I’m back with another chapter of Le Morte D’Arthur! This chapter has a lot of murder this time, so that’s very fun!
Previously on Le Morte D’Arthur: Balin, some guy who just got out of prison for murdering a guy, pulled out the special sword that only the best knight could take from the sheath! Yay! He then proceeds to ignore the lady when she tells him that the knight who wields the sword will kill the man he loves best in the world. I’m sure that little incident won’t end up being important later!
As Balin made ready to depart, a lady who was called The Lady of the Lake came to the court. [Because medieval authors like to be confusing, this is not The Lady of the Lake who is Lancelot’s cool mom, but instead is a completely separate Lady of the Lake, the same one who gave Arthur Excalibur.] She came on horseback, dressed in fine clothing, and greeted King Arthur, and asked him for the gift he had promised her when she gave him his sword.
“It is true that I promised you a gift,” said Arthur, “but first, I have forgotten the name of the sword that you gave me.”
“The name of the sword is Excalibur, which means ‘cut-steel,” said the lady.
“Ask what you will and you shall have it, if it lies in my power to give it,” said the king. [Promising to do things for people without asking what they want first is something that has never gone wrong for anyone in mythology ever!! /s]
“Well,” said the lady, “I ask for the head of the knight that won the sword, or else the damsel’s head that brought it. I feel no guilt for asking for their heads, for the knight slew my brother, a good, true knight, and that gentlewoman was the cause of my father’s death.” [Love that Balin has now been accused of murder twice now]
“Truly,” said King Arthur, “I may not grant either of their heads and keep my honor, so ask for something else, and I shall fulfill your desire.”
“I will ask for no other thing,” said the lady.
When Balin was ready to depart, he saw the Lady of the Lake, whom he had sought for three years because she had slain Balin’s mother. […Is everyone in this story a murderer?? I know the answer to that question is yes] When he was told that she had asked King Arthur for his head, he went straight to her, and said, “Evil is our encounter! You would have my head, and therefore you shall lose yours.” And with that, he cut off her head in front of King Arthur. [None of these characters have ANY chill]
“Alas, for shame!” said Arthur. “Why have you done so? You have shamed me and all my court, for this was a lady I was beholden to, and she came here under my safe-conduct. I shall never forgive you for this trespass.”
“Sir,” said Balin, “I regret causing you displeasure. This same lady was the falsest lady living. By enchantment and sorcery she has been the destroyer of many good knights, and she caused my mother to be burned alive through her falsehood and treachery.”
“Whatever your cause was,” said Arthur, “you should have forborne from killing her in my presence. Therefore don’t think you won’t repent it, for such another outrage I have never had in my court. Withdraw out of my court in all haste.” [Okay I’m sorry but it’s so funny to me that he’s yelling at Balin for not killing her later when it wouldn’t have caused trouble for Arthur personally. I honestly can’t help but love Arthur, what a silly little trashbag king]
Then Balin took up the head of the lady and bore it with him to the inn, [HELP] and there he met with his squire, who was sorry that Balin had displeased King Arthur, and so they rode forth out of the town. [The innkeeper: *currently regretting all the life choices that led to him setting up an inn near Camelot*] “Now,” said Balin, “we must depart. Take this head and bear it to my friends, and tell them how I have fared, and tell my friends in Northumberland that my greatest foe is dead. Also tell them how I am out of prison, and what adventure befell me when I got my sword.” [YOU’RE JUST GOING TO GIVE THE SEVERED HEAD TO YOUR SQUIRE AND ASK HIM TO TRAVEL WITH IT ACROSS THE COUNTRY????]
“Alas,” said the squire. “You are greatly to blame for displeasing King Arthur.”
“As for that,” said Balin, “I shall hurry in all haste to meet with King Rience and destroy him, or die trying, and if I happen to win against him, King Arthur shall forgive me and accept me into his service.”
“Where shall I meet with you?” asked the squire.
“In King Arthur’s court,” said Balin. So he and his squire departed at that time.
King Arthur and all the court felt great sorrow and shame for the death of the Lady of the Lake, and the king buried her richly.
I kind of feel like there’s a parallel between Gawain and Balin? They’re both down for murder and revenge until finally they’re in over their heads and (**spoilers**) their brothers end up dead. Idk, my thoughts on this are half-formed, but I find it interesting. Also casually carrying a severed head around town is SUCH a Gawain move, ngl
Yeah, this was trash. Really ableist trash, which is always the fun kind! /s I came in with low expectations, but clearly NOT low enough.
**This review contains mild spoilers**
I knew this was going to be a bad book when the heroine SHOT AN ARROW at the girl bullying her because ‘she knew had really good aim so she would just miss her’, and then the book treated that as a totally normal prank that a normal person would do. Like what the fuck was that. That’s not normal, that’s unhinged. I really love unhinged women, and I think it would have been cool if Evike were not normal! But no, we can’t have nice things. Anyway, it somehow devolved from there?
Let me get the good things out of the way first. The prose was occasionally over the top and didn’t always make much sense (…what on earth does ‘drowned up to the waist’ mean), but in general, I actually really liked it. I will admit to kind of preferring prose that verges on purple, though, so ymmv, but I thought it painted a really nice picture of the setting! Also, I adored the heroine’s father? Just when I had given up on enjoying any part of this book, the heroine’s father came along and proved me wrong. He’s amazing. I love men who are wise and kind and dignified.
Uhhh what else. I guess I kind of liked Gaspar? (Sorry my keyboard can’t put the cool little accent marks on top of the a’s. American keyboards should be able to do that, this is unfair. Anyway.) I hated him at first, but then the book kept going and Evike got on my nerves more and more, until Gaspar honestly wasn’t that bad by comparison. He was kind of cute! I will admit to having a weakness for woobified softboi heroes, as terrible and embarrassing as it is.
The magic systems were…sort of interesting, I guess. Please keep in mind that I know nothing about Hungarian paganism, but in general, magic in folklore is just cooler than shown here?? Scottish witches could cause shipwrecks and turn into hares! Icelandic witches could nurse a thing made from wool and the rib of a dead man and set it loose to steal milk for them!* The witches in this book…can set things on fire and/or magically forge weapons and/or see the future sometimes. That’s it. 0/10 there should have been more taking apart dead bodies. And I think you could potentially do a lot of things with magic based on medieval Catholicism! One thing I’ve heard historians say is that the difference between a saint and a witch is where the power comes from, and tales of miracles and tales of witchcraft are sometimes fairly similar. So I think you could build a really interesting magic system based on tales of wonder-working saints! Instead it’s just ‘they set things on fire lol.’ I thought the magic system that the Yehuli characters practice was pretty cool, but it barely came into play except at the ending. (It also probably helps that the Yehuli characters were the only likeable ones, but you know. I’m more inclined to be charitable if I really like the characters.)
