|Title: Under Camelot's Banner|
Author: Sarah Zettel
Synopsis: (from the publisher) When war threatens the kingdom of Camliard, sisters Lynet and Laurel find themselves in the heart of the darkening crisis, with only one way to restore peace. While her older sister remains as a hostage, Lynet must bring back the last heir of Camliard’s ancient royal house—the High Queen Guinevere.
But Lynet’s quest is not so easily achieved. Once in Camelot, she must deal with the politics of court as well as country. One ally is Gareth, youngest brother of the brilliant Sir Gawain, who aches to achieve knighthood and fame by his own hand. But Gareth soon finds this quest is no game, and that Lynet is no maid to be toyed with.
With the machinations of the sorceress Morgain threatening their future, only Lynet and Gareth’s strength and love together can save the queen’s hereditary kingdom from a tangled web of magic, treachery and war. And that strength is failing…
I seem to have accidentally read book three of this series before book two. Oops. It doesn’t really seem to matter except for passing references to Geraint being married. Neither Risa nor Elen are mentioned by name.
Again, the blurb above lies to you. Guinevere’s hereditary kingdom is called Cambryn in this book, not Camlaird. At least the title is appropriate to the book’s content this time.
Warning for Spoilers
Wow, are there some relational twists in this one. I’ll get to that later. Suffice it to say this is a loose retelling of Malory’s “Sir Beaumains”, which traditionally concerns Sir Gareth’s courtship and eventual marriage. The basic story is there, and thankfully it appears much earlier in the narrative than the Green Knight and the Loathly Lady appeared in In Camelot’s Shadow. However, there are a ton of details changed around and lots and lots of fleshing out of characters. The story is much more focused on telling Lynet’s story than Gareth’s, though he gets some spotlight time. There is also quite a bit of the Tristan and Iseult (Isolde) tragedy here, told in past tense as the two infamous lovers have died two years prior to the story’s beginning.
It gets complicated fast. Prepare yourselves.
We are first given a brief introduction to how things stand in High Queen Guinevere’s hereditary lands. Guinevere’s steward Lord Kenan has three children: daughters Laurel and Lynet, and son Colan. Lynet previously served Iseult and had naively helped the queen and Tristan meet for their trysts. When Mark found out, he murdered Tristan, Iseult killed herself and Lynet was sent home in disgrace. The book’s conflict begins when two lesser lords in Cambryn bring forward a dispute to solve. Ordinarily this would be a fairly straightforward matter if the actual lord of the land ruled there. However, in the absence of Guinevere the job should fall to Steward Kenan—who is also away, trying to persuade Mark of Cornwall to pull out of the depression he fell into after the deaths of Tristan and Iseult. With Mark weak and Camelot virtually silent on the troubles of Cornwall and its neighbor Cambryn, every lesser lord in both provinces is getting restive. Tempers flare when Lord Kenan returns and shows he still believes in the sovereignty of Camelot, and he is killed by his son Colan. Colan is declared an outcast and flees to offer his services to Morgaine. Laurel and Lynet are left alone with many angry lords ready to fight each other at the least provocation. The sisters decide their best hope is for Lynet to go to Camelot and beg Guinevere to return home to settle the dispute as the rightful ruler of Cambryn.
Meanwhile, Gareth is at Camelot having sex with every willing woman he can find. Agravain, Geraint and Kai have all tried to warn him that this is not a good idea, because, hey, kids and—gulp—responsibility might come out of it, but Gareth shrugs them off, figuring if his knight-master Lancelot doesn’t care than it shouldn’t matter. After one gibe too many from Kai, Gareth foolishly challenges him and gets his butt royally trounced (in this version Kai is crippled, which makes the trouncing even more epic). Lancelot, furious that a squire of his got beaten by a crippled old guy, consigns him to the kitchens. Thus the “Beaumains” plot is set up—a sister coming to Camelot for help and the challenge taken up by a kitchen boy who is actually a knight (or in this case a squire).
Guinevere and Arthur immediately agree that Lynet’s cause is desperate. Guinevere selects Lancelot as her main champion to accompany her back to Cambryn. On the journey, Lynet and Gareth are attracted to each other but neither wants to act on it, Gareth because he wants to protect Lynet and Lynet because she learned from Tristan’s escapades that men from Camelot are untrustworthy. They rescue each other and tentative understanding begins to build between them.
