|Title: The Lioness and Her Knight|
Author: Gerald Morris
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Riding through the great courtyard ringed with banners of the Round Table knights, Luneta felt very alone and uncharacteristically shy.
Luneta is tired of living in dull Orkney with her mother and father. She would much prefer the rich pageantry of court. And Luneta prides herself on always getting what she wants, so when the opportunity presents itself to stay at a family friend's castle near Camelot, she jumps at the chance. Her handsome cousin, Sir Ywain--a young knight seeking adventure--arrives just in time to escort her. Along the way they pick up Rhience, a young man living as a fool for a year.
Together they are about to step into a web of love, betrayal, and more than a bit of magic.
Morris says that the Tale of Yvain is a rare story for Chretien de Troyes because it involves two people whose love leads to a marriage instead of an extramarital affair. This seems strange to me because Erec and Enide's romance leads to a marriage-- one that eventually becomes unhappy, but still. A marriage is a marriage. Cliges has a romance that begins with an extramarital affair, but ends with a marriage. Perceval too has a romance that ends in a marriage.
In fact, the only story of de Troyes' that ends in an extramarital affair and not a marriage is the Dung Cart Knight. That is the odd one out. This one is par for the course.
Also, this cover is weird because they characters look like they're ten. I don't fancy it. Nor am I really thrilled with Luneta standing behind Ywain and the Lioness, both of whom are secondary characters to her. But that's a rant for another day.
Warning for Spoilers
The Last Time I Read This Book
Sorta like Parsifal's Page, I kinda knew originally going into this one that I wasn't going to be thrilled with it. Like Percival, I have a very distinct characterization for Yvain in my mind and this character is nothing like him. So I knew going in it was going to be hard to hook me and honestly, throughout the book I found very little to be impressed with. I made my complaints known to SamoaPhoenix, who kept insisting I table my complaints till I reached the end. So I did and... I'm not going to say the final battle makes up for all the weaknesses of the plot, but this book definitely has one of the most enjoyable endings that I have ever read.
Following up his adaptation of The Dung-Cart Knight, Morris has decided to tackle another one of Chretien de Troyes' romances. This is the tale of Yvain. In the original story, Yvain decides to avenge his cousin Calogrenant who suffered a defeat at the hands of Esclados. Yvain kills Esclados and then has the great misfortune of falling in love with the knight's widow, Laudine. With the help of Laudine's servant, Lunete, he manages to win Laudine's hand in marriage. Unfortunately Yvain is young and dreams of glory, so he decides to go on some adventures. Laudine requires that he return after one year. Yvain gets so caught up in his adventures that he misses the deadline and is barred from ever returning to Laudine's side. He goes through a series of adventures and eventually wins back Laudine's love.
Morris twists this story up by telling it from the perspective of Luneta, who is not a servant to Laudine but instead the daughter of Gaheris and Lynet. I really like that Morris chose to write another book from the perspective of a female character and that this one came right after Sarah's book. But aside from Luneta taking the lead, this one really doesn't differ from de Troyes' story all that much.
Can you imagine having Lynet as a mother? I would love her a best friend, I don't think I would be able to stand her as a mother. And neither can Luneta. Chaffing over how dull life is in Orkney, Luneta gets her parents to agree to send her south to stay with a friend of theirs living near Camelot. Conveniently, Luneta's cousin Ywain soon after this and Luneta is able to convince her parents to let her go south with him instead of traveling with them. Along the way, the meet the fool Rhience who confesses to once being a knight. Then he made the mistake of seeking adventure and coming across the Storm Stone. He was defeated by the stone's guardian, Esclados, and forced to spend a year dressed as a fool. Hearing of this grand adventure, Ywain immediately sets off for the Storm Stone, dragging Luneta and Rhience with him.
The story follows de Troyes' pretty much point by point. It turns out the friend Luneta was to stay with is Laudine, wife of Esclados. So Luneta is in their castle when Ywain kills Esclados and is able to help him hide and it's here that he falls in love with Laudine. After revealing himself and pledging himself to Laudine, Ywain seeks adventure and goes off to duel in tournaments-- with the one year time limit put in place. He misses it and Luneta is kicked out for his failure. When she finds Ywain, he goes mad after learning Laudine has banished him. From there Ywain, Luneta, and Rhience go on all sorts of grand adventures which include stopping a knight for stealing a maiden's land, rescuing a group of women who have been forced into slave labor, finding Ywain's lioness, and helping to settle a dispute between two sisters. Finally, Ywain returns to Laudine and, with Luneta's help, is able to convince her that he is truly sorry for hurting her and she welcome him home while Rhience and Luneta return to Orkney to live happily ever after.