*These examples are from the 19th and the 17th century, I think, but my point still stands as far as magic in folklore and mythology being really cool. It’s about the neat little rituals for me, especially when the rituals are weird
Don’t even get me started on the plot. I’m not even joking when I say that the first 200 pages could have been cut. Everyone’s going on a trek across the countryside trying to find the turul, and then they don’t even find it and they go on home??? The whole quest was only in there for some cheap, half-hearted relationship development that wasn’t even compelling? Are you KIDDING me. I was so bored.
But yeah, all of that aside, I wanted to strangle Evike throughout the story. She already raised my red flags when Gaspar was introduced and she seemed to kind of hint that his missing eye was scary, but then she JUST. KEPT. GOING. Hold on, I saved some of the quotes in my reading updates on Goodreads:
But I can’t see the left half of his face without wondering morbidly what lies beneath the black patch, and how he ever summoned the strength to pluck out his own eye like a crow picking over a corpse.
You can’t stop morbidly wondering what lies beneath his eyepatch? That sounds like a you problem, but okay.
“What would you know? A wolf-girl from a tiny village, who’s never set foot outside Ezer Szem—”
“More than a pampered, one-eyed prince,” I cut in.
I know I love whenever I get into an argument with a non-disabled person and then they say, “Well, you’re disabled, so what do YOU know?” Especially when the argument had literally nothing to do with the disability and they bring it up completely out of fucking nowhere! Everyone knows that that’s the surest way to a disabled person’s heart.
(That’s actually the surest way to get a disabled person to attack you with cudgels.)
And it actually manages to get worse from there! They get high on magic juice (long story), and Gaspar makes out with Evike before coming to himself and rejecting her. While they make out, Evike asks to take off Gaspar’s eyepatch, Gaspar gives her a very clear no, and then SHE TAKES IT OFF ANYWAY. BECAUSE HE DIDN’T PHYSICALLY FIGHT HER OFF OR SOMETHING, SO THAT COUNTS AS CONSENT I GUESS. This happens again when he tells her not to kiss him near his missing eye and then she just. ignores him??? AND THEN SHE HAS THE FUCKING AUDACITY TO GET MAD AT HIM WHEN HE COMES TO HIMSELF AND REJECTS HER. Girl, you’re lucky he’s still willing to talk to you! She NEVER apologizes for this, and it’s never even hinted that that was something she shouldn’t have done! Evike also outright states that the magic has pretty much the same effect as getting really drunk, which isn’t supposed to make you kiss someone when they say no, so it’s not even like she has the weird fantasy juice as an ‘excuse’. I guess when you’re disabled, you give up the right to bodily autonomy or something??? /s
Oh, and it gets worse, because when Gaspar rejects her, she immediately takes this opportunity to throw his history with his abusive father in his face. I should probably mention here that the abuse was racially motivated, because Gaspar is mixed-race (his mother is coded as Middle Eastern), and his father hated him because of that. Like, Gaspar literally described that his father would yell slurs at him and his mother, and that his father CUT OUT HIS EYE, and then Evike decided to call him his father’s dog and make fun of him for trying to please his father?? I’m sorry, but why. Why would you EVER do that to someone you say you love. At that point, you don’t love him, you’re just attracted to him and view him as more of a thing than a person.
Anyway, yeah, this was a trainwreck if the train hit a garbage truck and then both the train and the garbage truck caught fire! I did not have fun. All that and I’m still probably going to read the author’s next novel, because I’ve never managed to come across a Juniper Tree retelling before and I love that fairy tale. I just like putting myself through pain, I guess.
So yeah, this was not a fun experience. Feel free to rec me your favorite fantasy novels with disabled main characters in the comments!
I don’t think I say this too often, but I am genuinely sorry for how long I took in between updates for this series. Thanks for your patience, everyone!
Also, did anyone else read The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated as a kid? That was a great series. Also surprisingly faithful to the legends? (Surprisingly because it’s sort of hard to do that with a kid’s book. I tried when I was sixteen and failed so hard lmao.) Lancelot DOES have very shiny armor, btw. Le Morte D’Arthur may not mention that but that’s because it didn’t need to, it was implicit in the text
Previously on Le Morte D’Arthur:King Rience has declared war against King Arthur, but that’s not important. What’s REALLY important is that a damsel from Avalon has shown up to the court with a magic sword that only the Best Knight can pull out of the sheath. Unfortunately Lancelot and Gawain haven’t shown up yet in the story, so we’re stuck with a bunch of b-listers. (Arthur can’t pull the sword out, presumably for infanticide-related crimes.) This is a terrible problem.
It happened at that time that there was a poor knight with King Arthur who had been a prisoner for half a year or more, for he had slayed a knight who was King Arthur’s cousin. This knight’s name was Balin, and the barons helped to deliver him out of prison, for he was a good man, born in Northumberland. And so he went quietly into the court and saw this adventure, which caught his interest.
He would have attempted to draw the sword as all the other knights did, but because he was poor and poorly arrayed, he hung back in the crowd. But in his heart, he knew he would do as well as any knight here, if fortune were on his side. [I’m genuinely kind of confused by the structure of the original sentence, but I think that’s what it’s saying. I love middle English and I hate middle English. It’s very fun to read but it’s SO hard] And as the damsel took her leave of Arthur and all the barons and began to depart, Balin called unto her, and said, “Damsel, I pray that you will allow me to attempt to draw the sword along with these lords, though I am so poorly clothed. In my heart, I think I stand as good a chance as some of these others, and I think I will fare well.”
The damsel beheld the poor knight, and saw he was a fine-looking man, but because of his poor clothing, she thought he would not be without villainy or treachery. [Literally what do his clothes have to do with anything, classism is a hell of a drug] “Sir, you need not put me to more pain or labor, for I wouldn’t think you would succeed where others have failed,” she said to the knight.
“Ah, fair damsel,” said Balin, “worthiness and good traits and good deeds are not only in arrayment, but honor is hidden within a man’s person. Many a worshipful knight is not known unto all people. Honor and bravery are not in arrayment.”
“You speak the truth,” said the damsel. “I will allow you to attempt to draw the sword.”
Balin took the sword by the belt and sheath and drew it out easily, and when he looked at the sword, it pleased him greatly. [You know, if I had just gotten a sword that meant I was a good person, I think it would please me greatly, too] The king and all the barons marveled at this, and many knights were envious of Balin.
“Certainly,” said the damsel, “this is a passing good knight, the best I have ever found, without treason, treachery, or villainy. He shall do many marvelous things. Now, gentle and courteous knight, give me the sword again.”
“No,” said Balin. “I will keep this sword unless someone takes it from me by force.” [Are you KIDDING me, someone take the sword from this man]
“Well,” said the damsel, “You are not wise to keep the sword from me, for you shall slay the best friend that you have with that sword, the man that you love the most in the world. That sword shall be your destruction.”
