|Title: Knights of the Round Table: Gawain|
Author: Gwen Rowley
Synopsis: (from the publisher)
But the loathly lady is not who she appears to be. In truth, she is the lovely Aislyn, former apprentice to a sorceress. She was once desperately in love with Gawain, who rejected her because of her magic—or so she believes. Now she has transformed herself so she may exact her revenge.
Yet Gawain’s gallantry and courteous treatment soften Aislyn’s bitter heart, and she is horrified to discover she has actually been enchanted. Only a kiss given with love can break the spell and restore her to the beautiful maiden she truly is…
I interrupted myself in the Paths to Camelot series to read yet another Gawain book. This one seemed like a good Spring Break choice as it is a bit more lighthearted than Paths to Camelot and lighter physically as well. The cover is, well…it’s a romance cover, let’s be honest. At least it’s obvious the cover designer read the book—they got that Gawain is really tall and the hair colors of Aislyn and Gawain are just about right. I don’t plan to read the other two books in the series.
Warning for Spoilers
This is the Loathly Lady story, fairly closely from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with some details from other versions of the story added in (like the riddle being given to Arthur rather than Gawain). The twist is that Gawain and the Loathly Lady (here named Aislyn in her young form and Ragnelle as the crone) had been lovers several years previously but had a falling-out when she came clean to him that she was working for Morgause. Aislyn also has a younger brother who is the knight that gives Arthur the central riddle. He gets into all kinds of trouble that Aislyn has to get him out of.
Arthur and Gawain are searching for the answer to the riddle “what is it every woman wants?” or Arthur will face death at the hands of a faceless knight. Aislyn, who has heard of Arthur’s difficulties, is waiting to give him the answer because she wants to thwart Morgause’s latest plan to kill him. However, at the last minute she sees Gawain is with him and impulsively decides to exact a price: she changes herself into a crone’s shape and demands to marry Gawain. She wants revenge on Gawain for leaving her years before when she came clean to him about seducing him on Morgause’s orders before she fell in love with him for real (sounds like a standard chick flick, doesn’t it?). Gawain, wanting to save Arthur’s life, agrees to marry the hideous crone. However, once the ceremony is complete, Morgana shows up and makes Aislyn’s ugly appearance permanent as punishment for toying with her favorite nephew. The spell can only be broken by a kiss given and received with love. Aislyn also can’t tell anyone about the spell or her real identity. She spends most of her time after that trying to figure out how to persuade Morgana to lift the spell, and causing problems with her impulsive actions. It doesn’t take Gawain long to re-fall for her generous heart and vivacious spirit, however, and her for his inner sweetness and sense of honor. He kisses her and she changes back, with the classic stipulation that she will be ugly either by day or by night and Gawain can choose. Gawain considers and decides that it really doesn’t matter—he will still be married to the same Aislyn. Morgana had told him earlier that to solve his problems, he had to solve the riddle posed to Arthur (Gawain didn’t hear when Aislyn told Arthur the solution). He returns the choice to Aislyn and she remains beautiful night and day. The answer to the riddle? Women do want sovereignty, not over men, but over themselves.
Aislyn (Ragnell): Beautiful and impulsive, Aislyn has a habit of acting before she thinks. Thus she gets herself into lots of trouble not only with Morgana for messing with Gawain, but with Lancelot and with the Saxons as well. However, she usually acts with the best of intentions (except in the matter of her grudge against Gawain) and things tend to work out for good. Most of the characters begin the story believing she’s dead, including her brother and Gawain. In fact, she’s been in hiding from her former teacher Morgause for five years since their falling-out over Gawain’s allegiance. Only Morgana appears to be a stronger sorceress than Aislyn when she puts her mind to it. All she really wants in life is the right to choose her own path.
