Welcome All- A Few Things to Know

Welcome All- A Few Things to Keep In Mind:

1. Hi all. I'm Storyteller Knight. You can find me on Fictionpress where I write novels about King Arthur, Superheroes and Vampires (but not at the same time) and at Pardon My Sarcasm where I rage about how the republicans are ruining all things.

2. Here is the Master List of books read, books owned and books needed to complete a series. Superscripts next to title links to reviews on this site. Or you can search using the lables.

3. I'm approaching this blog with the assumption that everyone reading already knows the ultimate spoiler of the King Arthur Legend: Everyone Dies. Those who read King Arthur books do so to see different interpretations of the characters and the stories. My goal here is to analyze the effectiveness of those interpretations. Thus, all my reviews will include spoilers.

4. This is not an Arthurian 101 blog. As I said above, I'm assuming that everyone reading already knows the legend and is looking for different interpretations of that legend. Therefore, I'm not going to take time to explain who the characters are and what roles they traditionally play. Links to Arthurian Encyclopedias at the bottom of the page.

5. These reviews are my opinions of the books. I may hate a book you love or I may love a book you hate. If you have a different opinion, write it up. I'd be more than happy to have some guest posts.

6. Please don't ask me (or any of the guest bloggers) to do your homework for you. As I said above, this is a blog dedicated at looking at these books from an Arthurian perspective. If you comment on posts asking us what the theme is or such, we're just going to screw with you.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Reread: The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight

Title: The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight
Author: Gerald Morris
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Pages: 310
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Ever since that tragic night when her mother and guardian were murdered, thirteen-year-old Sarah has been living on her own and searching for the knight who was responsible.  Her quest for revenge leads to an even greater adventure when she witnesses Queen Guinevere being kidnapped.  Soon Sarah finds herself accompanying Sir Gawain and Squire Terence on a remarkable journey to rescue the Queen.  In their travels they meet, among others, a mystery knight traveling incognito in a dung cart, a faery who becomes Sarah's first friend in a long time, a reclusive monk who plans to spend the rest of his life building a tomb for Sir Lancelot, and a princess who might have a little more gumption than she appears to.

As the plot thickens, Sarah finds out more about the people she's met and befriended, as well as about herself.  She begins to learn the true consequences of vengeance and what it really means to be a princess.

In this funny and unforgettable sixth novel, Gerald Morris creates yet another tangled web of magic spells, enchanted castles, mystery knights, revenge, and heart-pounding adventure.  


Warning for Spoilers (this got really long...)

The Last Time I Read this Book

I confess, dear readers, the first time I read this book, I was determined to hate it.  I knew from the title exactly what I was in for.  Dung-Cart Knight gave it all away.  Morris was retelling Chretien de Troyes' Le Chevalier de la Charrette (The Knight of the Cart).  Lancelot-- who I was quite happy to watch waste away as a woodcutter forever while being miserable at how awful he was in the second book-- was about to get his redemption.  This was a thing I DID NOT WANT!  Morris had laid out the absolute best story anyone could ever tell about Lancelot, and now he was going to ruin it by letting the silly sop have his redemption story and maybe kick up his affair with Guinevere again (because the affair is kinda the big thing in The Knight of the Cart).  BOO HISS!  Go back to your woodshed, Lancelot!  I hate you!

But then I started reading it and *~Sarah~*!!!!!!!!!

Okay, so here's my thing (and it's my thing-- you are welcome to your thing):  I love the action chick.  I love female leads who pick up a weapon and fight alongside the male characters.  And this isn't to take away from Eileen, Lynette, Brangienne or any of the awesome ladies who have appeared in Morris' series so far.  They are all amazing and wonderful and I love every single one of them.  But at the same time there's an extent to which it's... it's disappointing and frustrating.  I think I would have a better time with it if some of the male characters weren't fighters, but every single male lead in this series knows how to pick up a weapon and defend themselves.  You have characters like Gaheris and Dinadan who prefer not to, but they know how.  The female characters haven't been able to defend themselves-- they are defended.  And I'm not saying that ever female lead needs to know how to fight, but the fact that none of them can protect themselves in a fight has been a sore point for me.  All I needed was one to fix what was largely becoming a growing imbalance of power (now we just need a male lead who doesn't know how to fight and never learns-- I'm not holding my breath).