“I shall take the adventure that God gives me, but you shall not have this sword.” [Some people are just genre-blind. The creepy lady telling you that you will kill your best friend is not always lying! Sometimes she is, but not always! I am BEGGING you to drop the sword, I promise the local blacksmith can make you a really nice one instead]
“You shall repent it within a short time,” said the damsel. “I would have the sword more for your sake than for mine. You will not believe that that sword will be your destruction, and that is a great pity.” With that the damsel departed in great sorrow. [Tbh I don’t feel that sorry for him, at this point he’s just digging his own grave]
Soon after, Balin sent for his horse and armor, deciding to depart from the court, and he took his leave of King Arthur. “I wish you would not depart so lightly from this fellowship,” said the king. “I suppose you are displeased that I have shown you such unkindness. Do not blame me, for I was misinformed against you, and I knew not that you were such an honorable knight. If you will stay in this court among my fellowship, I shall advance you in rank as you see fit.” [Okay I’m sorry but I love how everyone seems to assume that Balin didn’t actually murder the guy just because a magic sword said he was a good person probably]
“I thank your highness,” said Balin. “Your goodness and glory may no man praise half to the value, but at this time I must depart. I beseech you always of your good grace.”
“Truly,” said the king, “Your departure upsets me. I pray, fair knight, that you not tarry long, and you shall be welcome here to me and my barons. I shall amend all the wrongs that I have done against you.”
“I thank your great lordship,” said Balin, and made ready to depart.
After, many knights of the round table said that Balin did not complete this adventure through might, but through witchcraft. [The girls are gossipinggg]
I CAN TURN TEXT BLUE AGAIN. I have no idea why that wasn’t working for me before.
Hopefully this is at least slightly more comprehensible than middle English, I got this all together at like. After midnight I think? (I’ve done more of these chapters after midnight than I’d like to admit, which tbh probably explains a lot.) I feel like I could do with one more proofread for typos, but I’m very tired and I’d like to post this right now before I forget!
I wrote a thing for a prompt linkup! It once again involves weird fairies and even weirder people, to the surprise of absolutely no one! Anyway, here, have an absolutely awful part-time assassin badly attempting to make up with her brother
I feel like all of my characters are very autistic-coded. I don’t know if these two come across as autistic, but I know in my heart that they are ❤ Also, yes, everyone in this story is aromantic, I don’t make the rules (I mean, I do, I’m the author, but you know what I mean).
Henry Zheng often said that he would welcome his sister back with open arms whenever she came to her senses, but when Marian finally showed up at his door, looking much like a wet dog left out in the rain, he very nearly slammed the door in her face.
He could not bring himself to be so hardhearted, however. He understood what must become of a woman left on the streets with no connections, and he would not bring such a thing on his sister, no matter how little care she may show both to others and to her own reputation. How he wished she were a man. She might have been happier, then, and he would have been able to leave her there on the doorstep. But she was not a man, so he only stared her down for a few moments before allowing her inside and brewing her some tea.
She wore some ridiculous green gown, something that the lionhearted Marian from the medieval story may have worn. He remembered back when Marian used to wish to be able to wear fashionable clothing. She sat down on the armchair, the red one with the rip down the back of it. Marian still looked the same as when she had left him, with her wild hair and her pale, oval face, and her dark eyes that people said shined with an otherworldly sort of look. He had always been a prosaic person, himself, but even he had to admit that there was something odd about them. A mystic’s eyes, his father had always said about her.
“Well, this cottage is much as I remembered it,” Marian said, more to break the silence than anything else, most likely. Henry had not changed a thing since his father died and he inherited the place, not even bothering to fix the spot in the roof that always leaked. “You never settled down and found a wife for yourself? I always thought you might do well with Agnes.”
He’d always thought—most unkindly—that Agnes was a sweet girl, without much substance, though he knew in the back of his head that he would not dislike her half so much if half the people he knew didn’t subtly try to push them together. “I’m not inclined towards marriage,” he said coldly.
“Oh, neither am I,” she said, not perturbed at all by his tone. “And here I thought I was the only one on this earth not inclined to fall in love in the slightest. Is it not amusing how…” Her voice trailed off at his expression.
“You ran away with some fairy prince,” Henry bit out. “I had to listen to everyone speak of how you had run off to live out of wedlock with some traveler passing through town. And—” His voice shook, which was embarrassing. “You never once came back. You never even wrote.” He knew the last complaint was childish, for it wasn’t like she’d have much opportunity to send a letter way down in the barrows below, was it? And yet it still stung. “If not for the letter you left on the mantle, I would never have known what had become of you, Marian. So tell me, what motivation did you have, if not love?”
Marian’s face froze. She rested her chin in her hand, brow furrowed. “Well, I would never love him romantically,” she said. “I mean, I am very fond of him, and he is fond of me, but that is simple friendship.”
Henry struggled to remember how to speak, with the anger clouding his mind so. “So you ran away for friendship?” he asked finally. Henry had never considered any friend to be more important than his family, but perhaps he was simply not cut from the same cloth. He poured the tea into the only teacup that wasn’t chipped, and handed it to her without a word.
He wished things could go back to how they were as children, when they would play by the riverside, and Marian would say awful things about their neighbors while she dragged her fingers through the filthy river water, and he would say nothing. He had gone down to that riverside a few months after she left, but it carried nothing of Marian. It was just a river.
“And he thought I was very good at killing things,” she said brightly. “I suppose you’ve never had to assassinate anyone before. I cannot say I recommend it. It tends to be very messy.”
This was all a little much to take in. He tried to imagine Marian, a gun in her hands, or perhaps a knife, and he found that he could. She always had been the more ruthless of the two of them. “Do tell me, is the Prince in the Barrows a good friend?” he asked. “Because he sounds like he must be absolutely charming.”
Marian tilted her head, considering. “Oh, he is,” she said. Henry gave up hope for their relationship once and for all. “Wicked by a mortal’s standard, surely, but very charming.” She finally caught his meaning. She leaned back, crossing her legs. “You were being sarcastic.”
Henry refused to respond. They sat in silence for several minutes, which probably was more awkward for him than for Marian.
Marian was much more confident than he remembered her. She seemed to him to be the sort of woman who would lead armies. It bothered him, the idea that she had changed so much and he had not changed at all.
“You know I could never have stayed, Henry,” she said. “To live as a proper woman, and get married, and be a mother! I would rather not live at all, and what other choice existed for me?”
Henry stared resolutely at the mantle. It really needed to be dusted. The whole house could use it. The place was starting to look uninhabited.
“And the whole town looked askance at me because my parents came from China, and because—well, I will admit that I am a little odd,” she said, squaring her shoulders. “But being odd is hardly a sin, and everyone treats it like it is.” She turned the teacup in her hands, chewing on her lip as she stared off into nothing. “The Prince in the Barrows never cared for any of those things. What would he do, judge me for being odd?” A note of affectionate scorn came into her voice.
He had been through most of the same things that she had, and yet he had never run away with a fairy prince.
He never meant to yell at her, but he fancied it really was more than any man could bear. “You say no other choice existed,” Henry snarled, “but I would have provided for you! If things were bad for you, I would have been there by your side! Why did you not confide in me, if you felt you had no other choice?” He stopped short at the sight of her tearstained cheeks. “Marian,” he said gently.