Back at Cambryn, Colan and another lesser lord sworn to Morgaine have been causing no end of headaches for Laurel. The sisters have been communicating via a magic mirror given to them by their long-dead mother, a daughter of the Sea, and they learn that Morgaine plans to seize Cambryn to deal a personal blow to Guinevere (Morgaine, Morgause and Guinevere grew up there together). However, Guinevere judges that the situation at Tintagel where Mark holds court is more urgent so they go there first. She and Lynet enter Tintagel and find a guilt-crazed Mark being tormented by spirits from the past. Turns out Tristan was his son by Morgause, who Mark raped when he found out she was leaving to marry Lot. Yes, you read that right. If there’s one thing we get out of this series, it’s that guilt over bad decisions makes people go stark raving mad.
Lynet collapses from using the mirror’s power too much. Gareth helps her regain her senses somewhat, but is then lured away by Morgaine disguised as Guinevere. He watches Morgaine seduce Lancelot (whose advances the real Guinevere had rejected earlier) and realizes what’s really happening. He rushes back to find Colan trying to force Lynet off the cliff Tintagel is built on. Lynet uses the last power of the mirror to push Colan off the cliff but in so doing permanently separates her spirit from her body. Gareth, in despair, makes a deal with Lynet’s grandmother, the Sea, that if she will return Lynet he will love her as long as they both live. The deal is struck, Lynet’s spirit is returned, and all is finally set right. For the most part, anyway, until we find out in the next book what the consequences of Morgaine/Guinevere sleeping with Lancelot turn out to be. It likely won’t be pretty.
I told you it got complicated. And that’s just the basic summary—there are details and side plots I glossed over or didn’t mention at all.
Lynet: The youngest child of Steward Kenan and has no innate magic of her own from the Sea. She was sent to Tintagel for fostering and got caught in the Tristan/Iseult tragedy because she looked up to Iseult and had a crush on Tristan. When they both died she was sent home with her reputation tarnished, and many people seem to assume that because she was involved she was also sleeping with Tristan. She is still guilt-ridden and believes all of it was her fault. On her journey to and from Camelot she begins using her mother’s mirror to watch over and communicate with Laurel, and slowly becomes addicted to it even though using its power is draining her life-force. By the end when they reach Tintagel she is seeing visions and spirits everywhere and is able to see what happened between Mark and Morgause. She wants nothing to do with Gareth for awhile because by reputation he is another rake like Tristan, but eventually he earns her trust.
Gareth: The youngest Orkney brother, he is just coming of age and anticipates being made a knight soon. Like Gawain he has trouble keeping it in his pants. He worships his knight-master Sir Lancelot and ends up being beaten by Kai because he believes Lancelot would be disappointed if he backed down from a challenge. Over the course of the book he slowly becomes less enamored of Lancelot, especially when he learns of Lancelot’s unrequited desire for Guinevere. Eventually he rejects Lancelot outright in favor of his love and concern for Lynet. He sympathizes with Lynet for the treachery in her family (his father murdered his sister and Lynet’s father was murdered by her brother), and comes to like and respect her as he has no other woman before. He catches Lynet using the mirror and agrees to keep it a secret if she will use him as an anchor to the mortal world. This tie to each other eventually saves both of their lives.
Laurel (Lyonesse/Laurel): The eldest of Steward Kenan’s children, she received the most power from her mother’s Sea heritage. She can speak to others on the wind, and force her will on both people and animals when determined enough. Her eyes glow when she’s angry. She stays behind as a hostage to the lesser lords while Lynet goes to Camelot for help. She is determined that Morgaine will not take Cambryn. Despite being the most powerful of her siblings she is also the quietest. Zettel has changed the legend around somewhat as it is not Laurel/Lyonesse who marries Gareth/Beaumains, but Lynet.
Guinevere: A strong and wise queen, but she distrusts magic of any sort after growing up with Morgaine. This translates into a distrust of Merlin and of Lynet for using her magic mirror. However, she is generous and has a powerful sense of duty, so she continues to support and protect Lynet despite her distrust. She is shown to be deeply in love with Arthur and rejects the advances of Lancelot.