And that's why this book is so important and so wonderful.  Because I get Sarah, who early on in the story receives a sword and learns how to use it.  But Ariel also makes her return and her goodness and warm heart provide a much needed light for Sarah in the darkness.  And then a young girl named Charis is introduced and she uses her intelligence to outwit all those around her.  This is a 300 page book about women helping each other to save a woman from the clutches of another woman.  Lancelot is here, but he's not important.  This is Sarah's story.  This is the story of a young girl who picks up a sword after her family is brutally murdered, but her story is defined by her relationships with other women (unlike the typical action chick, who is often defined by the men in her life).  It's a beautiful, joyous thing and I never thought I could love a book that tells this story so much.

The Twist

So, I kinda already gave the twist away in gushing about how much I love this book.  But, much like his earlier books, Morris introduces an original character as a vehicle to tell this very famous story.  We've done Terence, who is the best.  Then we did Piers, who was Terrence 2.0 and didn't really gel that well.  This time, Morris does what I wish he would have done in Parsifal's Page and uses a female original character as his narrator.  This creates huge swaths of distance between her and the two original characters who came before her and keeps her from seeming like a copy of Terence the way Piers does.  Sara is both wonderful in her fierce pride and heartbreaking in her tragic back story and lust for vengeance.

The other big difference beyond Sarah's narration is that she is actually the hero of this story, not Lancelot.  In previous books, the original characters never actually stole the spotlight from the legendary knights they travel with.  Terence comes closest as he and Gawain share the spotlight, but you still didn't see Terence taking Gawain's place in the Green Knight challenge.  But Sarah does take Lancelot's spot in the trial by combat for Guinevere's life (Lancelot still kills Meliagant, but only after he's been essentially been defeated by Sarah and it's only because of a wayward ram that Lancelot needs to jump in).  In the first two books, Gawain is the hero, Terence is the sidekick.  In Pasifal's Page, Parsifal is the hero, Piers is the sidekick.  In this book, Sarah is the hero and Lancelot is her sidekick.    

The Plot

Morris admits in his author's notes that he's pretty much following the plot of The Knight of the Cart without much deviation and I don't disagree with him.  The beginning and ending of the book deviate the most, with the middle section pretty much following along plot-point for plot-point.

In Chretien de Troyes' original tale, Meleagant has been kidnapping Arthur's knights and ladies and is holding them prisoner in a place Arthur will never be able to find.  The only way to free them is to send a knight to a prearranged spot to do battle, but that Meleagant will only engage if the knight is accompanied by Guinevere.  Kay manages to trick Arthur into giving him this honor.  Gawain thinks this is an incredibly stupid move and gets leave to follow the two.

This book starts with Sarah, who is trying to find the knight who incited a village riot that led to her mother and male guardian being murdered.  Instead she stumbles Sir Kai escorting Guinevere back to Camelot (in secret, we learn later).  Although she knows that Kai isn't the knight who caused the murder of her family, Sarah decides that his sword would come in handy in her attempts for revenge and tries to steal it.  Kai, being Kai, catches her.  He and Guinevere immediately take pity on her and Kai decides to give Sarah the sword he had just purchased from Trebuchet as a gift for his two-year old son (Kai and Connoire got married and had a baby!!!!) and then teaches her how to use it because Kai is the very best ever.