“I love you,” Marian said. “How could I not love you? I would be unnatural if I had no love for my brother. And whatever happens, whatever you or I do, you’re still my brother.” She lifted a trembling hand to her brow. “But I could never be happy in this place. I hope you know I am sorry, Henry,” she added anxiously. “I came here to apologize, and then when I saw you, I couldn’t. But I’m apologizing now.”
He shook his head. “I understand,” he said quietly. In truth, he understood her a little more than he liked. “You won’t be staying, will you?”
She stilled. “No, Henry,” she said. She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I must leave soon. But I can stay for a night.”
He still found it hard to convince himself that she cared a whit for him, and he still found himself angry at her. But she was finally here, at least. He had never expected even that.
He might not ever find it in himself to forgive her, but he could never turn her away. “Then stay,” he said. She smiled at him, and he smiled back, neither of them happy. But he was not nearly so sorrowful as he had been the past five years, so perhaps that was enough.
Anyway, tell me what you think! I hated this at first but I’m starting to get a little fonder of it lmao. I’m almost tempted to turn this into something longer, but I think it’s staying a short story for now? Probably???
Lancelot is the only one who actually ended up in a lake and he didn’t even do anything wrong, smh*
*In case you didn’t know, Lancelot grew up in a lake with his cool enchantress adoptive mom, Nimue
So I miiiight do a series in which I recap Chretien de Troyes’ stories? Excepting Cliges, because that one is insane. But I don’t make any promises, either, because hello? ADHD and commitments? They do not mix. And also I am so sorry about that one post on Irish fairies that I said I would do a part two of and never got around to doing. I will do it one of these days! Just maybe…sometime later.
One day, King Arthur decides that he will go on a hunt for a certain white stag. Traditionally, the person who catches the stag gets to kiss the most beautiful woman in the court, so…mistletoe, but with extra steps? Gawain, being for once the only smart person in this story, tells Arthur that this is a TERRIBLE idea, actually, because everyone is a drama queen and why would you invite this on yourself. Do not get people started on who is the prettiest person or the best fighter. It never ends well. Being someone who gives actually good advice, Gawain is promptly ignored. This is what happens when you ignore the person giving good advice, people. They go insane and bring down a kingdom or something.
Guinevere falls behind during the hunting party, riding with an unnamed maiden and Erec, the titular hero of this story. Erec, in an uncharacteristically sweet moment, tells Guinevere that he only came along in order to keep her company. Just a warning, this is the one of the few moments in this story when he doesn’t act like a prick. Negative character development from here on out.
Guinevere and Erec happen upon a strange knight in the forest, riding with a maiden and a dwarf. Guinevere first asks her maiden to go up and bring them over, but the knight doesn’t respond very well to that, and the dwarf strikes the maiden’s arm with a whip. Not very polite people, this group. So Guinevere, rightfully furious, commands Erec to go over to them instead. Erec, however, gets the same treatment. At least they’re equal opportunity jerks and they don’t just go after women, I guess?
Erec is so upset that he decides to chase this knight down with no armor, reasoning that in the time it would take him to go get armor, the knight might have already gotten away, and he can borrow armor anyway! I’d kind of admire his tenacity if not for his actions later in the story. Guinevere is in full support of kicking this guy’s ass. Have I mentioned yet today that I love Guinevere? Because I love Guinevere and I just wanted to let you guys know.
The story briefly wraps up the subplot with the magical stag. The court, as Gawain predicted, gets very angry at the implication that their girlfriends are not the prettiest and people almost comes to blows with each other. Their girlfriends’ reactions are not mentioned, and I like to imagine their girlfriends in the corner asking them to stop. Fortunately, Guinevere saves the day by convincing Arthur to put off the problem until later, telling him to wait until Erec comes back.
Erec rides until he comes to a town. He cannot find lodging, but he finds out where the knight has been staying, and then he finally finds lodging with an impoverished nobleman. The nobleman’s wife and daughter come out from their workshop to meet him (Chretien writes ‘I do not know what work they were doing there,’ which…you’re the writer??). Erec notices that the daughter is beautiful–and I mean very beautiful, this goes on for like a paragraph–though she only wears an old, worn white dress. She has ‘a face fairer and brighter than a lily flower,’ eyes like stars (his words, not mine), and apparently is more beautiful than Iseult or something?? I don’t know, it goes on for longer, but I’ll spare you.
Anyway, she takes his horse to the stable and shows Erec upstairs, where Erec and the family have a meal. Erec asks the father why the daughter’s dress is so shabby, which seems a bit impolite to me, but what do I know. The father explains that he spent so much time at war that he lost his land. He says that the girl’s uncle, a count who lives in the area, was willing to help her, but he doesn’t want to accept. Presumably because he doesn’t want to be a burden on the guy I guess? The father still has hopes that he can marry his daughter off to a rich man, since she is so beautiful and wise. (Pardon me for being cynical, but I’m not sure it works this way in real life.) He also talks about how much he loves his daughter, which aww.
Erec asks why the inns were all full when he came into the town, and finds out that there’s going to be a beauty contest! No, really. Each knight has to present a beautiful lady, and the one with the most beautiful lady gets to take home a cute sparrowhawk! Erec also makes sure to ask who the knight he’d been following was, and the man answers that the knight’s girlfriend has won the beauty contest two years in a row, without anyone fighting with the knight over it. Erec then asks the man for a suit of armor, and what luck! The nobleman just so happens to have a brand new hauberk, greaves, and helmet, despite being poor! Erec then asks if he can take the daughter, Enide, to the beauty contest. He tells the man that he is Erec, son of King Lac, of King Arthur’s court. (Has he not told the guy his name yet? He’s spent all this time at the guy’s house and he’s only just now telling the guy his name?) The father agrees, and Enide is very happy about this, both because she likes Erec and because this means she will be a queen eventually. I am fully supportive of her liking him both for personal and mercenary reasons, by the way.
Also, Enide helps Erec get into his armor the next morning. I just wanted y’all to know that.
At the beauty contest, everyone pretty much agrees that Enide is the most beautiful, but Erec waits for the knight that he hates to go up to the perch first. The knight’s maiden is right about to take the sparrow-hawk when Erec stops her and asks Enide to take the sparrowhawk instead. The other knight, instead of settling this with words, decides to settle it with a duel instead. Murder really is everyone’s first resort in these stories, isn’t it?
The fight goes on for two pages, but I’ll summarize it with: Erec wins! Yay! After the fight, the knight, whose name is Yder (son of Nut), asks why Erec seems to hate him so much. Erec reminds him of that time that the dwarf with him attacked the queen’s maiden, and orders Yder to deliver himself to the queen and tell her that Erec will come back to court the next day along with a beautiful maiden. Yder does so, and the queen tells him that she will let him off easy since he surrendered himself to her, but she wants him to become a member of the court. This is the hiring process in Arthurian legend, I guess. Why can’t I get a job by showing up to my future workplace, being a dick to everyone in sight, and then getting beaten up by someone hot?? Why can’t I do that?? I want to get a job because Gawain kicked my ass once! I think I should be allowed to have that in these dark times!