What I like about how Morris handles Luneta's characters is that he takes this one rather minor event from the Yvain story and turns it into a giant character trait that needs to be dealt with. Luneta is manipulative. She is used to not only getting her way, but directing people toward doing what she thinks is best for them. We see her do this with her parents, we see her do this with Laudine and Ywain. And throughout it all you have Rhience scolding her, telling her it's up to others to make their own destiny and she shouldn't be interfering. What I like most about her ending is that Luneta doesn't stop manipulating or interfering. She becomes better at judging when she should get involved and when she should walk away. The text never punishes her for her manipulation-- she does feel bad about getting Laudine and Ywain in the mess that they're in, but in the end she uses her manipulation to fix it. It's a powerful message, especially for young women reading, that these sorts of traits aren't inherently good or bad. It's all about how you use them.
Ywain is a weird character when it comes to a Morris story. Normally a knight like this-- the companion to the female lead who isn't her romantic interest would be something of a silly fop. Ywain is not a silly fop. He is quite intelligent and is really good a coming up with innovative solutions for the obstacles he faces. And yet he is also so hungry for glory that he spends most of his journey with Luneta day dreaming. And he uses his position as escort as an excuse to go find the Storm Stone. AND he leaves Laudine to go fight in tournaments and gets so caught up in that he forgets to come home. So he's very different from Morris' typical characters who are either silly or incredibly intelligent in that he gets to be both. And he learns so much and grows so much from the chance to be both.
The original Yvain tale begins with Sir Calogrenant regaling a group of knights with a story of his failure. Years before he disturbed the Storm Stone and was defeated by it's guardian. Here that character is a fool named Rhience who went by the name Sir Calogrenant as a knight because he thought it sounded more knightly (and Brother Matthew when he was a monk because he thought it sounded more holy). Rhience spends most of the book dressed as a fool as Esclados defeated him on April Fools Day and decided a fitting punishment for his defeat would be to have Rhience spend a year dressed as such. This seems to come from a line early in Yvain where both Calogrenant calls himself a fool for disturbing the Storm Stone and disturbing Esclados' peace and throwing away his weapons to join Esclados in his castle. It's an interesting twist on this early part of the story and a nice way to slide in a character who had a small role in the original into a much larger role.
Laudine's characterization is probably where I became most frustrated with this book. Like Tristan and Iseult from The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, Laudine is a character stuck in a shitty situation. But instead of trying to help her or having any compassion for her position, most of the characters look down upon her and mock her for her inability to stand up for herself. While we only see one interaction between Laudine and Eslcados in the book, but from the way he talks down to her it was clear to me that their relationship was at the very least emotionally abusive toward her. He was portrayed as incredibly controlling of her actions and companions and there's definitely a reading in here that Esclados essentially gaslit her into believe that she had no value outside of looking pretty. And instead of helping her or at least approaching the problems she faces with compassion and kindness, Rhience and Luneta declare Laudine hopeless and contemplate leaving her to fend for herself when she is surrounded by more characters who want to take advantage of her. Rhience was the worst because he knew Laudine was afraid, but his way of helping is to present her with riddles that he knows will go over her head and then refuse to help her any further when she doesn't get it.
And it gets worse when you consider how this character was presented in the original legend and how she could have been translated to a modern audience. This is a character who, when she finally gains control of her own destiny and the ability to choose what she wants in life, gives Yvain a swift kick in the ass when he treats her poorly. In Morris' version, it's not Laudine who turns on Ywain for not returning after a year, but her manipulative and overbearing steward who wants to marry her. And it's just disappointing that after having such a good track record with his females Morris gives Laudine no agency what-so-ever. And not only does he present her as an object to be won over by various characters, he mocks and derides her for how he chose to write her. And that is highly, highly problematic.
Esclados is a difficult character to write about in modern retellings because he doesn't do anything wrong in the original story. He's just defending his land against dumb adventurers who keep disturbing the storm stone. Morris goes a little ways to making him unlikable in his treatment of Laudine (which he then doesn't follow through on because Laudine is a object to move the plot forward, not a person). But otherwise you do feel sorta bad for the guy when Ywain kills him because he can.
Morgan le Fay is still the best aunt. And an even better great aunt as she teaches Luneta in the ways of the enchantress (like her mother before her, aw). And what we see of the two of them is amazing because Luneta and Morgan just go out of their way to troll one another. Luneta has very little respect for authority at this point and Morgan thinks her pupils should shut up and listen. It makes for a beautiful few scenes that are over far too soon. I need more of Morgan hanging out with her pupils, please (that Morris never wrote a book with her as the focus is a travesty).
