|Title: Queen of the Summer Stars
Author: Persia Woolley
Publisher: Poseidon Press
Synopsis: (From Sourcebooks) In a country still reeling from the collapse of the Roman Empire, the young King Arthur and his wife Guinevere struggle to keep the barbarians at bay even as they establish the Fellowship of the Round Table. The spirited and outspoken Guinevere skillfully combats an accusation of planning to poison Arthur in a country simmering with unrest and scandal. But Guinevere’s greatest battles are dangers Arthur cannot see—ones she’ll have to fight on her own. And all the while, she must reconcile her thirst for freedom with her duties as queen, and her growing love for Lancelot with her loyalty to her husband. Vibrantly human and touchingly real, Guinevere reigns as a woman poised to discover the true peril and promise of the human heart.
So what I'm doing, when I post a review, is post the book using the cover that I own. Of course, several Arthurian retellings have gone through multiple prints. The Guinevere Triology has three different cover sets as of right now.
Here are the covers for Child of the Northern Spring:
See what I meant in the Child of the Northern Spring review about the romance and fantasy covers? I hope this latest set is more to Woolley's liking.
Warning for Spoilers
We continue along with Guinevere's story from the first book. Now married to Arthur, we see the first ten years of Arthur and Guinevere's reign as High King and Queen of Britain. But, more interesting I think than your standard fare Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle that tends to eat up the entire story in these sorts of retellings, Woolley manages to tell the story of everyone-- and I mean everyone. If you thought there were a lot of characters in the last book, well you're in for a surprise on this one. In a master stroke, however, each character has the legend attributed to them fully fleshed out in Woolley's work. They're not just passing through-- they are as important to this story as Guinevere is.
The story begins with Guinevere visiting Igraine, who is on her deathbed. It then continues on, weaving its way through both the famous and lesser known tales of Arthur and his knights. Lancelot makes his first appearance, serving as the Queen's Champion after she is accused of poisoning a knight. Gawain meets Ragnell. Pelleas and Ettard have their love affair, only to have Gawain bring the whole thing crashing down. Tristan and Isolde have their love affair while Gwen and Lancelot promise to never act upon their feelings. The mysterious Beaumains enters court and is taken on as a pupil of Lancelot. Morgan Le Fay makes an attempt at Arthur's crown only to be twarted and Guinevere, after years of trying to carry a child to term is eventually made barren after suffering a rape by Maelgwn. Merlin dies and Nimue works hard to keep his memory alive-- along with the possibility of his return. Morgause brings Mordred to court only to meet her end the very next day after her sons find her in bed with Lamorak. Guinevere takes on Mordred as her stepson. At the end of the book, Guinevere and Arthur celebrate their ten year anniversary.
It was a lovely tale that wound its way through the years at an enjoyable pace. Every character had their own story and they were all fleshed out and well rounded.
Guinevere: Gwen begins to grow into her role as a ruler in this story. No longer able to be a tomboy running wild, she's in charge of running Arthur's house and caring for the numberous noble daughters who come to serve as her ladies in waiting. Gwen's biggest obstcle in this tale is her inability to conceive a child. Arthur really doesn't care if they have a baby or not, but for Gwen it becomes and obsession. She eventually becomes pregnant only to miscarry the baby. After that, she is captured by Maelgwn and so brutally raped that she is left barren. At the end of the book, she meets Mordred and decides to take him in as her child.
Arthur: This man continues to dance to his grave. I can totally see how we get to the Gwen/Lance affair in this one. Gwen keeps reaching out to him and he, unknowingly, keeps pushing her away. His passion lies in strategy and horses and he is consumed by this idea of a united Britain. He doesn't have much in the way of Arthur Guilt, but he is horrified by what happened with Morgause and does try to bury it in the sand in the hopes that Gwen will never find out. That doesn't work so well and it's in little moments like this, when he tells Gwen of this horror or when he comforts her after her miscarriage, that the reader sees how much Arthur does truly love her and how much he fears losing her. It's just that he rarely shows this side of himself to Gwen and so her dissatisfaction grows.
Lancelot: He actually shows up in this book and he is not Kevin, so I was wrong on that one. Lancelot starts off awesome. So much so that I was convinced that Lance was going to die in some accident and be switched with Kevin. They do look alike, so much so that Gwen mistakes Lance for Kevin when they first meet (and Kevin for Lance when Kevin makes his totally anticlimactic return). Lance starts off hating Gwen, convinced that she is going to destroy Arthur (Oh, how right you are, Lancelot). I liked this. He was decisive, a little aloof but overall happy. That right there is something you rarely see with Lancelot-- a character who is well aware at how awesome he is and is content with and proud of what he has. And he doesn't like Guinevere. Until he did. And then the liking turned into loving and the whining and the misery returned and thankfully Lancelot rode off into the sunset to be miserable and whiny off-screen. A promising take on the character swirled down the tube the moment he fell in love with Guinevere. Is it impossible to write this love triangle without turning Lancelot into the most annoying character ever?