While Sarah is getting water for their lunch, Meliagant shows up.  He attacks Kai on horseback when Kai is still on the ground because Meliagant is the worst ever and Kai is wounded.  Guinevere manages to bargain for his life and both of them are hauled off to captivity by Meliagant, but not before Kai is able to not-so-secretly direct Sarah to Camelot ("Camelot, by the way, is south of Bristol"-- you're lucky Meliagant is an arrogant villain, Kai).  Sarah then goes to an old crone in the woods for help, because she knows of no one else in the area who might help her.  The crone (it's Morgan) takes her to Belrepeire where Sarah is able to get the help of Piers and rides with him to Camleot.  This section includes the best cameo ever by Piers' mother and highlights a major theme in this book-- women having connections with other women is so critical to their success in the world.  Sarah connected with Guinevere before she connected with Kai.  Sarah went to an old crone for help after the two were abducted.  Lady Marie tells Piers what a putz he is for wanting to ride out in the middle in the night and insists that Sarah eat warm food, have a warm bath and sleep in a warm bed while spending the whole night mending Sarah's clothes.  Piers thinks she's being silly, but shifting to a woman's POV let's us see how practical Lady Marie is in her own way and in her own world and how stupid Piers' idea was.

From there, Sarah arrives in Camelot and meets with Arthur, Gawain, Terence, Bedivere, and Piers and tells them what has happened.  We learn that there is unrest in the kingdom, which keeps Arthur from going to rescue his wife and instead Gawain and Terence are sent, with Sarah tagging along to show them where Guinevere and Kai were taken and where Meliagant went from there.  Piers is charged with going to the Fisher King's lands to find Parsifal, but since that is magic fairy nonsense, Piers instead goes to get Lancelot. This is convenient because when Gawan and Terence decide to ditch Sarah because they think the quest is too dangerous for a young girl, she's able to join up with Lancelot instead.

This is where we hit the middle section that doesn't deviate much from the original story (with the exception of early in their quest where Gawain, Terence and Sarah travel with Adrian the Pardoner who tries to con our far too intelligent characters out of their hard-earned money for fake holy relics and a fun scene where we see Griflet get his comeuppance).  On their way, Gawain, Terence, and Sarah first pass an exhausted horse, and then a knight in full armor riding in a dung-cart (it's Lancelot) while village children mock and throw things at him.  Although Gawain et all feel bad for the knight and want to help him, the knight is quite insistent that they continue on to save Guinevere.  He's certain they will succeed in their quest, but he'll be right behind them should anything go wrong.  This parallels Lancelot riding in the dung-cart for part of his journey in The Knight of the Cart in order to gain information on Guinevere's whereabouts.  There's some conflicting symbolism in the two books, which I will talk about when I analyze Lancelot's character.

From there, Gawain, Terence and Sarah come to a crossroad in the forest, where a young maiden awaits to give them directions.  In The Knight of the Cart, it's just a girl.  Here it's Ariel, daughter of the Lady of the Lake and friend of Piers, last seen in Parsifal's Page.  She confirms what they had already begun to suspect based on where Guinevere and Kay were taken and where the knight took them-- that Meliagant has kidnapped the two.  Ariel also tells them that the only way to enter Meliagant's kingdom is through the Underwater Bridge or across the Sword Bridge and that once they are in, they will not be able to leave until they have completed their quest.  This is all done around one of my favorite things in Morris' writing-- Gawain and Terence trolling people who are completely aware of it and troll right back.  And then together they end up trolling the old mythology of the story they're in.

The next morning, Gawain and Terence pull a dick move and ride off without Sarah, leaving only Ariel to watch over her.  Fortunately, Lancelot shows up in his in his guise as Jean le Forestier.  Since Gawain and Terence have decided to take the Underwater Bridge (as they have a history with underwater bridges), Sarah, Lancelot and Ariel take the Sword Bridge.  They continue through the plot of The Knight of the Cart, fighting a knight at a ford, finding the tomb where Lancelot will be buried, stopping at the home of the Vavasour, and beheading a knight they meet along the way (who turns out to be the knight who incited the riot that killed Sarah's family, but she also discovers the plot goes beyond him).  Sillier aspects of the story, such as Lancelot sleeping in a bed he, because of his affair with Guinevere, has no business sleeping in causing it to set on fire and a woman who will only let Lancleot sleep in her home if they have sex are cut from this retelling.  Thankfully.