One of the adventures that takes place in de Troyes' Yvain is the Castle of the Most Ill Adventure. In the story, Yvain comes to a town where all the common folk his passes by insult him and refuse him hospitality. When he finally arrives at the castle, he finds a room filled with three hundred poverty stricken women forced to sew day in and day out. The young king of their land came to this castle and finds himself forced by the king of the castle to take part in a strange tradition where he must fight the sons of a demon for accepting their hospitality. About to lose to the demons and fearing for his life, the young king agrees to send thirty maidens to the castle each year, but at their defeat this pact would be broken. The next day, Yvain is forced to fight the demon sons. He wins, orders the king to free the women, and turns down the king's daughter's hand in marriage.
Morris' story is a little more down to earth. The King of the Isle of Wright fought Sir Carius in a war and was defeated. In order to keep his throne, the King of the Isle of Wright agreed to send 30 women to his castle as servants where they are forced to sew the finest clothing and embroidery in the land. The next day, Ywain, Rhience, and Luneta are forced to fight the two 'demon' men who serve Sir Carius and wish to kill them for knowing too much. The group succeeds and Ywain banishes Sir Carius and his daughter from the castle and turn it over to the care of the women who were forced to work there. Some of Morris' best work is in here as the interaction between the lead characters and the captive women becomes a truly haunting tale of the price of survival and how difficult it can be to find happiness again after the walls of captivity come down.
Another adventure from the original Yvain is the story of two sisters who are war over their inheritance. One insists that their father had a will that split the estate between them while the other insists that there is no will and as the oldest, she inherits everything. The younger decides to go to Arthur's court to receive assistance, but the older arrives first and secures the help of Gawain (and everyone else is conveniently unavailable because Melegant is causing mischief). So the younger sister strikes out from court to find Yvain because she believes he is the only one who can help her. She manages to track him down and together they return to Arthur's court for the battle. Because of reasons Yvain and Gawain don't recognize each other when they begin fighting and they do battle all day long. When dusk approaches they finally talk to each other and with this they recognize the other and declare they can no longer fight the other (when Arthur asks what's going on, they both declare the other won. The ladies depending on you for their inheritance appreciate this about face, boys). Arthur rightly takes the decision of trial by combat way from the two of them and orders the older sister to split her inheritance with the younger sister.
Morris puts the best twist on this ever. First, he makes the older sister truly evil and has get all the knights in Camelot agree not to aid her younger sister and then tries to have her murdered while she is out searching for Ywain. Then, he has Ywain not at all down with this trial by combat nonsense and Luneta essentially manipulates him into agreeing. This backfires in their face when they discover that Gawain is the knight Ywain will be fighting (he agreed before he realized how truly awful the older sister is and now can't get out). Luneta, desperate to make this right, begs Arthur to set a time limit on the trial so Ywain and Gawain don't hurt each other too badly. Then, Terence has a bright idea and Luneta and Lynet use their enchantress powers to set it into motion. They cast a spell on the swords Ywain and Gawain use so they're essentially rubber swords so they bend when they hit something instead of cut. Ywain and Gawain get a few blows on each other (and even manage to wrap their swords around the other) before stepping back to stare blankly at Arthur. Unfortunately, Arthur is the biggest troll ever and demands they finish out the hour for his enjoyment. At the end, Arthur rewards the lands to the younger sister, who in turn returns the whole thing to her older sister and goes to live with Laudine.
Man, Gawain messes everything up in this book. First he holds the little party where Ywain hears about the storm stone in the first place. Then he talks Ywain into leaving Laudine to go fight in tournaments around the country. And finally he agrees to be the champion of the older sister without first hearing both sides of the story. Fortunately for us, we get to see him get beat up with a rubber sword in the end, which makes it all worth it.
Gaheris and Lynet are up north being the best parents ever. They come south at the end of the book to see this tournament. Lynet helps Luneta with the spell to make the swords rubber and Gaheris is the only one smart enough to suggest destroying the storm stone so Laudine doesn't have to worry any longer about it cursing her land with storms whenever some foolish adventurer decides to disturb it. Agravain gets a brief appearance here to complain about how he doesn't get to go on any adventures and fight with Ywain when he sneaks off to see the storm stone before him. Arthur is the biggest troll ever, as stated above. And Morris, in a nice twist, decided to make Ywains lion a lioness who is a giant sweetheart who loves him and Rhience because they saved her from a dragon.
This book is on par with the rest of the series so far. For me, it's not the greatest thing ever like The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady or The Princess, the Crone and the Dung Cart Knight (I like the books with long titles), but it's up there with the rest of the series. There are some parts I don't agree with (the whole of Laudine's character) and some parts I absolutely adore (rubber sword battle). It's a good, solid book, but not a favorite in the series. 4 Stars.