|Title: For Camelot's Honor|
Author: Sarah Zettel
Publisher: Luna Books
Synopsis: (from the publisher) A quest of hidden shadows, old gods and immense power—and the battle for Britain continues!
Elen believed nothing could withstand her retribution against her family’s killer. The daughter of a Welsh chieftan, Elen would wield her growing powers to destroy her enemy and win back her lands. But then she learned the power behind the invader—the fearsome sorceress Morgaine, who’d vowed to destroy Camelot…
Rather than attack Elen directly, Morgaine created an elaborate plan to cause Elen to betray all she held dear, including her new ally, the High King. Still holding fast to hope, facing deadly foes seen and unseen, Elen traveled through the wild mountains to find a magical weapon to strike down the sorceress. Sir Geraint, her only companion, would risk life and love to complete their quest—but never honor. Yet will Elen choose honor and the future over revenge and a shattered past?
Yes, it’s finally the last book in the Paths to Camelot quartet! This is technically the second book of the series, but I inadvertently read book three (Under Camelot’s Banner) and then I wanted to find out what happened to Laurel and Agravain (By Camelot’s Blood). As it turns out, it doesn’t really matter that I read this book last. The events described have little to no bearing on the final outcome of the battle between the Orkney brothers and Morgan le Fay, though I fault the abrupt ending of book four more than anything wrong with this book.
I know next to nothing about the story of Geraint and Enid, except that it’s a Welsh legend about an Arthurian knight who marries a lady but comes to believe she has been unfaithful for some unfounded reason. He takes her on a quest and commands her not to speak during the duration of it to prove her fidelity. Enid saves his life multiple times even while disobeying his injunction against speaking, but eventually he accepts her anyway and they live happily ever after.
Um, none of that actually happens in this story except the quest part. And Enid/Elen saving Geraint’s life and the happily ever after. So I don’t really know how to call this a “twist” because Zettel obviously wrote an original story and used the names of lesser-known Arthurian characters for reasons of her own.
Elen is the daughter of a Welsh chieftainess whose lands are tiny but include control of an important bridge over a river into Wales. Elen’s father died years ago but her mother is a strong ruler and one day soon her mother will abdicate in favor of her brother and all will continue peacefully. But this is not to be as Urien, a more powerful Welsh neighbor chief, and emissaries from the Eastern King Arthur arrive on the same day, each wanting an alliance. When Elen’s mother throws Urien out of the great clan hall for being discourteous to Arthur’s ambassadors, Urien returns a few days later with an army and conquers the land by force. Elen and her brother, the heirs, are left alone after Urien brutally murders their mother. They plan for Elen to go to Arthur and beg for assistance, but Urien catches and kills Elen’s brother while Morgaine, Urien’s lover, captures Elen.
Morgaine for some reason doesn’t kill Elen. There are some mumblings about Morgaine wanting to use her because she has magic of some kind, but what kind of magic or how it might be useful to Morgaine’s plan to get rid of Arthur is never made clear. Really, it’s an excuse to keep our female protagonist alive. Morgaine rips out Elen’s heart in a scene reminiscent of the Temple of Doom and places it inside a hawk. Whoever controls the hawk controls Elen. Simple as that. Foolishly, Morgaine then gives the hawk to Urien and disappears. Elen, who is related distantly to Merlin, uses their blood ties to magically call for help.
Urien decides not to take Elen as his wife and legitimately become chief of her lands. This would unfortunately make sense, and that’s not how Urien rolls. Instead he holds a tournament amongst his own men and promises the hawk and Elen to whoever wins. Geraint and Agravain, sent by Arthur and Merlin, sneak in and enter the tournament to determine a strategy for defeating Urien. Agravain then returns to Arthur after purposely being defeated while Geraint, who has fallen in love with Elen, remains to try to free her. He ends up winning the tournament. Once he’s collected his reward he and Elen hightail it out of there with the hawk in tow.
Elen calls in a debt the Fae owe her and the pair escape into the Fae lands. The Fae tell them there is only one way to defeat Urien (who is protected by Morgaine’s magic): a magic spear held by a man called the Little King. Elen and Gerain agree to quest for it, with the condition that once they’ve used the spear to defeat Urien they will give it to the Fae.