The three finally reach the Sword Bridge.  In The Knight of the Cart, the Sword Bride is a sword blade as long as two lances stretched out over a roaring rapids with the sharp edge turned up.  It's affixed to two trees, and on the other side are lions and leopards, oh my!  Lancelot removes his armor from his hands and feet because... of reasons... and crawls across, receiving wounds to his hands, knees and feet.  Here the bridge is essentially the same-- a long sword blade with the sharp end turned up stretched over a chasm so deep they can't see the bottom.  This one also cuts through anything.  Lancelot first tries to cover his hands with armor (because this one is much more sensible than the original) and swing along the underside.  He tests this theory and the sword immediately cuts through a double layer of iron and through Lancelot's hands, nearly reaching the bone.  The only thing it can't cut through is Sarah's sword, as it was forged by Trebuchet.  Lancelot decides to tie Sarah's sword to his chest and then slide along the Sword Bridge.  Of course, as he is only slightly more intelligent than his original counterpart, Lancelot immediately finds himself stuck out on the Sword Bridge when it cuts through the rope holding Sarah's sword to his chest.  Sarah has to jump onto his back and reach around his neck to hold the sword in place.  This scene on the Sword Bridge is one of the best Morris has ever written.  It is crazy intense, as one wrong move cuts both our leads in half.  It takes them less than two pages to cross the bridge, but it feels much longer.  The Sword Bridge collapses as soon as they're across, and Meliagant and his men show up a moment later to take them captive.

From here, the story deviates from the original again.  In The Knight of the Cart, Lancelot immediately does battle with Meleagant.  Bagdemagus manages to stop the fight in exchange for the two fighting again a year later.  Guinevere snubs Lancelot, he is sad and goes away.  Guinevere thinks he has died, so she is overjoyed when he comes back and they have sex.  Lancelot bleeds on the sheets from his wounded hands and feet and Meleagant is able to use that proof that Guinevere is being unfaithful with Kay (who is also wounded).  Lancelot and Meleagant fight again, Bagdemagus breaks it up again-- insisting they keep to the year from now timeline.  Meleagant then has Lancelot imprisoned in a tower.  Lancelot manages to get leave from his imprisonment to go fight in a tournament, and then returns when the tournament is over.  Meleagant's sister figures out where Lancelot is imprisoned and rescues him so Lancelot can make his trial by combat with Meleagant, where he kills the knight.

Here, Lancelot and Sarah are taken prisoner by Meliagant.  His younger sister, Charis, befriends Sarah and helps Lancelot and Sarah discover the location of Guinevere and Lancelot.  During their conversation, Guinevere ties to mend the wounds on Lancelot's hands with her bed sheets (the area is enchanted so wounds won't heal).  The next day, Meliagant is able to use this to claim Guinevere is having an affair with Kay, and Lancelot agrees to his trial by combat-- set for the end of the week.  The next day, Lancelot has disappeared.  Sarah and Charis travel all over the kingdom, trying to find him.  They eventually stumble on Gawain and Terence.  Gawain has been badly wounded during the Underwater Bridge trial, and an enchantment on the land to keep the fairy court out means that Terence is constantly on the verge of passing out.  With no other option, Sarah takes up the challenge against Meliagant.  During the battle, Sarah learns that Meliagant was involved in the death of her family and there is still one member of this plot unaccounted for.  While she is fighting him, Charis has figured out where Lancelot is being kept and frees him.  After Sarah has essentially defeated Meliagant, he cheats and nearly kills her, but Lancelot comes in at the last minute and kills him.

From there, the story wraps up happily.  The enchantment on the land is broken and everyone begins to heal from their wounds.  Charis gives Sarah the Vavasour's castle.  Morgan arrives and reveals that she is the crone (as if we hadn't already figured that out) and that Sarah's mother was her youngest sister, making Sarah Morgan and Arthur's niece and Gawain's cousin.  In the end, Sarah finds happiness with her new family and friends and gives up her quest for vengeance, sparing the life of Adrian the Pardoner, who was the final member of the conspiracy that killed her family.  

