So, I promised myself I wasn’t going to read the third book, because I knew it was going to be very, very bad after reading some spoilers, but then I realized my library had it. And Arthuriana is my special interest, so I couldn’t bring myself to stay away. Hey, at least I’m getting a review out of it!
My review for the second book may be found here. My review of the first book is here, but I will warn you it isn’t very good because I wrote it a very long time ago. I feel like I accidentally made it sound like Guinevere dating Mordred would be feminist praxis (which, for the record, I DON’T believe, I was just bad at writing back then), and it was all so very cringy. Nostalgic, because I believe it was one of my first reviews–I want to say it was the third review I wrote, but I could be wrong on that?–but still deeply cringy. (For the record, there ARE some things in that review that I still stand by, mainly about how female characters who are outcasts get portrayed, and also that Guinevere is a shallowly written character and Arthur really should have been called out more. Other stuff is just. What the FUCK was I on. So yeah, it’s a mixed bag!)
Also, this review is so on point and said it better than I could???
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Okay, so let me get this rant out of the way. This book DARES to call itself feminist while portraying its witch trials allegory as maybe not such a bad thing?? Like you’re really going to do that??? “Oh, maybe Arthur is justified in driving out magic, because look at all the harm it causes!” says Guinevere at one point in the book. Yeah, well, you can also find a lot of tools to cause harm in a smithy, but you wouldn’t ban metalwork, Guinevere. Also fuck you. The women who these laws affect are just trying to live their lives, you fucking prick. They aren’t anywhere near on the same level as Merlin or Morgana or the Dark Queen. They’re just using the tools they have to make their lives easier, just like anyone would do with a hammer or a shovel or a knife. All those things can be used to kill, if you want to, but they’re also important tools that make people’s lives easier. For the record? Mordred was 100% right about everything, aside from resurrecting the evil queen in the first book. The system was broken, Mordred was the only one interested in fixing it, and I’m supposed to believe he’s SUCH a bad guy just because he tried to make a difference I guess. The witch trials were bad, this fictional portrayal of them was bad, and you should feel very bad, Guinevere.
This trilogy’s relationship with magic was honestly so weird? It’s one thing to build your magic system so that magic is an inherently evil thing, but it’s another to…not do that and then treat magic as something that needs to be expunged from the realm for reasons, I guess. And then it’s implied that magic no longer exists in the realm by the end of the trilogy, because Guinevere’s magic was one of the few interesting things about her, so we had to get rid of it. Plus, we’ve gotta drive that civilization vs. nature theme into the ground!
Also, you’re really going to come out completely on the side of civilization in 2022? I’d say with global warming, pollution, and habitat destruction, it’s so clear to me that we need BOTH civilization and nature. If we only have one, humans won’t even exist. I mean, it’d be clear to me at any point that we need both civilization and nature, but! Especially in 2022!
Okay, so with all that out of the way, allow me to rant about plot and characters. (I’ll save the ships for last, lmao.)
THEY WERE SO BAD. Okay, Mordred was still great. He took a couple of chapters to really pull me in again, but once he did, he was a DELIGHT. Just. He gets most of the funny lines in this book, and most of the lines with the most pathos, and characters who can give me both are almost always guaranteed to be my favorite. He deserved so, so much better. Also he was literally the one of the only characters who called things like they were? Aside from the fact that I hate Guinevere in this book and he doesn’t, our thoughts on the situations in the book are basically the same.
And Arthur is plotting against her, and my mother is plotting against Merlin, and doubtless Merlin saw all this and has his own plots that were put in motion seventy years ago and will somehow ruin whatever my mother is trying to do, while Arthur sweeps in with his damnable sword and cuts through the magic of my grandmother, who will retreat and plot anew, while Arthur goes and does Arthur things and my mother plots and Merlin interferes from afar. They are all a terrible river crashing down a hill. Nothing will stop them. Nothing will alter their course. If we remove ourselves from it, all we have done to affect the outcome is claim our own selves and our own happiness as more important than being drowned by their conflict.
Thank you, Mordred, please keep spitting facts like this forever.