Anyway, back to Erec, people are fangirling over him! The count, Enide’s uncle, offers to let him stay at his place since Erec is the son of a king, but Erec decides to continue staying with Enide and her father, instead. Sorry, but he is NOT leaving the hot girl.
When Erec gets to Enide’s home, he tells her father that he wishes to take Enide to King Arthur’s court and marry her after. He tells her father that he will give him two fine castles, called Roadan and Montreval, and that he will give the man and his wife gold, silver, vair and miniver (which I think are types of furs??), and expensive silk. Enide’s cousin, described as a ‘prudent, sensible, and worthy maiden,’ points out that Enide should probably be given a new gown before taking her to see the queen, but Erec replies that he wishes for Queen Guinevere to give her a fine silk gown. The damsel relents, so instead, she gives Enide her dapple-grey palfrey (which is another word for a small horse that a lady might ride).
The next day, Erec leaves for the court. Enide says goodbye to her parents, and there is a lot of crying. Luckily, Enide has a hot guy to comfort her! During the ride to Camelot, she and Erec cannot stop staring at each other and making out. I feel like an uncomfortable third party reading this.
Anyway, Erec and Enide finally come to the castle of Cardigan, where King Arthur is staying. Everyone is delighted to see them back, and King Arthur himself helps Enide down from her horse and, taking her hand, leads her inside. Erec explains a little bit of Enide’s family history to Queen Guinevere, and then asks her to give Enide a gown. Guinevere agrees, and gives Enide a dress and a green brocade mantle. The gown is lined with ermine, and gold and jewels are sewn in around the cuffs and the neckline. Two women braid Enide’s hair with golden thread, but her hair was even brighter than the thread or whatever, because she’s that perfect.
Wait, hold on, they also give her jewelry and stuff, but I just got distracted by something: Chretien de Troyes claims that Erec is a better knight than Lancelot?? LIES. EREC CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE TO–ahem. Anyway.
Erec and Enide go out into the hall, and Enide is seated next to the king. Guinevere tells the king that the matter of the white stag can finally be resolved, because no one could argue that there is any woman alive more beautiful than Enide. I mean, I think someone could actually still argue about that if they really liked arguing, which all of the Round Table does, but! For once, everyone decides to get along, and they all agree that Enide is the prettiest. King Arthur kisses her, and the matter of the white stag is resolved.
“Well, Erec seems like a pretty fine person?” you may be asking at this point. “Why do you keep dunking on him so much?” Well, that is a question that will be answered in part two, I think, because this post is starting to get a little long and I realize I probably need to split this up into two parts before this gets out of hand. This seems like a good stopping point!
Btw, if I forget to post part two, feel free to bully me in the comments lmao
Okay first off I am so sorry for writing a short story that requires lore to understand. But if you don’t know anything about Gareth and Lynet, I think this story will really make more sense if you read the Wikipedia page about the story. This works out for me, because I really want more people to learn about Lynet! *insert evil laughter here or something*
Anyway, spoilers for a seven hundred year old (or something, I can’t be bothered to count) story: Beaumains is actually Gareth, Gawain’s little brother, in disguise as a kitchen boy for reasons known only to himself. Also you know how Arthur killed babies or something in an attempt to murder Mordred because of the whole prophecy thing and then it was never addressed again in Le Morte D’Arthur? Well, this story is my attempt at (sort of) addressing it.
(Also Gareth has ADHD in this. I don’t go into it too much in this story but yeah forgetting which conversations I’ve had including ones like ‘did I ever tell you about that time one of my family members tried to murder the other one’ is 100% something I would do.)
Here’s my pinterest board for these two characters! Also, I have an AO3 account now? (Also I have nothing to say about my username other than that my sister encouraged me and thus may also be held responsible. Obscure Arthurian in-jokes for the win I guess???) I don’t have anything posted on it so far besides this story, but I do want to write more fanfic, so hopefully I can change that assuming I can write fanfic that I can also convince myself to publish.
Also, on a more serious note, I found this NPR article listing charities doing work in Ukraine that you can donate to!
Lynet was ashamed to admit that she woke up much closer to Beaumains than she had ever meant to get in her life, and even more ashamed to find that he had woken up first. She had thrown an arm over him in her sleep.
She pulled away from him, face uncomfortably hot. Wind howled softly high up in the trees around the clearing. The night air was cold against her skin, making the hair on her arms prickle, and only a few flames guttered in the campfire by now. Lynet wrapped her cloak around herself, not having the energy to try to build the fire back up.
“I’m sorry,” Beaumains said softly, getting up and walking a short distance away before sitting down again. He rubbed at his eyes. “I think I woke you up. I had a nightmare.”
Lynet nodded, only halfway taking the words in. “What about?” she asked. The question suddenly seemed much too personal for some reason.
Beaumains tilted his head as he looked at her, considering. “Did I ever tell you about my younger brother? The youngest of the lot,” he said, with a smile that almost looked bitter.
She looked to the side. Each new thing he revealed about his brothers was stranger than the last, and she suspected he took some pleasure in that fact, which annoyed her. “No,” she said finally. And I don’t want to hear about him, she wanted to say, but she was too tired to carry a confrontation through to the end, so what even was the point?
“I didn’t think I did, but I wouldn’t know. I never remember anything. I heard my uncle drowned him when the boy was a baby.” He stared at his hands, his eyebrows scrunched together.
“Your uncle did what?” Lynet said, her voice much too loud. She stared at him, wishing she could get up and leave to avoid what was going to be an emotional conversation, and aware that doing so would be crueler than even Lynet was willing to be.
A wild animal scratched around in the underbrush behind her, and Lynet couldn’t stop her shoulders from tensing up, something in the back of her mind screaming that someone had finally caught up to them to murder them. It was just a wild animal, and not a very big one, from the sound of it.
If she could do away with knights and chivalry and all those things that had put her into this position, she would in a heartbeat.
“Oh, my uncle killed my younger brother,” Beaumains said, horribly unfazed. She was really too tired to deal with this. “No one speaks of it, but it was certainly either my uncle or…well, the man who was something of a mentor to him. I never figured it out. It happened when I was very young, and I only ever heard people whisper of it after, and they stopped the whispers as well soon enough.” He shrugged, as though he were simply mildly disappointed about this.
“Well…” Lynet worked to find the right words. “I’m sorry?” she hedged.
“Don’t be. I barely remember the poor lad.” Beaumains poked at the dying fire with a stick in a failed attempt to revive it. The fire sputtered, but otherwise didn’t respond. He sighed, gave up, and threw the stick in.
