’m going to be honest and say that the standout of this novel for me was the portrayal of Morderd. I absolutely love his characterization, which is charming and sympathetic. Mordred is portrayed as a liberal, a feminist, and the only one who understands Guinevere’s troubles and sees her as person. His quick wit, sense of humor, respect of women as powerful creatures in their own right, stands in stark contrast to Arthur’s rather bland characterization. I was excited every time Mordred appeared on the page. I was thrilled when Mordred became Guinevere’s confidant, despite her reservations and reluctant attraction to him.

 

I really love a good anti-hero and Mordred definitely fulfilled this need. His relationship with Guinevere was very nurturing too, and I rooted for these two wholeheartedly. Not only could I not help shipping these characters, classical legend and well-being of Camelot be damned, but I also really loved the Guinevere Deception’s unique way of showing Arthur-Guinevere-Mordred as the prominent love triangle of the legend, and that the focus wasn’t all on the typical Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur plot, until Mordred shows up at the end of the legend to ruin the peace of Camelot. Instead, Guinevere met and married Arthur and is protected by Mordred as a trusted member of the Knights, before anyone even knows Lancelot exists. Even better, in another twist, View Spoiler »

 

My biggest issue with The Guinevere Deception, other than the lack of explanation of the magic system, was that most of the novel had a ton of telling and not showing. This way of writing really lessened my enjoyment of the novel and even sometimes bordered on ridiculous. At one pivotal moment in the book, Guinevere and her lady in waiting were running from a wild boar. she tells us not once but twice, that she chose to run in the opposite direction of her servant. I already inferred from the context and Guinevere’s character that she wanted to protect her friend, and that was clearly why she chose to run in the opposite direction, as the boar was fixated on her. But the author felt it was necessary to spell it out a second time in even more blunt terms that it was due to her concerns for the well-being of her servant.

 

This is the kind of telling that happens a lot in The Guinevere Deception and it frustrated me to no end. It took me right out of the action of the moment to make me think, “okay, I got it already.” The writing in the The Guinevere Deception was indeed a weird mix, as the author felt the need to spell things out repeatedly for readers, but also assumed that her audience knew enough about Arthurian legend to not really explain her magical systems or lore. Fans of other fantasy novels and Arthurian will surely find this disappointing and fans who aren’t familiar with Arthurian legend might find this lack of detail confusing.

 

Honestly, I feel if I weren’t such a big King Arthur fan, I probably wouldn’t have loved The Guinevere Deception quite so much due to the lack of magical explanation, and the constant telling and not showing. For me the enjoyment really came from knowing the characters and the legend and seeing it all in more of a modern context, with such fresh and exciting spins. Despite my own disappointment with these writing choices, I still really enjoyed The Guinevere Deception due to this interesting new twists on a familiar legend, the strong heroine, and the portrayals of both Mordred and Guinevere. I even pre-ordered the next book in the series, despite not being able to give the novel a higher rating, so I think that speaks to how much fun I had reading it, even with what it was lacking. I think other fans of young adult fantasy books, especially those that like strong female characters, magic, and love triangles will also enjoy this book.

three-stars
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Book Review : The Guinevere Deception - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 13, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

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