|Title: Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn|
Author: Persia Woolley
Publisher: Pocket Books
Synopsis: (from the publisher) Surrounded by traitors, trapped by destiny, Britain's spirited Queen Guinevere recounts the last, dramatic years of Camelot. At King Arthur's side, she reigned over the fabled heroes of the Round Table while the restless and impassioned knights undertook the Quest for the Holy Grail. Even as her favored men set off on their perilous journey. Guinevere's heartbreaking honesty, courage and integrity were challenged by those she loved most. Mordred, the stepson she raised, waged a primal battle against Arthur-- and brought the kingdom to a shattering end. Torn between duty and desire as he rescued his Queen, condemned to the stake for treason, Lancelot swept her into a forbidden idyll at Joyous Gard. And with Morgan le Fay, the evil beauty she feared most in all of Britain, Guinevere bartered her soul to save Arthur and Camelot from the furies of fate.
I love the new cover of this book. I may buy it just to have it, because that is gorgeous. Unfortunately, I currently own the cover that I was embarrassed to be seen out in public with.
Warning for Spoilers. Also, longest review yet.
This is the third and final book of the trilogy and so it goes through all of the stories that that haven't been covered yet in the previous two books including the Grail Quest, the Gwen/Lance betrayal and the Battle at Camlann. I'm going to expound upon the Grail Quest and Lance/Gwen betrayal here because I think Woolley had some interesting takes on those stories. One worked and the other, not so much.
I loved the Grail Quest. It starts with Perceval's second trip to Camelot-- where he brings his cousin Galahad to Arthur's court for the first time. That evening, the bard Taliesin sings about an object that can be anything and Perceval leaps to his feet with a cry and says that Taliesin is singing about the Grail- the cup of life. Perceval says that only the bravest and purest soul can find the Grail, so of course Gawain immediately jumps to his feet and vows not to rest until he finds the Grail. Instead of being a quest for an actual object, though, the Grail Quest becomes a spiritual one. And each member of the Round Table comes away with something different. Galahad, Perceval and Bors do actually find a cup/bowl that they use to heal Carbonek. But Lionel finds the Grail in nature and how interconnected it all is. Palomides believes the Grail to be the core of each person and finding it is the ability to recognize and accept the core of yourself. Guinevere finds the Grail in the people of her kingdom and her own need to govern them justly.
The Lance/Gwen betrayal, however, didn't go off nearly so well. I think Woolley ended up writing herself against a wall in this one and couldn't figure out how to make it work. So what ends up happening is pretty stupid and doesn't make much of any sense. Throughout all the books, Gwen keeps pointing out that she is a Celtic queen and it is the queen's right to take whoever she wants into her bed with no punishment. She and Lancelot don't because his honor demands they abstain, not because it would have any adverse affects on her. So what ends up happening is that Morgan Le Fay (you remember Morgan from the last book, right? She was sleeping with Accolon, her lover, and then tried to kill both her husband and her brother and got exiled for her troubles. Yeah, that Morgan Le Fay) sends a message to Arthur saying that Lancelot and Guinevere are sleeping together and are plotting treason against Arthur. Of course he doesn't believe her because, hey, Morga-- oh, wait. He totally worries that she might be right and agrees to a test presented by Agravain (you remember Agravain the sociopath, right?) where if Lancelot doesn't go to Guinevere's room while Arthur is away on a hunting trip, there's nothing to it. Of course, this is pretty much rigged from the start as Galahad has just committed ritual suicide and Lancelot is greatly in need of a shoulder to cry on. While Lance is crying, Agravain springs his trap and Lancelot kills a whole bunch of them including Gaheris before escaping and leaving Gwen to be arrested. Arthur tries her according to his new laws and she's found guilty despite the fact that she didn't do anything wrong! I don't understand this at all. I mean, I know Woolley tells us that there are a whole bunch of younger knights who don't like Guinevere, but we don't ever see them and they're never named. And I don't understand where their allegiance is. It sounds like the reason they convicted Guinevere is that the Christian Bishop says she is above herself and sleeping around. But, Celtic Queen has the right to sleep with whoever she wants. Arthur should have thrown that charge out. So basically we're supposed to believe that all these young, knights, who were super swayed by the Bishop, also believed Morgan I already tried to kill the king and am a pagan priestess Le Fay's note that Guinevere was plotting treason. No, one or the other. I didn't believe it and this whole thing fell flat. Apparently, the whole rest of the kingdom apparently not present at the trial didn't believe it either and Gwen is able to return with no trouble after being rescued from the stake by Lancelot.