Lynet screwed her face up as she stared at the embers. She tried to reconcile this new information with the other things he’d told her, and she found she couldn’t. “I thought you said your uncle was a good man!” she protested. “What on earth—”
“More than one thing can be true at once,” he said, looking up at her with those keen brown eyes of his. “He’s a good man to many, and a bad man to my dead brother. Assuming he even killed the boy.”
He reminded Lynet of her sister, with those nice words that fell apart as soon as you thought about them for more than a split second. Both of them said such horrible things, and Lynet didn’t think that either meant a word of what they said. At least, she hoped neither of them meant a word of what they said. It was all so unsettling.
Lynet wanted to grab him by the collar and shake him until he said something that made sense. “You can’t commit infanticide and still be a good person,” she said, slowly and forcefully.
Beaumains leaned back onto his elbows, staring up at the stars. “I suppose not,” he said. “But then, I don’t even know that he did it.”
“I would kill someone over my sister,” Lynet said, her fingernails digging into her palms until it hurt. “I wouldn’t be able to rest until I found out—”
“Well, you see, it’s a good thing you’re not me,” he said, with a lopsided grin. “Seems like more people will stay alive this way. I’d kill to not find out. Although I’d rather not kill at all,” he added in a bitter undertone.
Lynet thought of telling him that he wouldn’t have to kill anyone if he simply left saving her sister to a more capable man, but even she had to admit that it was the wrong time. “Why?” she asked. “Why would someone murder a child like that?” She couldn’t wrap her head around the mindless cruelty such an act would take, and she had spent the last year and a half attempting to wrap her head around various acts of mindless cruelty.
Beaumains hesitated for a while before answering. “I don’t know,” he said, with a grimace of a smile. “I never tried to find out.”
“I really don’t understand you.” Her voice came out flat. “I’m sorry for you, but I don’t understand you, and I hope I never will.”
Beaumains let out a laugh. “I hope you never do either,” he said soberly. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” He shifted, rubbing at his forehead. “I never told anyone this story before for a reason,” he whispered, half to himself. “Please speak of this to no one. I don’t know at all if what I overheard was true, and sometimes I convince myself that I never heard it at all.”
Lynet lifted her chin. “I’m not stupid,” she told him. “I know when things should be kept secret. Stop worrying.”
He let out a laugh. “You aren’t half as bad as you pretend to be, you know,” he told her as he went to lie back down. “As foolish as it is, it is a relief to tell someone. So thank you.” He pulled the blanket over himself.
Her cheeks felt hot for some reason. “Shut up,” she snapped. “I despise you, and I want you to shut up.”
“If you wish,” he said, sounding like he was holding back laughter.
Lynet hesitated, before she decided that she was very cold. “Don’t you ever dare speak of this to anyone, either,” she said, as she lay down beside him, wrapping her arms around him for warmth.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, my lady,” he said sincerely, as he pulled a blanket around her.
They fell asleep that way, curled up into each other.
I hope you enjoyed! I kind of feel like it wasn’t my best, but also I don’t care, and I like it well enough. Please, tell me your thoughts!
I’m baaack! My depression did not defeat me! Anyway, I’m here to rant about this one quote that gets passed around a lot by this writer that I’ve never read, because I am very Normal, and I enjoy ranting about fairy tales. Sorry, G.K. Chesterton.
Every so often, I’ll see people talk about fairy tales, and occasionally the question will come up: Why DO kids like fairy tales even though they’re so violent? Isn’t that a little weird? What’s up with that? Eventually, someone inevitably pulls out the Chesterton quote:
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
And I’m sorry, I’ve never read Chesterton before (I’ll get to him eventually! I will!), but I literally hate that quote so much. I know my reaction is probably unfair, but I remember what it was like reading those Brothers Grimm stories when I was eight! I don’t remember everything from my childhood, but I remember that, and I know it wasn’t like how Chesterton said!
I genuinely wonder if this might have to do with having two parents who were abused as children, and then growing up in an area that had violent white supremacists who were…distressingly normalized by certain people in my community (including the police), but that quote has never rang true for me at all. Fairy tales didn’t appeal to me because they showed me that good will win against evil in the end. No, the violence WAS the appeal.
Allow me to explain. I will admit to being a deeply edgy(tm) eight year old who thought I was SO hardcore for reading a story in which someone got their eyes pecked out by doves, but that wasn’t all of it. Do you remember being a young child? Everyone wants to protect you from knowing about all the Bad Things that are out there. You hear about Bad Things every day. Sometimes your own kith and kin are the ones doing and saying the things that are Bad. Some of the ‘good’ people around you are so invested in defending these awful people. “This man isn’t bad for stalking your sister!” they say. “He just likes her! This boy isn’t a white supremacist! He’s just a eighteen year old putting swastikas up in his window! Your grandfather isn’t bad for hitting your mother! He’s your grandfather, you guys should talk to him!”
(No, literally, my dad called the police on some guy who was stalking our place when I was little, only for the dispatcher to tell him that the guy must JUST LIKE MY SISTER. WHO WAS A TEENAGER. AND WHO DIDN’T KNOW THIS GUY FROM ADAM. Anyway, fuck the police system and all the abuses it perpetrates, but that’s a completely different post that I won’t write. So many other people have said it better, I think)
The fairy tales I read didn’t tell me that I could defeat evil things. But they told me that these evil things existed, and that was enough. Sometimes a witch decides to behead a girl, and then the girl tricks her into beheading her own daughter. Perhaps the daughter was innocent, perhaps she wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes a stepmother decides to brutally kill her own daughter, only for her daughter to turn around and force her stepmother to dance to her death in hot iron shoes. Violence is a senseless, meaningless pursuit that everyone participates in anyway, because someone else was violent first, and that is the nature of humanity.
I loved these fairy tales because they didn’t pretend that violence made any sense. They didn’t pretend that everything would be wrapped up by the end, that good would always triumph over evil. The dragon can be defeated, to be sure, but sometimes only when the heroine becomes worse herself. There is no reason for the stepmother to try to poison her daughter, and there’s no reason for Snow White to force her mother to dance to her death in hot iron shoes, and there’s no reason for that woman down the street to beat her child, and there’s no reason for that other man down the street (the one no one in town wants to talk about, but who people will say is a great guy if the topic comes up) to be a white supremacist. There’s no sense to any of it, and none of it is neat or clean.
There were definitely fairy tales that were too violent for me and that I didn’t like, especially the ones that just had this sort of…legalistic morality, I guess (The Red Shoes, I am looking at you), but let me tell you, I absolutely adored the ones that went ‘hey! Isn’t this thing fucked up?’ Yeah, maybe life IS full of bad things that don’t make sense, but we all have to survive anyway! Maybe people are pointlessly cruel, and maybe you yourself will sometimes become pointlessly cruel in turn, and yet you still have to live and go on! Not everything in life makes sense, but we still have to live with ourselves (and hopefully get that magic castle along the way).