The Characters

Sarah- At the beginning of the story, Sarah reads as though she was one of Morris' original characters.  By the end, we learn she is the daughter of Dioneta, a lesser known sister of Arthur from a 14th century Welsh retelling.  In a future book, we will find Sarah playing the role of Soredamor from the Cliges myth.  So Sarah very neatly straddles being both an original character of Morris' while at the same time having strong ties to various characters within the legend.

I've already gushed above about why I think Sarah is an amazing and important character and one who I personally was waiting the whole series to see.  But I do want to note how disappointing it is at the end of the book that she gives up her sword.  Throughout the story Sarah is consumed by grief over the death of her family.  A big part of the story is her learning to move past that through the friendships she makes.  Early on, happiness is followed by pangs of grief and guilt that she is moving on while her mother and guardian lie dead in the ground.  That grief slowly goes away and is replaced by the knowledge that her family would be grateful to see her moving on and finding people who care about her as much as they did.  And all of this paired with Sarah giving up her sword at the end kinda comes together in this horrible moment that strongly suggests that the only reason a woman would want to pick up a sword and learn how to fight is if she is inherently broken in some way.

This is a horrible message.  Again, there is nothing wrong with female characters who don't fight (although I can't shake the feeling that there is something problematic about that when all of the male characters do).  But there is also nothing wrong with female characters who do fight.  And to have the the only female character in this whole series so far who picks up a weapon and learns to fight being coded as damaged and broken is really fucking problematic.  This is a trope we see far too often in stories and media and the sad thing is that Morris was avoiding it until the very last page.  It's fine for Sarah to decide she is done with killing and let Adrian the Pardoner go free (he laid the seeds that Meliagant was able to use to push forward the riot that killed her family).  I'm down with an overall message of nonviolence and that revenge doesn't get you anywhere.  But for her to give up her weapon-- a weapon that has done a hell of a lot more for her than kill people or have we forgotten how fucked we would have been on the Sword Bridge without it?-- in the moment when she essentially 'heals' from the death of her family is both heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating and I so wish Morris hadn't included it.

I still think I would have been perfectly fine with Lancelot staying forever in his woodcutters cottage and never coming back to the world of knighthood.  But if you're going to bring him back, this is the way to do it.  I love that Lancelot is never absolved of his shitty behavior in the second book.  The differences between the Lancelot presented here and the character in The Knight of the Cart are probably best presented in two scenes-- where Lancelot rides in the dung-cart and where Lancelot fights the knight at the ford.

In The Knight of the Cart, the dwarf driving the cart tells Lancelot that within 24 hours he will know where Guinevere is being held, but only if he rides in the cart.  Lancelot hesitates for a moment, before climbing into the cart.  He is consumed by courtly love-- the rules of which say his honor and his dignity are secondary to his devotion to Guinevere.  But the cart is one that carries criminals as a form of humiliation and by mounting it, Lancelot's true face is symbolically shown -- he is a criminal who has betrayed his king and country through his affair with Guinevere.  In Morris' version, this is meant to show Lancelot's growth.  The Lancelot of the second book would never have debased himself so by riding in a dung-cart knight as a way to get where he was going but save his strength at the same time.  He never would have allowed Gawain to continue on the quest unchallenged.  Here we see a Lancelot who knows what an utter shithead he was to everyone who was ever good to him and now it's on him to do everything in his power to make it up to them-- including riding in a dung-cart despite how humiliating it is.

