In the meantime! My good friend and partner in crime, SamoaPhoenix, who can be found on fictionpress but is probably more famously known for her Beauty and the Beast retellings on fanfiction (I highly recommend everything she's ever written). Also, she has a TV Tropes page (it's empty, but it's there), so you know she must be awesome. She is a lover of all things Beauty and the Beast, which translates into a great love of Gawain because the Loathly Lady story is basically Beauty and the Beast with the genders reversed. She is reviewing Gawain and Lady Green by Ann Eliot Crompton, sequel to Merlin's Harp (more of a midquel, actually) which I reviewed here. Please give her a warm welcome and enjoy her review.
|Title: Gawain and Lady Green|
Author: Ann Eliot Crompton
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Synopsis: (from the book) Gwyneth wasn’t supposed to fall in love with Gawain. Not like this. Gawain was the May King—a sacrifice offered to the Goddesss for a bountiful harvest in return. Gwyneth knows this. His fate has been decided by powers beyond her control. But the warmth of his touch and the taste of his lips have blurred the lines of what she knows to be true. Now Gwyneth is willing to risk everything to keep Gawain alive, even if it means losing him forever…
Hello everyone, I’m SamoaPhoenix. Since Story is busy with NaNo Camp for two months and I just finished an Arthurian retelling, I thought I’d jump in with a review. While I am not the Arthurian expert Story is, I do know a lot about most of the more famous legends. Especially Gawain (he and Gaheris are my favorites). So you may see a few other reviews from me pop up here and there, because believe it or not there are some Arthurian retellings I’ve read that she hasn’t. Le gasp!
Since Story began her review of Merlin’s Harp (by the same author and set in the same universe as this book) with a comment on the change in covers, I will do so as well. The original cover is a very standard one for an Arthurain tale: plain, with a painting of people in medieval dress.
The new cover actually has pictures of Gawain and Lady Green on it. The cover is also mostly green! I am more a fan of the new cover as it led me to purchase the book in the first place and actually has something to do with what happens in the book. However: two problems I see. 1. The new cover looks a little “young” for what I feel the intended audience is. There is a lot of sex in this book. Not graphic, but it is mentioned frequently enough that even in early high school I might have felt uncomfortable reading it (Story will tell me this is because I was a prude). That aside, this cover looks aimed at middle schoolers, not high schoolers. Not sure I want my future middle school child reading this. 2. It peeves me when cover designers don’t bother to read the book they are making a cover for. It is mentioned a lot in the book that Lady Green has red hair. Would it have killed them to actually find a redhead to put on the cover? Yeesh.
Anyway, on to the review! (Spoilers Ahoy!)
The standard Gawain and the Green Knight tale gets a backstory! The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Gawain and Lady Green, whose real name in this version is Gwyneth. I thought it was really cool how Crompton had Gawain meet everyone from the Green Knight tale before the story from the original epic poem begins. Gwyneth gets her own unique voice and her own perspectives on why things are happening. She and Gawain come at things from conflicting perspectives: he is a devout Christian knight, she a pagan hedgewitch. This makes for a very interesting read as these two try to figure each other out and understand how they can have such strong feelings for each other when they are so very different.
Gawain, a young knight from Arthur’s court seeking adventure, stumbles into a small village and is chosen as their May King. Unfortunately for him, this village practices the old pagan ritual of sacrificing the May King to the Goddess at harvest-time after he’s had a nice summer blessing the crops by sleeping with the chosen May Queen every night. It takes Gawain a long time to figure out what’s really going on and once he does he understandably freaks out since he didn’t sign up to be anyone’s sacrifice. By this point he and Gwyneth, whom he has nicknamed Lady Green for her green May Queen garb, have fallen in love (or as I would say, in lust. More on that later). He promises he will marry her if she comes to Arthur’s court with him. She helps him escape despite the fact that it goes against everything she believes in and she will be leaving behind her own daughter from a previous relationship. However, Gawain breaks his promise once they are free of the village and leaves her alone on the moors because he decides they would both be miserable if she came to Arthur’s court and married. She is rescued by the village druid who is also the father of her daughter. Because of Gawain’s desertion as sacrifice, the village is hit by famine.
The standard Green Knight story begins here with the tit-for-tat beheading game on New Year’s Day. The fun part is by this point we already know everyone’s identity, and everything that happens is an atonement for Gawain’s original broken promise to Gwyneth and that he ran out on being a sacrifice.