Obviously, the violence wasn’t the only appeal of fairy tales to me. I loved the monsters, I loved the motifs, and I loved the fact that they were just cool. Hey, there’s a group of sisters that goes down below each night to dance until they wear holes through their shoes! There’s a boy and a girl who raise a forest, a river, and a mountain range behind them as they escape from their evil mother! There’s a woman who asks the sun, moon, and wind for help to save her husband from a witch! But I definitely liked the violent aspect some of them had when I was a small child, and I think it’s really oversimplifying it to say that it’s appealing because the violence is defeated at the end. Violence is not always defeated. Sometimes it simply transmutes, becoming a thing that’s handed down from perpetrator to victim. But I would argue that that’s what makes them feel real.
Obviously, my experiences are not universal, so I’m really curious as to what you guys think. How did you react to fairy tales growing up? Did you guys also absolutely adore the version where Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to fit them into the glass slippers when you were tiny, or were you normal? Also, I hope I don’t sound disparaging to anyone who likes that Chesterton quote or anything. Of course it’s going to ring true for some, but it never rang true for me personally.
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
Hey, I’m finally writing short stories again! The last time I posted one was in January of last year. Let’s just say it’s been a while.
Anyway, I wrote this one for Jem’s prompt linkup, One Quirk Later. The prompt got my gears turning, and then I churned out something with a Victorian mansion that just might be an eldritch abomination, a genderfluid child who is possibly a fairy, and a (mostly) normal guy who is honestly so tired.
One last thing to clear up any possible confusion: the child getting referred to by both he and she pronouns throughout the story is 100% intentional.
Nothing was ever the same twice in the House.
Things shifted and changed, sometimes from moment to moment. Edward was never lucky enough to see it with his own eyes, but sometimes he would look up and find that the walls were now a peaceful sage green instead of the white that they had been a second ago, or he would look down and see hemlock springing up through the floor, as though his floor were a garden instead of part of a house. But it was not his house, though he may live here, and he did not even pay any rent, so he put up with it and did not say anything whenever anything moderately objectionable happened.
He had wandered into this place once, many years ago, and he had never been able to find his way out of the grounds again, for the grounds grew twisted and tangled each time he tried. Edward had been on vacation from Oxford, and quite drunk, and his friends had been very curious about the old ruins of a mansion on the hill. They were much too afraid to come with him, though they had teased him for a coward when he expressed hesitation. Edward supposed they had all gone on to be successful members of parliament, and likely they were all very happy as well.
He was not alone in here, at least. A child followed him around the place, haunting his every step. The child appeared as a boy one moment, and a girl the next, but he knew it was impossible for them to be two different people. Those blank, endless eyes could only belong to one person. The probability of eyes that strange belonging to two children were ridiculously low.
The child had terrified Edward at first. He had been sure that the child was a demon. Perhaps a vampire like in those penny dreadfuls his mother always complained about him reading. But it never did anything, just stared at him with those big blank eyes, and he had been reminded of his old nursemaid’s tales of changelings. A changeling ought to have scared him also, he supposed, but anything was a relief after suspecting himself of having been haunted by a demon.
Ivy covered the library shelves, intertwining too tightly with the books to ever hope to extract them. He doubted it would be much use, even if he had managed it. The books the House tried to create—at least, the only ones he had ever found—had always been fractured in some way, when he tried to look inside. Sometimes literally so, the pages crumbling to pieces and reforming again. Sometimes they were filled with nonsensical hieroglyphs, not Egyptian or any language he would recognize. The only books he had were the ones he had had in his pack he had carried in.
“All I want is to reread Carmilla,” Edward complained to the child, who was currently, incomprehensibly, reading a picture book. He looked over her shoulder. The pictures blurred and reformed into increasingly unfamiliar shapes and colors until he was sure that they must be attempting to depict God. (Not God from the church. That was a watered-down God, made more human so as to be understandable to his followers. This was attempting to depict the God that could leave Edward locked up in a fracturing, unhinging house and still love him.)
The child did not answer. He never did.
“I think I’ll call you Carmilla,” Edward decided. The child looked up at him, narrowing her eyes, which was more of a reaction than he had had all week. Edward responded with a shaky smile. He always thought they were friends, but it was hard to tell with children, especially with fairy children.
The House tried to provide for him, even though it did not know how. The next week, he found a book on the table beside his bed with Carmilla written on the spine in shaky lettering. The words inside were nonsense, of course, written in Latin all jumbled up.
Edward found a piano in the dining room, one day. He looked over it, expecting to find an apple tree bursting out of the body of the piano, or for it to only create sounds that sounded like they might have been produced by one of the odder angels, the ones that were simply concentric rings with eyes. But it sounded the same as any other piano.
“Come here,” he said to Carmilla. The child cocked his head and walked over. “Do you like Mozart?”
She waited, presumably for Edward to say something important.
“I never liked Mozart when I was a child,” Edward continued, “but my mother did, and she taught me to play. I never appreciated it when I was young.” His laugh sounded breathless. “I don’t think I appreciated the things she did for me half as much as I ought.” He sat down, hammering out Mozart’s minuet in G major. His playing was clumsy and graceless, and he often struck the wrong notes, but he had not been able to practice for many years, and he thought he did quite well, considering.
The child listened, fingers twitching, and when Edward had finished, the child played the melody back to him, with perfect intonation and without a single mistake. Edward sighed. “That…that was very good,” Edward said. “If you ever decide to leave the business of haunting places, you ought to become a musician.” Fairy children were supposed to be good with music, Edward remembered from the stories. It wasn’t his fault that the child was better than him, despite the fact that he didn’t think she’d ever touched a piano before.
He played piano the rest of the afternoon, though eventually he ran out of pieces he had memorized, and he had to repeat some, or struggle through the half-remembered ones. The child seemed to enjoy it, all the same.
Edward, while he played, thought that he might remember how to be human like this. He would later think that it was this moment that caused the House’s power over him to weaken, but he would never be sure.
Spring was a time of renewal. The grounds did not always remember to match the seasons—sometimes he would wake up to find a light frost on the ground outside, and the trees orange and gold in the summer—but it tried its best. Edward lay in the orchard, letting the cool sun shine on him, as he reread his Latin textbook for the fifteenth time. He had learned Latin well enough by now to make his old professor weep with joy. Full, red apples weighed down the branches of the trees, alongside white flowers just beginning to unfurl their petals. He picked up an apple that had fallen, turning it over into his hand and wondering if it was worth trying. He shrugged his shoulders and bit into it. It was juicy and sweet, like the apples he had eaten as a young boy stealing from his neighbor’s orchard. There were no apples better than stolen apples, at least not to a child. He laughed to himself, taking another bite.
He looked to the side, wondering if there would be anything at all beyond the orchard or if there would just be a blank nothingness. Sometimes that happened, when he opened doors to rooms that the House had forgotten to fill. His eyes chanced to fall upon a toad in a watering can. He stilled, the apple falling from his hand. He had never seen another living creature in the House before, aside from the child. The toad waited, meeting his eyes, and then it hopped away down a path that had not been there before.