So according the the blurb, the book recounts the "last, dramatic years of Camelot." Which actually translates to the last twenty years of Arthur and Gwen's reign or, you know, most of it. The story starts on the eve of Guinevere's execution at the stake. Gareth comes to visit her and together they recount the golden years of Camelot. That story begins with Arthur and Guinevere hosting a gathering of the Round Table. The story then weaves its way through the birth of Galahad, Gareth and Lynette's return, the conclusion of the Geraint/Enid story, The Green Knight's Challenge, the Grail Quest, Lance/Gwen's 'betrayal', the Battle at Camlann and finally the growth of Arthur's story into the legend it is now. As always, I am floored by how much Woolley is able to get into her books. I would be reading along and so much would have happened I would think I was nearing the end of the book only to look and see that I still had hundreds of pages left and I had only read five pages. It is masterful how much storytelling is presented on a single page.
Guinevere: She is absolutely lovely in this book. Now confident in her role as a leader and fulfilled as a mother to Mordred, she doesn't have much in the way of conflict except where her love for Lancelot is concerned. She spends a lot of time worrying about her champion in this book as he spends a lot of time trying to stay away from her. But other than that, Gwen remains a true friend to all those in her life. She listens to all their worries and adventures and never hesitates to offer comfort. She takes her chance at true happiness with Lancelot after he rescues her from the stake and they spend one blissful year together at Joyous Gard. After that, she returns to Arthur for the final year of her reign. When Arthur goes to settle a dispute between Gawain and Lancelot, Mordred leads a rebellion and takes the throne. In trying to get Morgan Le Fay to agree to mediate between the two men so both father and son don't die, Guinevere agrees to enter a convent. When the battle goes wrong and Mordred is killed, Morgan takes Arthur to her sanctuary. Gwen spends the rest of her life in the convent for fear that Arthur still lives and Morgan will kill him if she leaves.
Arthur: (Trigger Warning for discussion of rape) So, in my last review I talked a bit about Arthur's rape by Morgause and how I thought Woolley didn't to the best of jobs handling that. I take it all back. I think this book shows that Arthur is suffering from some sort of PTSD from his rape and that's part of the reason why he can't voice his feelings for Guinevere. What cemented this reading for me is Arthur's rather violent reactions to Mordred. At best, Arthur ignores his son. At worst, Arthur makes it pretty clear that Mordred really has no future in Camelot. He would probably banish Mordred if it wasn't for Gwen. It's subtly done, but I think the reason Arthur can't face Mordred is that it's too much of a reminder of his rape. I think that while Gwen is blind to Arthur's pain, Woolley actually makes to make a commentary on how we as a society view sexual violence against men and how damaging ignoring that effect can be (and I'll get into this more when I talk about Lancelot's rape at the end). Other than this, Arthur mostly remains the same character he's been throughout the book. Emotionally stunted, but passionate about his cause. He begins working on a law code for all of Britain during this time to replace trial by combat. This ends up not being the greatest of ideas after Morgan accuses Lance and Gwen of treason. This was a good, and somewhat original, portrayal of Arthur and I quite enjoyed it.
Lancelot: Lance and Gwen continue their pinning for each other through the beginning of the book until Elaine arrives, bringing hers and Lancelot's son Galahad. Lancelot has a psychological breakdown and disappears for a couple years. After he finally returns and regains his sanity, he puts real effort into keeping his distance from Guinevere. This works until she is almost burnt at the stake and Lancelot rescues her. The two finally consummate their relationship and spend one blissful year together at Joyous Gard. But Gwen eventually has to go back to Arthur and Lancelot is banished to Brittany to protect him from Gawain. He returns to help Arthur in the battle against Mordred. After Morgan takes Arthur to her sanctuary, Lancelot settles in a hermitage near Glastonbury with Bedivere and Bors. This was better than most versions of Lancelot, but aside from where he started in the second book, pretty standard fare Lancelot. And not to my liking. But then, he never is.