Brangien and Dindrane were still great, too, and I loved Fina, the new character in this book, but the side characters barely got screen time in this. It was honestly so upsetting, because the cast of side characters was one of the trilogy’s main strengths (okay, only the female side characters + Mordred, I don’t even want to speak about what was going on with the male side characters, but I will because this whole review is me talking at length).
However, the main characters, aside from Mordred, were so bad. I think this is probably the result of the second book meandering so much? Like you literally could have cut the second book from this trilogy and things would have basically been the same aside from Isolde not being rescued (and Guinevere not getting kidnapped, but you get my point). And then the first book didn’t wrap up much with the plot and character stuff either. So then you get the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy Problem of having to wrap up SO many things in the finale, and it just feels incoherent.
Like Guinevere’s whole identity crisis that takes up way too much time that we didn’t have, even though it does make sense that she’d feel very bad about the…plot twist and would try to do something about it. (I would rant about that plot twist SO much, but I’m saving the plot twists rant for later.) But as it is, it just feels so frustrating and pretty boring. It’s so clear to me that this reveal and the ensuing crisis should have been moved to the second book. I mean, if you were going to do that reveal at all, but I digress.
Honestly, same for Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship, and Lancelot’s relationship with Guinevere? I think that the relationships would have had more time to develop if this drama had started playing out in the second book, and if they had more time, I think the abrupt cutoff where Guinevere stops dating Mordred could potentially have made sense! Guinevere not being who she thought she was COULD be a big enough thing to drastically change her relationships with her loved ones. And maybe Lancelot could be the one to talk her through her feelings about the reveal, and that’s how they fall in love! Or SOMETHING. Because good Lord, nothing about those relationship developments made any sense.
After ignoring all of Arthur’s bad behavior from the previous two books, this book takes a hard left turn and starts hitting me over the head with how VERY BAD ARTHUR IS. I think I actually would have loved how Arthur from the first book was handled, actually, as long as his behavior was treated as bad? Or at least implied to be bad? But the bad behavior in the first book was subtle, for the most part, and the subtlety could have been so, so good if the book had felt self-aware. But in this book, I feel like I missed a book’s worth of character development? Like if the second book hadn’t been wasted, we could have seen him have to make progressively harder decisions, and his flaws gradually get worse and worse under the stress, until he becomes the kind of person who would threaten Lancelot in order to stop Guinevere from doing something drastic. Because as bad as Arthur in the first book was, I’m not completely convinced that he was THAT bad. And also, there’s this one really poignant scene in this where he and Guinevere are talking, and they both realize that they spent so long waiting in their relationship that they’ve grown past each other and aren’t what the other one needs anymore, and it’s SO GOOD, except that it feels like the climactic scene in a very long character arc that wasn’t there.
But yeah, Arthur basically spends the whole book being awful, and it is so, so stupid to me that Guinevere sees all his bad behavior, goes “what the fuck, was he always like this” and then! Then, at the very end, she decides that Arthur must not be so bad after all and literally does nothing to fix the situation she’s in aside from deciding to stand up to him occasionally, and I’m just…Okay?? Oh, also, as a side note, she tries to both-sides Arthur conquering people. It made me uncomfortable. An English king coming in and conquering the surrounding nations and justifying it because he’s bringing civilization and order is. It’s uh. It’s a lot?
Also, the author heard my complaints about how feminism was handled–or rather, not handled, Guinevere just licks the boots of the patriarchy–in the first book, and decided to overcompensate by shoving the feminist messages into my face every three seconds. I GET IT, okay? You don’t have to slap me upside the head with the messaging. And all the male side characters are either dumb, evil, or given no screentime whatsoever? You’re really telling me that all the men in this story world are horrible, no good, very bad people? All of them? Including PERCIVAL for some reason??? (And Blanchefleur, because this is a feminist book that doesn’t believe in demonizing strong women from mythology for no reason! /s) And the ending was so upsetting for me, where after Guinevere figures out that Camelot does not want her unless she is stifled and silent, she just…goes back to stay. And she’s so convinced that she’ll be able to make a change for other women there, even though everyone BARELY listens to her aside from her close circle of friends. I feel like she’ll just get shoved right back into her role of staying loyal and silent, and that’s just depressing to me. Anyway, you know what? You know what, maybe living in a cottage with Mordred IS feminist praxis. It’s certainly more feminist praxis than this. I just wanted her to put her own needs first for once, dammit, and then she never did.