At the ford, a guardian knight challenges Lancelot three times, but he isn't listening.  The guardian knight charges and unhorses Lancelot.  Angry, Lancelot crushes the guardian knight's leg and demands a fair fight, whereupon he unhorses the guardian knight and is about to kill him when the guardian knight's lady demand he be spared.  In Morris' version, that's the sort of dick move the Lancelot from book two would have pulled.  This Lancelot is over it.  While leading the horse carrying Sarah and Ariel across a river, the guardian  knight demands he stop and do battle.  Lancelot deliberately ignores him.  The knight is first hampered by his horse refusing to go into the water.  By the time the knight stops fussing with his horse, Lancelot is too close for his lance to be any good.  When the knight draws his sword, Lancelot slaps the horse's rump and sends it running back to dry land, causing the knight to fall into the river.  Lancelot saves his life, and the knight cries about how his honor is ruined by Lancelot ignoring him.  Lancelot insults him and the knight attacks.  Lancelot spends two minutes knocking the knight to the ground before the knight finally yields, thanking Lancelot for the honor of fighting him.  Again, not only a sharp contrast to the knight in de Troyes' story, but a sharp contrast to the man Lancelot was in the second book.

One more, fun Lancelot thing before we move on.  In The Knight of the Cart, Lancelot goes through the first half of the story without ever being named-- he is simply The Knight of the Cart.  Here, Lancelot goes through the first half of the book before announcing to anyone that he is actually Sir Lancelot, preferring to go by Jean.  I really like how Morris was able to work in this aspect of the original story (Lancelot concealing his name) without being annoying about it (Lancelot isn't trying to hide his identity, he has simply taken on a new one).  Like Trevisant being introduced in the first book only to have his place in Arthurian lore revealed in the fourth, Lancelot taking on a new identity shows how much foresight Morris has put into this series and just how much setup there is in the previous books.  

Awesome Kai is awesome.  He gives Sarah his sword and teaches her how to use it.  After being wounded by Meliagant, he has enough sense to tell Sarah to go to Camelot.  Then poor Kai has to suffer most of the story in Meliagant's dungeon.  At the end, when he's released, he helps Charis set up all the tools she needs to take over ruling her father's kingdom while ensuring she is surrounded by good men.  He then confesses to Sarah that he knew her guardian-- the Jewish cloth Merchant Mordecai.  When Kai was held captive by Sir Turquin (referenced at the end of the second book), he was forced to share a dungeon with all sorts of 'outcasts', including Mordecai (why Turquin thought this would be humiliating for Kai, I don't know, but he really didn't do his research on that one).  Kai knew who Sarah was the moment he met her, and part of the reasons he gave her his sword was because he suspected his friend Mordecai had been killed.  Which is why Kai is the very best ever.  

What more can be said about Gawain, at this point?  He and Terence are still questing and still being the very best at everything, ever.  They are absolutely wonderful to Sarah (teasing her a bit early on over her disbelief in the existence of fairies).  Terence and Gawain face off against the Underwater Bridge, which is much better than whatever went on in The Knight of the Cart.  Here it has a seven headed monster at the end of it where the heads you see are fake and the heads trying to eat you are invisible while in the original story it's a narrow, underwater bridge that Gawain slips off of and spends a few days afterwards bobbing up and down in the water trying not to drown before he is rescued.

Meliagant is the lackey here.  He doesn't really have a reason for doing what he does beyond being awful and Morgause needs him too.  He says a few things that make it sound like he wants Guinevere to fall in love with him, but it's hard to know if he really means it or if he's using that to keep people from suspecting Morgause's involvement.  Here Meliagant is skilled at manipulating his addle-brained father, unlike the original where Bagdemagus had a much tighter leash on Meleagant.  One thing that Meliagant does desire (which also gets him into trouble) is to best Lancelot instead of just letting Morgause handle it.  He finds on Sarah a small vial which had belonged to her mother.  It contains a potion which causes a person to unknowingly speak their thoughts, but Sarah manages to convince him that it was a gift from the Lady of the Lake to Lancelot and doubles the strength of whoever drinks it.  Instead of checking with Morgause to see if this thing is safe, he drinks the vial before his fight with Sarah and she is able to use his thoughts to give her an advantage during their fight.