They journey to the Little King’s enchanted kingdom. On the way, Elen explains that by the laws of her people, they are now married because Urien technically gave her in marriage when Geraint won the tournament. She intends to honor those vows even though they were both unwilling and she is incapable of truly falling in love without her heart. Geraint admits his feelings for her. From that time on they live as husband and wife.
They arrive in the Little King’s lands and learn he is a half-Fae tyrant who abuses his people. However, he tricks them into thinking that he is oppressed by another king and they must do battle for him. It takes them some time to work out what is really going on, but once they do they manage to turn the tables on him, free all his captives, and get the spear. Elen also regains her heart in the process. They return to Elen’s lands, kill Urien, and return the spear to the Fae. The book ends with Morgaine swearing revenge against Morgause’s sons for killing her love.
Elen (Enid): I can’t figure out why Zettel changed her name from Enid. Enid is the name given in the original Welsh story, nor is it particularly unusual in our modern day and age. I guess she just doesn’t like Enid, just like she apparently didn’t like Lyoness either and changed it to Laurel. Elen has magic of some kind, but unlike Risa and Laurel it’s never made explicit what kind or what the range of her power is. She can communicate over distance with people she is tied to by blood (something Laurel and Lynet cannot), she can apparently curse people, she can see things that are hidden and she dreams of the future. She and others talk about how powerful she is/will become, but just what that entails is never explained. We don’t even know if she’s reached her full magical potential by the end of the book or if she still has more learning to do. The hawk-with-the-heart thing turns out to be a blessing and a curse. Even though she is controlled by whoever holds the hawk, she can see through the hawk’s eyes and is impossible to kill because apparently the lack of heart means she has no blood. Both of these things come in handy multiple times over the course of the book. Morgaine accidentally gave her the tools to succeed in her quest when she just believed she was gaining control over Elen. I did like how clever and resourceful Elen was and how she kept looking for a way out of the myriad of problems that beset her and Geraint as they adventure together. Even at the darkest moments she refuses to admit defeat. She also learns the power of silence from her husband.
Geraint/Gaheris: He is definitely my favorite of the four brothers in this series and I wish he appeared more in the other books, but I don’t know what the heck to call this guy. His in-world name is Geraint, and the story has a few elements that vaguely correspond to the Geraint and Enid story, but he’s clearly Gaheris. He is the third son of Lot and Morgause. Like Gerald Morris’s Gaheris he has a tendency to underestimate his own value. He sees himself as kind of the spare brother while the other three are heroes and born leaders. However, he grows into a hero and a leader through the course of this story. Geraint falls in love with Elen almost immediately after seeing her, which he tries to deny for awhile, mostly to keep Agravain off his back. He is the observant one, and like Elen he can see things that others cannot. Geraint is very quiet and rarely speaks unless it’s absolutely necessary, a lingering side effect of the trauma of seeing his father murder his sister Tania. He explains to Elen that all four brothers were changed by that incident: Gawain developed his White Knight Syndrome, Agravain grew cold and hard, and Gareth found another father figure (Lancelot) to emulate. It is interesting that finding the right life partner helps all four brothers move past the emotional harm their father’s deed caused: Gawain learns to be faithful to one woman, Agravain thaws considerably, Geraint becomes more assertive, and Gareth is disillusioned with Lancelot.
Agravain: Still mad at anyone who falls in love. He is obviously loyal to his brothers and to his king even when he feels they’re making mistakes based on emotion. He accompanies Geraint as a scout to Urien’s camp and then leaves to marshal Arthur’s forces. He reappears at the end as the leader of those forces and to grump about Geraint’s new marriage.
Morgaine: The main series bad guy going around being evil, still largely behind the scenes. She appears a lot less than she does in the other three books, seeming to trust her sort-of ally the Little King to get rid of Elen and Geraint after she warns him about them. She (I guess) gets taken by surprise when our main pair return and kill Urien. I was surprised that she blamed Geraint for the death of Urien and swore revenge on Morgause’s line when clearly the one who struck the blow was Elen. Geraint was involved in getting the spear, but Morgaine clearly blames him for the entire escapade. I guess she was looking for an excuse to forget the brothers are her nephews and declare all-out war on them.