(Oh also this is completely off-topic but Morgana literally had so much potential for a villain but then she just straight up dies halfway through the book. It was deeply annoying.)
*long, long sigh* Okay, I can’t avoid the topic anymore. GUINEVERE. She never was allowed to be the brightest bulb in the basket in this trilogy, but in this book I literally wanted to shake her multiple times while I was reading. She tries to solve all her problems by turning to evil wizards. ALL of them.
Guinevere: *runs into a crisis*
Guinevere, five seconds later: So do I trust Morgana, Nimue, Merlin, or the Dark Queen to solve this problem for me?
AND NO. THOSE ARE ALL REAL EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE SHE TRUSTS TO SOLVE HER PROBLEMS. She was so. so. STUPID.
She literally needs everything spelled out for her? Like she gets the grand revelation that Merlin may have enchanted her to be afraid of water because Morgana tells her soldiers to keep her away from water. And just. Girl? I have been waiting for you to try jumping into a lake to find out what will happen for the past two books. And she discovers that Arthur actually views her as more of a possession because Morgana and Guinevere both end up looking through his thoughts briefly. Again! I have been yelling this to her for the past two books, but nooo, we can’t make a decision unless Morgana makes it for us, apparently. Guinevere. Guinevere, you don’t even like Morgana. Maybe figure things out on your own for once.
AND THE REVEAL ABOUT HER BACKSTORY IS SO, SO PAINFULLY INCOHERENT. Get this, okay? Merlin fused the original Guinevere’s soul with the Lady of the Lake so that he could send the Lady of the Lake to protect Arthur, only it didn’t quite go well, and he ended up with an entirely brand-new girl. Because that makes a lot of sense! I have watched a Xianxia drama, Love and Redemption, that had almost this exact plot twist and the Xianxia drama handled it SO much better, not least because it actually fit into the worldbuilding in the drama! It was something that the audience might feasibly expect! But also because the drama seemed way more interested in delving into the trauma and the consequences that stem from being brainwashed?? (Also, Sifeng is a bisexual king and I literally feel more represented by Sifeng then I do by Guinevere in this book and the show isn’t even allowed to call him bisexual because of censorship, so that’s where we are right now.)
Oh, by the way, this reveal makes it so that Guinevere has half the soul of Lancelot’s adopted mom, btw, and then she falls in love with Lancelot. While having half the soul of Lancelot’s adopted mom. It’s not actual incest, and you might call me hypocritical for complaining about somewhat weird relationships while shipping Mordred/Guinevere, but Mordred/Guinevere is a thing in some of the legends, so I don’t mind stories exploring that! I like Mordred/Guinevere from the legends! LANCELOT/NIMUE IS CERTAINLY NOT A THING, SO I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THIS WAS IN THERE.
[Edit: Btw I’m still not over this. I think about ‘the author got Lancelot together with the girl who has Lancelot’s mom’s soul inside of her’ at least once per day since I finished this. It haunts me ❤ Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I go through this struggle]
Honestly, the five pages or so we got of the original Guinevere were more interesting than Guinevere had been this entire book (possibly the entire trilogy). I really liked her. Why couldn’t we have had a book about her, instead?
Guinevere is so wishy-washy in this book?? “Arthur is bad and I’m done with him! Oh, wait, maybe he’s actually good. I still love him! I love Mordred so MUCH. Oh wait, he’s not the right guy for me for reasons. I think I might love Lancelot? I’m going to flounder about this for pages while wailing about how much I just love all my love interests, but my author won’t let me commit to honest-to-God polyamory. My life is so hard.”
Yeah. Yeah, it was dumb.
Okay, so. The ships. Yeah it was all so very dumb and also gave me a lot of whiplash because Guinevere just couldn’t commit? She and Mordred were very sweet! Sometimes when a heroine talks about how much her love interest just gets her, you’re tempted to roll your eyes, but here, I honestly believed it. They have things in common that help them to understand each other, since they’re both magic users who’ve had to hide and suppress themselves in order to fit in. They got along so well together, and all the jokes they made about them living in a cottage together are very much tempting me to write the shippy cottagecore fanfic lmao. I loved that. (Also, I made a dumb joke about them living in a cottage together in my review of book two. I was genuinely spooked there for a second and about to start making theories about how I am clairvoyant actually, but–actually, no, you know what, I still am)
And then the author threw that relationship away for some reason halfway through the book with no justification? Oh! Suddenly we’re in love with Lancelot now! She’s suddenly talking about how much Lancelot gets her, and how much she loves Lancelot, and at one point she says that Lancelot is the one who knows her best, and I just…Really? Oh, that one? The one you’ve barely talked to? It’s not Brangien, your friend who spends almost all of her time with you?