Gawain: He had one of his stories told in the last book and in this one, his other famous story is told. Yes, it's the tale of Gawain and the Green Knight! After not doing much for the first half of the book, Gawain finds himself (while ridiculously drunk) accepting the Green Knight's challenge. To his credit, once sober Gawain doesn't leave the poor farmer who brought him the challenge to die. Gawain bravely agrees to go accept the return blow the farmer dealt to the Green Knight. Gawain, of course, fails Lady Bercilak's challenge and doesn't give the belt she gives him to her husband. But the Green Knight spares him for simply meeting the challenge. The twist in this is the reason for the challenge. The Green Knight is a friend of Ragnell's. Her last wish when she died in childbirth was that her son, Gingalin, know his father. But only if Gawain could prove himself courageous in the face of death. And Gawain certainly did so. He then goes on the Grail Quest but is one of the first to return to Camelot-- finding it not to his liking but also hearing that Arthur needs his service in an upcoming war. After that, Gawain goes off the rails when Gareth dies in Lancelot's rescue of Guinevere. Lancelot doesn't kill Gareth as per the legend usually goes-- he's already riding away with Gwen when Gareth is cut down. But Gawain blames Lancelot and is pretty much intent on killing him in revenge for Gareth. I don't understand why. If Gawain should be mad at anyone, it should be Agravain or Morgan for bringing them to that point. But in the end, Gawain ends up dying from wounds sustained in his battle with Lancelot.
Morgan Le Fay: As you can tell from above, Morgan is still causing mischief of the highest order. You mostly hear about her from other characters-- how she's growing more fanatical in her sanctuary and refusing to worship any other gods but the mother and kicking all the men out of the priesthood. At one point, while Arthur is on the continent, Morgan defies his orders to hold a ritual near Camelot to forgive her sociopath nephew for killing her sister. Gwen goes to spy on this. Then there is the whole treason accusations and banishment of Gwen mentioned above. I don't really get Morgan. I don't understand why she betrays Arthur like this after being such a strong supporter of his in the first book and I don't understand why she hates Guinevere so much. I didn't see any evidence that Morgan was in love with Arthur like Mists of Avalon. It came off in the end as this really petty jealousy because Igraine liked Guinevere back in book one, but that doesn't really jive with how Morgan was presented in the first two books. She's never really given a good reason for what she does and it made her rather flat as a character.
Gareth/Lynette: During the gathering of the round table at the very beginning of the book, Lynette asks Arthur for a knight to assist her cousin against an attacking knight. Gwen suggests Beaumains, who has just proven himself worthy in a tournament. Lynette isn't pleased and Beaumains dares her to accompany him and the two go scappy-ly on their way. They return by the next tournament, after Beaumains has defeated Ironside, and he's outed by Mordred, who is the only one of his brothers who recognizes him. Gareth and Lynette marry and have three children. Gareth becomes one of the Queen's knights and stands at Gwen's side during her execution. After helping Gwen onto Lancelot's horse, he's killed. It's never said by who, but my money is on his sociopath brother. Lynette stays in London to raiser her children. One daughter joins the convent with Gwen while the other and her son go serve Duke Constantine of Cornwall.
Geraint/Enid: This follows their romance as told by Chretien de Troyes. After settling down and marrying Enid, the King of Devon is accused of becoming soft by his warriors. Of course, from here it deviates because both Geraint and Enid are awesome. Seriously, you will never see this version of Enid crying about how she's keeping her husband from her duties (she does cry, however, about how she isn't able to have children, bringing her and Gwen even closer in their friendship). Mostly she and Geraint try to work with Arthur to figure out a way to settle the warriors of Devon down and Geraint shows no inclination to return to the life of war after settling down into one of peace. Alas, the Saxons invade Devon and Geraint is forced to wage battle against them. The Saxons throw the same taunts at him and Geraint flies into a rage. The Saxons and men of Devon battle all night. In the morning, the Saxons give him a heroes burial. Enid goes to Camelot to serve Guinevere again and eventually follows her into the convent.