Bagdemagus is a knight in the vein of the old Lancelot and Griflet-- to him knighthood is defined by courtly love and pretty clothing and not by deeds and actions.  Meliagant uses Bagdemagus' obsession with fashion as a way to keep him from checking in on Guinevere and Kai, but Lancelot is quickly able to turn that back on Meliagant.  He convinces Bagdemagus that his course clothing is all the current rage back at Camelot, leading to a hilarious scene where, for the trial by combat, Bagdemagus has redecorated the room with bales of hay and livestock (including an ill-tempered ram that interferes with Sarah and Meliagant's duel) while wearing a strange mixture of fancy court clothing with course peasant wear.  Bagdemagus is the silly sort of character I prefer to see Morris mocking-- one who is so privileged that they cannot conceive at how ridiculous they sound.  At one point, Bagdemagus complains at how uncomfortable his shepherd costume is and he cannot understand why shepherds would choose to wear them.  Right, Badgemagus, because it's clearly a choice.  In the end, he is really heartbroken by Meliagant's death, so much so that he takes bed and pretty much blocks out the experience.  Sarah is able to help him back to his feet with the suggestion that he decorate her new castle (I don't know if you realize what you've unleashed, Sarah).    

In The Knight of the Cart, Meliagant has an unnamed sister who helps Lancelot thwart his plans.  While on the road, Lancelot is ferried across a river in exchange for dueling the knight who takes him across the strait. Lancelot defeats the knight, and as he is begging for mercy, a young woman (Meliagant's sister, although Lancelot doesn't know this yet) rides by on a mule.  She tells Lancelot that this knight is a villain and demands his head.  Lancelot and the knight fight again, this time with Lancelot stating he will forfeit if the knight manages to move from the spot where he is standing.  Lancelot wins again, beheads the knight and gives the head to the young woman.  She rides away, promising she will repay him one day.  Here, this part is taken by Sarah and the knight who comes upon them is the one who incited the riot that killed her family.  He challenges Lancelot to a fight in order to claim Ariel as his.  Lancelot unhorses the knight, fights him on foot and manages to cut off the knight's hand.  Sarah questions the knight and learns of Meliagant's involvement.  He then attacks her and Sarah cuts off his head.

We don't actually meet Charis, Meliagant's sister until Lancelot and Sarah have arrived in Bagdemagus' castle.  Charis initially presents herself as brainless and dull as a way to keep Meliagant from thinking about her.  When she hears Meliagant's guards talking about how the beat Sarah (they were lying), she goes to check on the other girl.  Sarah manages to convince Charis to let her out of her room and to help her find Lancelot.  From there, Charis takes them to find Guinevere and Kai.  Her friendship with Sarah causes Charis to blossom and in the end, through friendship and not out of duty, Charis manages to find where Morgause has hidden (a tower in the original, an invisible hut with no doors or windows so that Lancelot needs to be dug out of there).  In the end, Charis takes over her father's kingdom.

Morgan le Fay spends most of this book disguised as an old crone giving Sarah advice as she continues to be the cool aunt.  Morgause's magic during the death of Sarah's mother and guardian were too strong for Morgan to save them, but she was able to save Sarah and covertly look after her.  Morgan points Sarah not only in the right direction when it comes to finding Guinevere and Kai, but also when it comes to finding the people who murdered her family.  I just wish... I know that Morgan isn't the easiest character to get along with (unless, apparently, your name is Gawain), but I do wish she and Sarah had managed to connect when Morgan revealed who she really was instead of having this increasingly hostile relationship over the last few pages of the book.  Morgan has spent a great deal of her life trying to protect her sister and niece and Sarah had come to depend on Morgan's crone persona, so it just rang hollow when Morgan was so haughty and horrible in introducing herself and immediately alienated Sarah.

In The Knight of the Cart, Lancelot comes to a church and prays.  While there, an elderly monk tells him of tombs of some of the greatest knights ever within the crypt, with three spaces open for three of Arthur's greatest knights.  There is also a large tomb with a prophecy about how the knight who lifts the slab will rescue the people Meliagant has taken hostages so of course Lancelot lifts the slab.  Here, Lancelot, Ariel, and Sarah meet Brother Constans, who is guarding Lancelot's future tomb.