Gawain is fairly standard as far as characterization, though he reminded me of the Gawain we often meet at the beginning of the Loathly Lady tales rather than the Green Knight tales. He’s arrogant and convinced of his own superiority, yet he has a softer side he shows sometimes around Gwyneth. He’s a devout Christian (including the period-correct exception that guys could pretty much sleep with whoever they wanted. Him trying to explain this to Gwyneth, who comes from a society where women can also sleep with whoever they want, was entertaining). I liked him despite his flaws because when it came down to it he really did try to do the right thing. He regretted what he did to Gwyneth almost as soon as he left her and the whole business of the Green Knight was actually a healing journey for him. And his reaction to meeting his son by Gwyneth was adorable. The only thing that bothered me about him was the Oedipal hint, right at the end when I guess Crompton thought she could catch us napping, that Gawain is attracted to Gwyneth because she reminds him of his mother. I shuddered when I read that. It also surprised me to find a reference to Freudian theory since all three of Crompton’s Arthurian books are supposed to be feminist retellings. And Freud was definitely not a feminist.
Gwyneth was also an interesting character and definitely not a Mary Sue. Like Gawain, she also tried her best to do the right thing and sometimes failed. She could never quite banish her anger and bitterness with Gawain after he left even though she knew it was tearing her apart. So the whole Green Knight thing was a healing journey for her too as she played the part of the Green Knight’s wife, Lady Bright. She was able to reconcile with Gawain and realize that even though she still had feelings for him because of their conflicting beliefs their relationship could never be permanent. The whole relationship outlined for me the difference between being “in love” and “in lust.” “In lust” is the Twilight version of love—you’re so obsessed with the other person that the fact that you’re actually not very compatible seems negligible. This happens with Gawain and Gwyneth, and their differences eventually tear them apart. “In love” is what Gwyneth eventually finds with Merry, the father of her daughter: a partnership based on meeting of minds, care for each other, and mutual beliefs. This is slightly glossed over since the Gawain/Gwyneth story takes precedence over everything else, but it’s my interpretation of the last few pages.
Speaking of Merry, I wanted to see more of him! He is casually introduced as the village “student druid” and the father of Gwyneth’s six-year-old daughter Ynis. Very little mention is made of this past relationship other than it occurred. He goes on to play a very important part in the story first as Gywneth’s rescuer after Gawain abandons her, and then as the Green Knight/Lord Bright, Gawain’s magical tester. Yet he’s just sort of there. He’s never given much of a personality of his own other than he seems to have infinite patience and understanding with Gwyneth as she makes her mistakes and eventually comes back to him. And he seems to have a massive amount of magic to call upon since as the Green Knight he does of course get beheaded and then carries his own severed head around. Yes, he’s a druid, and it’s hinted he drew on power from the Green Man and the Goddess test and break Gawain, but I wanted a little more explanation than that. I thought he had the potential to be awesome but instead we only got hints of his awesomeness throughout the book. His best moments where when he was disguised as the jovial Lord Bright, but is this his real personality? Probably not, but we’re never told.
Merlin and Niviene from Merlin’s Harp make cameo appearances. Merlin’s main purpose appears to be singing songs he’s composed about Gawain. Niviene’s presence I felt was unnecessary. It’s hinted she’s the one behind Gawain deciding to play the Green Knight’s game in place of Arthur. She touches him when everyone else in the hall is frozen and then suddenly he’s standing up to take the axe. I didn’t like this because Gawain has all kinds of valid reasons for making the decision on his own. Just because this is a feminist retelling doesn’t mean all the action needs to be prompted by a female character. Give the guy some credit for his own mind.
The other two main characters were OCs (original characters). Gwyneth’s grandmother was a fairly stock character, the wise old woman who warns Gwyneth against the demon that is feeding on her bitterness after Gawain leaves. Her best moment was when she told the story of when she herself was May Queen and fell in love with her May King. Gwyneth’s daughter Ynis was just sort of creepy, the child seer who wandered around seeming way too mature for her age but didn’t really play a massively important role in the story.
I enjoyed the way Crompton tied all of her original ideas in with the legend. The story was tight, the two main characters were believable. It was refreshing to have a story where the main characters don’t get together yet everything still works out in the end. 3 stars because there was a lot of hinting at stuff in the background that never gets played out.