Mordred: Aw, poor Mordred. He needs a hug in this book. All he really wants to do, at the beginning, is serve his uncle who he idolizes. Of course, being far too smart for his own good, Mordred quickly realizes that Arthur is uncomfortable around him and he seeks Guinevere's advice on how he can please the king. In the middle of the story, he discovers he is Arthur's son and it kinda breaks something inside of him. Arthur sends him to be liaison to the Saxons. It's a job Mordred does quite well, but Arthur refuses to hear or consider the ideas he presents that could have solidified the future of Arthur's Britain. Bitter, and surrounded by a bitter people who have no place in Britain, Mordred leads the Saxons in rebellion while Arthur is in Brittany overseeing the Lancelot/Gawain feud. At the battle of Camlann, Mordred is fatally wounded by Arthur. Dying, he begs one last time for Arthur to acknowledge him. When Arthur doesn't, Mordred delivers a fatal blow to Arthur before dying. When Bedivere and Lancelot find Arthur, they find the High King leaning against a tree, resting a hand on his son's forehead.
Galahad: Lancelot's son is born at the beginning of this book and then lives the next fifteen years in Carbonek raised by his mother and Grandfather. He is eventually brought south to Camelot by his cousin Perceval and meets his father. Galahad and Lancelot get along well enough before they both leave on the Grail Quest. Galahad eventually finds a cup with the help of Bor, Perceval and Amide (Perceval's half sister). He brings the cup back to his grandfather, who finally dies right after seeing it. Not long after this, Galahad performs a ritual sacrifice, spilling his blood over the farmland in order to completely heal it, and dies from blood loss. In an interesting twist, Galahad was a pagan, not a Christian. And in a twist from how modern authors choose to portray him, Galahad was a good, honorable person and not an insufferable ass. I liked both changes.
Perceval: Pellinore's youngest son. This is the child who gets that man to give up his rowdy ways and settle down. Of course, early on in the story, Pellinore is killed mysteriously and the killer is never discovered (::cough::Agravain::cough::). Perceval's mother flees with him into the forest and raises him in ignorance. Perceval causes quite a stir when he finally arrives in Camelot as he is completely unsuited for court life. Arthur sends him to his grandfather (the King of Carbonek through his mother) to smooth out his rough edges. Perceval later returns with Galahad and kicks off the Grail Quest. He stands by his cousin's side when Galahad performs his ritual and buries both his friend and the Grail. He then leaves Camelot for the Holy Lands.
Nimue: Still the best friend anyone could ask for. She's there are all the tough moments in Gwen's life, offering comfort and counsel. When she's not at Camelot, she seems content to spend time with her husband Pelleas at his holding. At the Battle of Camlann, Nimue offers to serve as a mediator between Arthur and Mordred along with Morgause. It's never said what her fate is.
Isolde: She remains the Queen of Cornwall. She and Gwen cross paths a couple times. Tristan has gone on to marry the Isolde in Brittany and she is clearly heartbroken at the loss. But she has grown up a lot since her early appearance in the second book and seems content with her position as a leader and a Queen. Arthur sends her to Joyous Gard after Lance rescues Gwen from the stake to convince Gwen to return on he'll wage war on Joyous Gard to get her back. It was a nice callback to the moment in the last book where Gwen had to convince Isolde to return to Mark or risk war. In this final scene, it's revealed that Isolde is dying of consumption.
Palomides: Returns from his travels at the beginning of this book. He brings back word of Emperor Theodoric's law code to Arthur which is what the High King uses as a basis for his own laws. He goes on the Grail Quest, but is one of the first to return after deciding that the Grail is all about knowing ones self and his is content with who he is. He stands by Gwen and Lance's side at Joyous Gard. After the fall of Camlann, he travels south again to try and find Perceval in the holy lands.