Bedivere: The book opens with a battle in which Bedivere almost dies and loses his hand. He's a little angsty for a while, especially since his love interest turns him down in favor of convent life, but gets over it pretty well in favor of going north for bard training. When he returns, he remains one of Guinevere and Arthur's closest friends.
Gawain: Remains awesome. Summer Stars sees the Loathly Lady tale play out for Gawain. While traveling the north with Arthur, Gawain meets Ragnell and the two fall in love. Unfortunately, they are from two completely different cultures that show no promise of meshing in any sort of way. They try to make it work, each spending time in the other's world before parting ways on harsh terms. Gawain spends the next few years in a self destructive spiral, sleeping with all sorts of women and ruining his friendships because of it. After his mother's murder, he realizes how self-destructive he becomes and makes his oath to become protector of women.
Nimue: Still a steadfast friend to Guinevere, Nimue leaves early in the story with Merlin to travel lands to the south. While on their travels, Merlin dies and Nimue hides the fact, preferring the rumors that she stole his power and locked him in a cave. Nimue eventually marries Pelleas and remains in Arthur's court as an adviser.
Ettard: After leaving the nunnery after Igraine's death to serve Guinevere as a lady-in-waiting, Ettard flirts with suitors of all sorts, trying to catch the eye of kings and other high ranking nobles before settling on low born Pelleas. Before the marriage, she sleeps with Gawain and Pelleas catches them. Ettard goes on to the land left to her by Igraine and succumbs to an illness a few months later.
Morgan Le Fay: Morgan continues a tense relationship with Guinevere for the first half of the book. When a knight dies during a tournament after drinking from wine Guinevere presented him with. Guinevere suspects that Morgan poisoned the cup although she has no proof. Morgan later sends a midwife to tend to Guinevere when she is pregnant. When Gwen loses her baby, she again suspects Morgan's treachery. This comes to a head when Morgan sets Arthur up for murder at the hands of Accolon and tries to murder her husband Urien. Arthur survives her trap and Guinevere stops her from murdering Urien. Arthur banishes Morgan to her sanctuary in the north.
Maelgwn: Follows through with his promising start in the first book and goes on to abduct and rape Guinevere in this one. He rapes her so violently that she's left unable to bare children. Through Morgan, Maelgwn's life is spared as he forfeits his lands and goes to live in a monastery. Here's hoping we don't see him again.
Isolde: Irish Queen who gets stuck marrying Mark and then promptly falls in love with Tristan. Most people don't have a problem with her affair as Celtic Queens are generally allowed to take whoever they want to their bed without a fuss. But Mark is a Christian King and will have none of it. Eventually Tristan and Isolde run away together and spend a summer in the north with Guinevere and Lancelot in Joyous Guard under Arthur's protection. Finally, she's forced to return to Mark after he threatens war with Arthur if she doesn't go back. She grows quite a bit in her short amount of screen time, eventually realizing that there's more to life than her love for Tristan.
Ragnell: Being from a different culture, Ragnell horrifies Arthur's court with her odd dress and the smell that follows her and her people. It's an interesting twist on the tale of the loathly lady as Ragnell attends a feast in a British dress. But after she is humiliated by Arthur's court, she and Gawain part ways and sadly never reconcile. She also nearly scratches his eyes out and leaves him with the visible scars of their love affair.
Beaumains: edit 10/18/2011Shows up, refuses to give his name (but we all know it's Gareth, even after Morgause shows up and says that Gareth died) and ends up working in the kitchen with the nickname Beaumains from Cei.
Geraint/Enid: Enid is one of Guinevere's ladies in waiting, known for her sharp tongue and general awesomeness. Geraint is the King of Devon and one of Arthur's loyal supporters. He and Enid enjoy a fun banter whenever they're in each others company and it certainly didn't come as a surprise when he asked for her hand in marriage.
Elaine of Astolat: This was a really interesting take on the Lady of Shalott-- on par with Woolley's portrayal of Balan/Balin in the last book. Elaine is described here as slow witted and likely suffers from some form of mental retardation. Her father is in complete denial and lets her wander freely. Elaine follows Lancelot around everywhere and nearly ends up getting raped while following him through the streets of London, only to be saved by Arthur's greatest knight. Her father is furious and he takes her back home with him and locks her away. Trying to escape, Elaine slips, falls into the water and drowns. She ends up tied to a barge as it glides down the river. Lancelot sees to her burial, feeling guilty over how she ended up in such a state.