The Vavasour originally meets Lancelot when he is on his way home from a hunting trip.  The Vavasour realizes that Lancelot is on his way to stop Meliagant, so he gives Lancelot a place to stay for the night and then has his sons show Lancelot the rest of the way.  Here, Lancelot, Sarah, and Ariel come upon his castle and he insists they stay the night (going so far as telling Lancelot he will have to fight for the right not to stay the night).  Ariel begins to feel ill within his walls as his castle has been cursed with the same enchantment to keep the fey out of Bagdemagus's kingdom.  Sarah is about to use her vial to try and fix Ariel, but then realizes she has no idea what it does and thinks better of it.  The Vavasour drinks it on accident and begins spewing forth his most inner thoughts, including plans to poison the trio.  Lancelot knocks him out and give him over to an over-eager physician.  Later, the Vavasour tries to find Meliagant to complain that Morgan le Fay has gotten into his castle and turned all his guards into badgers.  Charis strips him of his lands and title and gives them to Sarah.

Guinevere is amazing!  At the beginning she and Kai have snarky sibling banter that just breaks my heart because she is such a lovely character and I am just so sad that we don't see more of her.  She truly is wonderful.  She also manages to convince Meliagant to spare Kai's life.  Later when we see her in the dungeon, she is quick to take care of both Lancelot and Kai, despite her situation.  At the end she is shown developing a friendship with Sarah, Charis, Ariel and it's all so perfect.  More Guinevere, please.

Arthur shows up at the beginning and wants to rush off to save Guinevere, but can't because of unrest in the land.  Bedivere stands beside him as seneschal while Kai is away.  Nimue appears at the end to tell everyone what a good job they did and to tell Lancelot he has more to do.  Ariel gets to play a role of a minor character in this story when she tells Gawain and then Lancelot about the dividing path and the two bridges into Meliagant's kingdom.  Then she hangs around and is amazing and wonderful.  Morgause, despite being behind everything, makes one brief appearance to tell Meliagant to stop being a moron and to hide Lancelot away in a place that can't be found.  Griflet appears, having purchased a charm from Adrian the Pardoner that will keep him from being unhorsed.  This doesn't work and Griflet tries to get Gawain to fight the knight who unhorsed him.  The knight tries to attack Gawain, but Sarah has his back and manages to unhorse the knight.  While Griflet, the knight and Adrian fight it out, Sarah, Terence, and Gawain run for the hills.


This is my very favorite book in the Squire's Tales series.  The ending was like a punch in the gut, but all it does is drop my desire to give this a million stars down to five stars.  Sarah is wonderful, the majority cast of female characters is wonderful and even Lancelot isn't that annoying.  READ THIS BOOK!

5 Stars.


  1. Hi there! I know this is an old post, but good old google led me here when researching this book. My question for you is this: In your opinion, do you think that this book stands alone without the support of the prior books in the series? I would dearly love to read this aloud to my class (we're studying the Medieval Era) as it is SO difficult to find strong female protagonists in age-appropriate medieval lit these days... what do you say? I'll check back for your response. Thanks!

  2. I think so. I'm having trouble answering this because I suspect that this becomes a whole different book when read as a stand alone, and I'm trying to imagine what that book would look like. Sarah's story is almost completely self contained. The one exception to that is the villain, who is returning from a previous book. But you don't need to read that book to understand her motivations here.

    My one concern is Lancelot's subplot. This is the fourth book in the series that deals with his fall from grace, so I think the emotional resonance around his narrative would be lost if this book was read as a stand alone. But this is also where I think it might become a different book. If you've read the previous books, you know immediately what's going on with Lancelot's character and you understand what this means for his character arc. If you haven't read the previous books, Lancelot's character is a mystery that the reader gets to solve along with Sarah. It might even be your benefit because instead of this subplot being about Lancelot, it's about Sarah trying to figure him out.

    The only other possible issue is that sometimes the characters make off hand remarks about previous adventures that aren't explained (all the plot relevant stuff is explained--these are more like Easter Eggs). But they're few and far between and I don't think they take away from the story at all.

    Hope that helps.

  3. Thank you so much! What a wonderful response. Very helpful.