The reason why she leaves Mordred in the first place is so dumb to me? Like after the big reveal that she’s inhabiting the original Guinevere’s body, she has this really brief conversation with Mordred about how she wants to erase herself so that the original Guinevere can live. Mordred agrees to help but she senses that he’s not quite telling the truth. Keep in mind that this was a really brief conversation, and also, I find Mordred’s reaction very understandable actually? This isn’t ‘taking away her choice,’ this is not wanting your girlfriend to die?? Anyway, next morning, instead of talking about it with him further and actually communicating, she decides to take her chances with MORGANA LE FEY AND THE DARK QUEEN. Of course everyone almost dies. Who could have possibly seen that coming?? And later in the book, when Arthur threatens Lancelot to try to get Guinevere to not kill herself so Original Guinevere can live, she compares Mordred to Arthur and thinks about how similar they are???? Because telling a lie when you’re panicking is just the same as threatening your wife’s best friend I guess??????
Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that rant out of my system, Lancelot was just really disappointing to me. I usually LOVE the trope of the bodyguard who falls in love with the person they protect (especially when it’s the minion and the villain falling for each other, okay? I love that so MUCH). And I love Lancelot from the legends, he’s amazing. Best boi. But Lancelot wasn’t developed at all in this trilogy , and I honestly can’t really think of any traits that she had aside from ‘good fighter’ and ‘loyal to Guinevere.’ And the whole romance REALLY felt like it came out of nowhere?? It wasn’t insta-love, because she and Lancelot had the entirety of book two to get to know each other, but it sure felt like insta-love, because Guinevere barely indicated platonic feelings for Lancelot in the second book, and now she’s talking about how what she and Lancelot have is TRUE LOVE, dammit. I said in a conversation on Goodreads that she and Lancelot felt like coworkers who get along with each other in the second book, and…yeah. I wasn’t getting ‘deep and eternal love’ from that, sorry. Also, she kisses Arthur and has a full on makeout session and maybe more with Mordred, but she doesn’t do anything physically affectionate with Lancelot beyond a hug and a handhold. Really questionable. And she and Lancelot aren’t even really together at the end?? They never have a conversation about what their relationship is and what they want from it. I’ve seen people say that it ends with a polyamorous relationship between Guinevere, Arthur, and Lancelot, but I wouldn’t even call it that? I mean, it COULD have been, but it felt more like this book was desperately trying to leave the love square openended so that readers wouldn’t get frustrated with it, only for it to leave me more frustrated than ever. I really don’t count that as polyamory, more as bad writing.
So yeah! Before I read the book, I thought the reviews on Goodreads that talked about feeling queerbaited were deeply silly, because I’d read spoilers and Guinevere DOES get with Lancelot at the end–only to find out that no, I get what they were saying, this is all deeply weird. But then the straight relationships are handled terribly, too, so equality I guess…? Anyway, I did not have fun!
Oh well, I’m just going to pretend very hard that this book ended with Mordred and Guinevere running away to enact their cottagecore fantasies together. This book was honestly just terrible, though? At least it did inspire me to write fanfic! That’s something! Anyway, #MordredDeservedBetter
2 thoughts on “The Excalibur Curse; a review, in which I discuss the curious feelings that stem from being both queerbaited and straightbaited, because this book couldn’t handle any type of relationship”
Welll…uh…I guess I’ve never seen a book that queerbaits and straightbaits, so I suppose it achieves something?
But it truly sounds awful. What the heck.
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Truly it was an innovator in that sense!
It really was terrible. The first two books weren’t super great, I’d consider them more in the ‘schlocky yet still enjoyable in spite of yourself’ category of YA, but the finale was just. Very very bad.
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