Urien: Kind of a boring villain as villains go. He is tied to Morgaine in some way, definitely her sex partner but it’s never made explicit if they are husband and wife in this version or just committed loves. The book seems to waver back and forth on this point. He seems a good military leader and I think Zettel intended for him to be cunning but to me he’s obviously not very bright. Why the heck would you relinquish control of your enemy, even to someone you think is one of your own men? Really, the only reason Urien is remotely important is because of his connections to Morgaine.
Merlin: A distant relative of Elen’s by blood (a nice addition since traditionally Merlin is Welsh), she is able to summon him for help when Morgaine curses her. He also falls back into the tired Merlin trope of being the mysteriously annoying old man who only hints at what he knows, when in the other books he freely shared what knowledge he had.
Arthur: Appears in one scene where he calls a small conference of the men who know about Morgaine in order to determine what to do about Elen’s call to Merlin. He is clearly honorable as he decides to send help even though there is no formal alliance between him and Elen’s people.
Bedivere: We briefly see him as the leader of the delegation Arthur sends to Elen’s mother at the beginning of the book. Observant Geraint is part of this delegation, which is how he sees Elen for the first time.
Gawain: Briefly appears during the conference about how to respond when Elen’s distress call to Merlin arrives. Geraint mentions to Elen at one point that Gawain is about to become a father. Why Zettel glosses over this twice in the series baffles me. This kid is the Prince William of Arthurian Britain, second in line for the throne after his father, and no one finds him important enough to mention except in passing. Gawain does have sons with names in legend, although they are usually not with the Loathly Lady. Messing with names and relationships has never stopped Zettel before. Why didn’t she bother to name Gawain’s son or actually have him appear?
Gareth, Risa (Ragnelle), Risa and Gawain’s unnamed son, Kai, Lancelot, Guinevere, Morgause, Lot and Mordred are all mentioned but do not appear. Well, to be fair, Kai appears as an old man in the frame story but unlike the other books does not put in an appearance in the main narrative. Which makes me sad because he is awesome.
Standing alone, this is the best book of the series. There are no random subplots, the focus remains on Geraint and Elen, and despite coming in at over 500 pages it moves at a pretty good clip. It only bogs down a little once Geraint and Elen reach the Little King’s fortress and have to sit around for awhile trying to figure out the fortress and the King’s secrets before they choose how to act. The characters are likeable, and complex enough not to feel like cookie cutters (except for Urien, who is pretty much a stock bad guy). The ending ties up everything neatly. But there were enough “why?” moments to bother me, so I can’t give it five stars.
Comments on the series: Could have been so much better than it was. Sarah Zettel is obviously creative, and when she bothers to bring the legends into the stories she tells the twists are fresh (I am a fan of how she combines The Green Knight and The Loathly Lady in particular). She also clearly loves her subject material: the four Orkney brothers. They are each very different, but they get their time to shine and be in the spotlight. The emotional trauma inflicted on the brothers by the loss of Morgause and Lot’s subsequent insanity is particularly well-explored. Their wives are also interesting and unique, and it is nice that each story focuses on the coming together of a couple with equal emphasis on the man and the woman and how they each overcome their faults to bind themselves into a partnership. Zettel is not a bad writer and her prose and dialogue flow fairly well.
That said, as a coherent series this flops badly even though Zettel is clearly trying to tell an overall narrative that lasts four books. Book four completely fails to tie up anything set up in the previous three books except that Morgaine is defeated. By one of the Orkney wives, not all four. Grrr. I could have really gone for a “by our powers combined…” moment of epic awesomeness, especially since three out of the four have magic but none individually should be powerful enough to take out Morgaine. It also would have been nice to see a team-up of the four brothers against their cousin Mordred, who really should have been portrayed as more independent, adaptable and conniving since we’re supposed to believe he goes on to singlehandedly destroy Camelot and Arthur without Mommy to guide him. Additionally, there is almost no connection between the four main narratives and the frame story of Kai recording these things as an old man. The scene at the end where he finally gets to rejoin Arthur in death was touching, but the frame story as a whole makes no sense. How can Arthur and his knights have faded into a mere legend in less than a generation? And if it’s been longer than that, how is Kai, Arthur’s older foster brother, still alive? Another thing for the fairly long Major Fail List for the series. I could go on like this for awhile. Suffice it to say that while each book on its own is pretty good and I rated them all at four stars for enjoyment despite their individual problems, as a coherent series with an overarching narrative I was sorely disappointed.