Elaine of Carbonek: Daughter of the wounded King Pellam (who I'm certain will be important to the Grail Quest in the next book). She comes south to serve as one of Guinevere's ladies in waiting. She promptly falls in love with Lancelot. After driving every young woman in Guinevere's court crazy with her poor manners and pushiness, Elaine returns home to Carbonek having not gained Lancelot's hand.
Mordred: At the very end of the book, Morgause defies Arthur's orders and comes south with Mordred. After she reveals who the boy's father is to Guinevere, the Queen of Camelot decides to raise the boy as her own. Mordred is a quite child here, but smart and his silence is often indicative of him learning so he can try a different tactic next time. He is also so eager to please Arthur and is clearly heartbroken when the king ignores him. Already Gwen starts off on the wrong foot with him by note telling him about his mother's murder and it's clear that later her lie about Mordred's parentage is going to cause some heartbreak.
At the beginning of the book, Igraine summons Guinevere to her convent and tells her the story of Arthur's conception. She then leaves Ettard with all her possessions and dies soon after. Urien remains a strong ally of Arthur's in the north. Pellinore also remains a strong ally. He has also settled down with one woman, content to raise his youngest son Perceval. As for his eldest son, Lamorak, he serves Arthur faithfully until he is caught in bed with Morgause and has to flee her angry sons. Tristan remains an idiot, but now he is a lovesick idiot. He goes south after Isolde returns to Mark. Dinadan is smarter and comes up with the idea for Tristan and Isolde to run away from Mark rather than continue risking their lives under his nose. Mark, while a much needed ally of Arthur's is generally considered a lecher for marrying someone as young and beautiful as Isolde. Cei remains as Arthur's seneschal balancing his time between being a hard ass and a lover of finery-- but always remains a worthy companion. Pelleas is doing well for himself, about to marrying Ettard when Gawain ruins it. He marries Nimue and keeps to his own holding. Eventually Gawain apologizes, but Pelleas doesn't accept. Accolon fights Arthur in Morgan's test and gets himself killed. Uwaine, son of Morgan and Urien, is on his way to being a fine member of the Round Table when his mother betrays Arthur. Through guilt by association, Arthur condems Uwaine for his mother's actions and believes him to be in on the plot and Uwaine is banished north (it's really, really easy in these books to see how Arthur's Camelot is going to fall apart). Morgause brings Mordred south, is kicked out of Camelot by Arthur and then promptly killed by one of her sons after jumping into bed with Lamorak. But, in a twist, it's Agravain who kills her, not Gaheris (lucky Gaheris). Not surprising at all because Agravain has proven himself to be cruel beyond cruel at this point (he killed Elaine's cat). He is banished from Camelot. edit 10/18/11 And of course I forgot someone- Palomides goes with Gwen, Lance and the rest to Joyous Gard to look after Isolde and Tristan. He falls in love with Isolde while there. After she goes back to Mark, he travels South, trying to find his family in Byzantium.
Phew. I hope I didn't miss anyone super important.
So, by this point I'm completely floored by Persia Woolley's ability to use not only ever single character ever known to Arthurian Legends, but to actually give depth to their individual stories. Each of these characters has their own famous story and each of them has their story told. And not just told, but told in a unique way with a new twist on it. I really, really like how these stories don't focus solely on the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle. I am also really impressed that you can see the end of Camelot from a distance. You can see Arthur creating these pressure points that his kingdom will break under instead of him being the greatest king ever who just has the worst people ever working for him. 4 stars. It was a great read.
On the Rape (Trigger Warning)
I actually think Woolley did a really good job with this. While it is during her rescue from Maelgwn that Gwen confesses her love for Lancelot (which is stupid), he isn't central to her healing process and sex with him doesn't magically make things better (they do not have sex in this book). Brigit (Gwen's foster sister) and Nimue actually do most of the work to help Gwen and that was nice to see. Also, after defeating Maelgwn, Arthur takes the man's dog intending to breed it. Since the animal was there during her rape, Gwen freaks out at the sight of it. So it was nice to see that while Gwen was healing and even though she was getting on with her life, she still bears the scars of the ordeal. So well done here.
Arthur's rape, on the other hand, was not so well handled. When he slept with Morgause, he didn't know they were siblings and Morgause clearly knew. Arthur did not give enthused consent and there is no way he would have slept with her if he had know. Gwen treats this as though Arthur has betrayed her trust and is all ready to leave him, despite his pleas that she understand how hard and horrible this was for him. Gwen ends up staying with him, but only so she can raise Mordred after Morgause was murdered. I feel like the ball was kinda dropped here. I wish Gwen's decision to stay had come from a better place of understanding of how much Arthur was violated by his sister instead of fulfilling her own wish for a child.