Gawain: Rigidly honorable, he lost his sense of joie de vivre when Aislyn “died”. He loves his uncle Arthur and would do anything for him, but he is not blind to Arthur’s faults. He is somewhat sexist and has a hard time believing women should be allowed to make their own decisions. Slowly he comes around as he gets to know Aislyn/Ragnelle and begins to move past his heartbreak over Aislyn’s betrayal and “death”. He and Aislyn are well-matched in that they always want to defend the weak and helpless by any means in their power.
Arthur: A good king who goes around with rose-colored glasses when it comes to people. He has a hard time believing anyone has bad intentions unless they’re ugly. Therefore Lancelot can be as much of a jerk as he wants and Arthur will explain it away, but Ragnelle he is suspicious of from the start and refuses to give her a chance. At least Arthur has the sense to be somewhat suspicious of Morgause when she turns up at Camelot.
Guinevere: Boy, I wanted to smack her. Repeatedly. Remember that trope of the beautiful cheerleader who is as ignorant and easy to manipulate as a cloud and incredibly vain as well? Yeah, that’s pretty much what this version embodies except in medieval clothes and literally wearing a crown. She enjoys using her power as queen to get her own petty way. She’s totally besotted with Lancelot and doesn’t seem to care who knows it. Morgause manipulates her left and right without too much effort, as does Lancelot. Really, with someone this foolish and self-obsessed, it’s hard not to manipulate them occasionally just to laugh at how easy it is.
Morgause: Gawain’s mother and Aislyn’s former tutor as an enchantress. She sent Aislyn to seduce Gawain and bring him back over to Morgause’s side against Arthur. She hates Arthur because of the whole Uther-raping-Igraine thing and wants Arthur dead on principle no matter how good a king he is. Aislyn’s brother is her boy toy/sex slave (why do these keep popping up in the retellings I’m reading? We have to prove how evil Morgause/Morgan is by making her be keep at least one sex slave, usually a much younger man? It is starting to get old. Fast.) until he rebels. She eventually tries to magic him to kill himself rather than let him reveal the plan he was part of for Arthur’s downfall.
Morgana (Morgan): I actually really liked her. Yes, she makes Aislyn permanently ugly, but that was to teach Aislyn a lesson rather than because she felt like doing something evil. I enjoyed her sense of humor the few times we saw her.
Lancelot: Like Guinevere, I wanted to smack him in the face. Except in his case I’d probably end up hitting the magical barrier protecting him from harm, courtesy of the Lady of the Lake. It is strongly implied this version of Lancelot is either a human brought up by the Fae or is actually part Fae, and therefore he has little human feeling. He has a cruel sense of humor and in general is not a very nice person. Not many people notice because he’s such a great fighter (doesn’t help that he can’t get hurt) and he’s hot to boot. I would actually be a little interested to see what his real backstory is in Rowley’s universe (he has a book all to himself) rather than just Aislyn and Gawain’s unfavorable impressions of him. Not enough to track down that book and spend a couple hundred pages following this guy around, however. I’ll stick with my Gawain stories, thanks.
Gaheris: Gawain’s younger brother, who Morgause hates. He helps Aislyn’s brother escape his mother and while he doesn’t hero-worship Gawain (as Morgause has tried to encourage since Gawain is her favorite) he does seem to like him. The little we see of him he seems like a decent, sensible person. Agravain also puts in a brief appearance, surly and grumpy. No mention of Gareth or Mordred (except a possible passing reference to “babies at home” in Lothian).
Kay: Arthur’s seneschal. This is the gruff, unlikeable Kay who wants to just execute Aislyn’s brother when he turns up at Camelot having accidentally caused a knight’s death, rather than find out what really happened.
Bedivere: A fair man (typical for a straight-up Bedivere who isn’t Lancelot in disguise) who wants to find out what really happened between Aislyn’s brother and the knight he supposedly killed.
I loved this book—once it got started, it was hard to put down. The characters were flawed and made mistakes without being annoying (except for the ones who were supposed to be annoying, of course). The romance was well set up and believable. The twist was original. Overall a fun and enjoyable read that I will come back to many times.