Lancelot: A skilled knight with a hidden obsession with Guinevere. All he seems to care about is not being defeated or humiliated, and has passed this attitude onto his squires. He easily falls into Morgaine’s trap when she comes to sleep with him disguised as Guinevere. He is disliked by the three oldest Orkney brothers.
Morgaine (Morgan): Working more openly as the series villain. She is manipulating as many people as she can from behind the scenes to break the lesser kingdoms away from Camelot. We get hints that she hates Arthur because their mother Igraine betrayed her father Gorlois with Uther. She seems to have been old enough to remember this and hold a grudge, unlike Morgause. As previously mentioned, she lures Gareth away from Lynet so Colan can kill her, and then proceeds to sleep with Lancelot disguised as Guinevere.
Mark: Wow is this guy messed up, even for a “crazy old Mark” portrayal. Not only did he rape Morgause to try to get her to marry him instead of Lot, but he ended up killing his own son with his bare hands after he found out about him and Iseult. For most of the story he is shut up in Tintagel staring off into space, tormented by angry ghosts. Guinevere and Lynet combined serve to rouse him.
Kai (Kay): I’ve decided I really love Sir Kai in this series. Not only is he hilarious, but he is able to thoroughly trounce Gareth in single combat despite not being able to use one leg. At that point in the story, somebody needed to do it, and the fact that it was crippled old Kai made it all the better.
Gawain: Eldest of the Orkney brothers, marriage seems to have steadied him a lot. He does not appear much, except for at the family powwow to tell Gareth that Kai wouldn’t have accepted Gareth’s challenge if he weren’t sure he could beat Gareth.
Geraint (Gaheris): The closest of the Orkney brothers to Gareth in age and the quietest. He rebukes Gareth for sleeping around so much it has become a joke at Camelot.
Agravain: Law-abiding second Orkney brother. He loses his temper and accuses Lancelot of ruining Gareth, which was awesome because it is so out of character it knocks Gareth a little out of his childish mantra of “Lancelot is the bestest at everything and if he says something, it must be true!”.
Arthur: Same fair-minded King we met in book one. He loves Guinevere but does not try to keep her in Camelot when she is needed to sort out the problems at Cambryn and Tintagel.
Merlin: Arthur’s magician. Neither Lynet nor Guinevere trusts him even though he seems to have no evil motivation.
Tristan: Even though he, Iseult and Morgause are all dead by the time the story starts, they play such an important part in goings-on I’ve decided to include them in the character list. They have this sick parallel with the Arthur-Morgaine-Mordred-Guinevere thing that is simultaneously going on, except as far as I know Mordred (who is about twelve or thirteen at this point) isn’t interested in seducing Guinevere as some form of revenge on Arthur the way Tristan does with Mark. Tristan is portrayed as a golden boy who wins everyone’s love just by existing. Mark believes he seduced Iseult out of revenge for Morgause’s rape, but this may just be Mark’s paranoid guilt talking. Lynet sees him along with Iseult haunting Mark when Lynet and Guinevere arrive at Tintagel.
Iseult (Isolde): An Irish princess given to Mark as part of a peace treaty between Ireland and Cornwall. She is a skilled healer (a trait often associated with her) and Lynet learns from her. She kills herself after Tristan is murdered by Mark.
Morgause: The mother of Tristan, all four Orkney brothers, and their murdered sister Talia. Arthur’s half-sister, presumably the younger daughter of Igraine and Gorlois. She grew up with Morgaine and Guinevere, and it seems she and Guinevere were close friends. She wanted to marry Lot, not Mark, but when she came to tell Mark this he raped her. Morgause evaded being forced to marry Mark by telling Lot the truth. Lot believed her and married her despite the rape, but sent Tristan to Mark to raise as his “nephew” when the baby was born.
I enjoyed this book. It’s better paced than In Camelot’s Shadow and keeps the sense of urgency going throughout the book. I liked Lynet in particular a lot, and all the characters had depth to them. The romance was again a little shaky, as there’s no real reason given for Gareth feeling differently about Lynet than any other woman he’s slept with. To jump right from “they’re OK with each other” to “he’d happily die for her” was a bit of a surprise given how slowly their liking for each other had developed up until that point.