Agravain: So in the last book, Agravain killed Elaine's cat for no reason and murdered his mother for sleeping with Lamorak. He fled north and was given sanctuary by Morgan. Then Pellinore shows up dead and they have no idea who killed him. Gawain and the others manage to convince Arthur to bring Agravain back and he arrives in time for the Grail Quest. While on the Grail Quest, Lamorak is killed. Again, no evidence as to who killed him but Agravain seems far to pleased. Clearly Camelot has a serial killer on her hands. So his involvement in trying to execute Guinevere comes as no surprise. While none of the knights watching the execution were supposed to be armed, Agravain and his cohorts break this rule which leads to Gareth's death (if he didn't kill Gareth outright). He is killed during Lancelot's rescue of Gwen.
Bedievere remains Arthur's closest friend and best diplomat. He and Lancelot find Arthur dying and manage to get him to Morgan. He brings Excalibur to Gwen at the convent and she orders him to throw it in the lake so it can never be proven that Arthur is actually dead. He settles at the hermitage in Glastonbury with Lancelot and Bors. Cei stays on as Arthur's seneschal until the very end. Sometimes he goes out adventure to no glory but is shown to be good friends with Lancelot and Mordred. When Mordred rebels, Cei confesses his love for Guinevere when she insists he go warn Arthur of Mordred's betrayal in order to stay and protect her. Gwen sends him anyway and Cei dies during the battle between Gawain and Lancelot. Elaine of Carbonek comes south with her son, intending to get Lancelot to acknowledge Galahad and marry her. He doesn't and runs of in the midst of a psychotic break. Elaine is sent packing back to Carbonek, complaining all the way about how Guinevere stole Lancelot from her. Dinadan returns from Brittany to tell the story of how Tristan married Isolde the White Hands. He dies on the Grail Quest. Bors and Lionel, two brothers and cousins of Lancelot, both go on the Grail Quest. Bors, a Christian, makes an oath to abstain from battle during the quest and that nearly causes Lionel his life. Lionel, a follower of Mithra, finds the grail in the wholeness of life. Bors finds the cup with Galahad and Perceval. Gaheris, who showed such promise in the first book and again in the second when he didn't kill Morgause, blindly follows Agravain in this one and is killed during Gwen's rescue by Lancelot for his trouble. Gingalin suffers the same fate, which is surprising considering that he's Gawain and Ragnell's son and was raised by the Green Knight. So that was a shame. Uwain does well for himself after being banished by Arthur in the second book. Eventually allowed to return to Camelot, he is never able to make peace with the High King. Eventually he becomes King of Northumbria after his father dies. When Gwen and Lancelot retreat to Joyous Gard, he convinces Gwen to sign away her father's kingdom of Rheged to him in exchange for protection. Which does no good for her as she ends up going back to Arthur willingly anyways.
Again, I hope I didn't miss anyone (but probably did). Hopefully there will be no edits to this one like there were in the Summer Stars review.
So I really liked this book and was all set to give it a five star review. As always, Woolley does a fantastic job of telling every story ever tied to the legend and she does it in a new, fresh and engaging way. I seriously love this book, especially the Green Knight and Grail Legend. But the Lance/Gwen betrayal fell flat and Gawain and Morgan's characters got all wonky at the very end. So four stars. But a great read, as always.
On the Rape (Trigger Warning)
So at the beginning of this book, we get the reveal that Lancelot was raped during one of his previous adventures during a visit to Carbonek. He's drunk and Elaine's governess sends a message that 'the Lady's waiting'. So, one, Lance is drunk and can't consent and two, he thinks he's sleeping with Guinevere. Elaine's surprise arrival at court with Galahad and Gwen's poor reaction to it causes Lancelot to go through some sort of psychotic break and he disappears into the woods for years. This, paired with Arthur's reaction to Mordred, has lead me to believe that Woolley is actually making a subtle commentary about how we as a society ignore male rape, especially when they're assaulted by women. But just because we ignore it (or have bad reactions to it like Guinevere does), doesn't mean that harm wasn't done and long lasting damage doesn't occur. Neither Lancelot nor Arthur ever really recover from their rapes and I think a- their inability to talk about it and b- the unwillingness of anyone to listen to them really hurts them in the long run. Gwen is able to talk about her rape with Nimue and her foster sister Brigit and so she recovers. Arthur and Lancelot can't talk about it and so they crumble under the weight of those wounds. So, well done here. I take back everything I said about Arthur's rape in the Summer Star's review.