Edward scrunched up his eyebrows, then decided that the toad meant for him to follow. He took another second to decide that he would not be wasting his time. A living creature in this place was a novel enough thing.
The path led down a hill and by a fishpond—stocked with actual koi fish, he would have wept for joy and then talked to them for hours just for the feeling of someone listening if not for the fact that he thought the toad would be very unimpressed—and finally, to a twisted, crumpled silver gate that would not shut all the way, and beyond that was a wood.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh.” This wood was not the hill in Yorkshire that he had walked up to enter the house. In fact, he suspected that the wood was not any place on earth at all, but it was certainly a real, living place, and not something pretending to be that like the House. Or perhaps attempting was the better word; it wanted to be real and living, but it couldn’t quite manage.
Five years of living here, and he still wasn’t sure if it was malevolent or if it simply did not understand.
“Is this place fairyland?” he asked the toad. It did not respond, not particularly having a voice box suited for creating sounds in human languages. Edward looked back uncertainly. The house stood high and proud, in ruins and in the prime of its existence. “What about Carmilla? The child, not the vampire,” he added hastily. He wished, with a keen sense of embarrassment, that he had named the child anything more normal. Jane was a perfectly nice, respectable name.
Edward had never known toads to have expressions, but this one managed to look at him as though he were a blithering idiot. “He can make it out of the house any time she wants to, can’t he?” he said. Edward had always known she was not trapped in the House like he was, but he hated to leave her, all the same. Perhaps Edward would miss him, in a strange way. Perhaps he would miss him quite a bit.
Edward had not the slightest idea what awaited him in the world outside. It might be worse than the House. But he could never go back, any more than he could will himself to jump into a freezing lake with no cause. “Well,” he said. “With my Latin textbook at my side, I feel quite ready to take on anything.” He smiled awkwardly.
He looked ahead, taking a deep breath, and stepped outside the grounds for the first time in what felt like a century. He would survive. Somehow or another, he always did.
Short stories, how I have missed thee. It feels really good to just sink my teeth into a project for two or three hours and then be done with it, lmao. It also feels like it’s been a little while since I’ve written historical fiction, though that may just be because I’ve spent the last two months in fanfic purgatory. It still feels good to get back to the genre even though I haven’t been gone that long, though! Anyway, tell me what you think!
I decided to cover the epic highs and lows of my 2021 reading year through writing mini reviews! Part one may be found here.
Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian
agjsd;l I didn’t realize until just now that this is the third Arthurian story I read in a row. Anyway this one was Very Bad and I have yet to find an Arthurian retelling that encapsulates the sheer unhinged and fun quality that the legends have, although I do remember loving The Squire’s Tale as a kid. This was like…bad characters with no depth to them, pretty unfeminist feminism (I’m still kind of salty about the ‘magic starts with menstruation’ thing, like can trans women/women who can’t menstruate not do magic in this universe or am I taking this too literally?? Also, don’t forget Guinevere getting pressured into a marriage by our wonderful heroine), corsets that are the root of all evil…And also it was really hokey. Werewolf Guinevere is going to haunt me. I’m sure you get the picture.
Full review here. Also on Goodreads some weird lady got pissed and called me childish for this review?? And then she rated the book three stars and said it wasn’t that great??? People on Goodreads are bizarre.
A Dowry of Bloodby S.T. Gibson
This was somehow worse than Half Sick of Shadows. And it wasn’t even a real Dracula retelling. Amazing.
This was…interesting? But kind of forgettable at the same time? Idk, I enjoyed the mystery of what on earth is going on with those little kids, but I think the ending was overly abrupt and I didn’t really like it. I’ve got mixed feelings!
The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
This was so cool and interesting?? It’s a defense of women written in the fifteenth century, so you know, I was all over this one. It’s deeply weird and definitely not written from a modern viewpoint at all, and it was just a really fascinating read.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Hmm, so I’ve finally had it happen where a childhood favorite just wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Oh well, more fodder for fanfic I’m probably never going to publish. I just HATE when I hyperfixate on a bad book though, which yes, I am currently hyperfixating on Harry Potter for some reason. At least I’m getting writing practice out of it, though.
Okay, since nobody asked, allow me to discuss a few Harry Potter headcanons of mine:
Headcanon I actually believe: Sirius Black is aroace (or possibly very gay for James! I’m open to either interpretation)
Headcanon that I must believe or else I succumb to the depths of despair: Snape and Lily were platonic *sobs in the misogyny that was the whole Snily vs. Jily thing* (No seriously the way Lily was handled in regards to both James and Snape was so misogynist. Why can’t we stop getting mad about James vs. Snape and start getting mad about how Lily only existed to be a conduit for two men’s character development and–there are multiple rants I could write about Lily, I’d better stop now)
Headcanon I think is really funny: God. Everything about the Black family. Sirius Black rebelling against his family by going to church and listening to Mozart and it WORKS because church and Mozart are muggle. Their dad asking Sirius loudly if he enjoys rubbing shoulders with the plebians every time they have to go somewhere (MY GRANDPA DID THIS, as a side note). That family is so weird and trashy and they live in my head rent-free.
Headcanon that is all of the above: Marcus Flint and Oliver Wood were actually dating, they just got SUPER competitive on the quidditch field. We never find out about this because it wasn’t relevant to Harry’s story ❤
Anyway yeah unfortunately this book is trash. Ultra unfortunately, it’s the kind of trash with expansive worldbuilding and a few really good ideas that gets the hyperfixation gears turning
Uh…I kind of ended up writing two reviews for this book lmao because I wrote one a while back, when I hadn’t read the book in years, and then I reread the book and realized I was irritated enough that I had to write an updated one with my thoughts lmao.
White Smoke by Tiffany Jackson
The twist was hokey and the ending was super abrupt?? What was up with that? Also I simply think that the mom should have divorced her husband, but whatever
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
This one was a TREAT. I loved the worldbuilding, and the main character is so down to earth, it’s great. They’re just such a normal person thrown into a very not-normal situation, and I love them. Also, it has DRAGON ROBOTS. The ending was a bit out of nowhere but honestly, I didn’t mind. Dragon robots, guys.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I have found one of my new favorite books. The prose is beautiful and gets under your skin. The heroine seems normal only for you to realize that she’s just as unsettling as the house she’s staying in. The HOUSE. I know it’s evil, but I too find myself strangely drawn to it. Just. God, I wish I could write like this.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
*sigh* Round two went much the same as the first, except this time the pacing was worse and Snape and Malfoy were much more poorly written. The only interesting part of this book was Tom Riddle, and then the author underutilized Tom Riddle. Why couldn’t these books have been about Tom Riddle?
(I mean, thank God they weren’t about Tom Riddle, because then we would have been thrown headfirst into Even More Ableist Bullshit than whatever that was in the sixth book, but I digress)
THIS WAS SO GOOD OH MY GOD IT HAS EVERYTHING. IT HAS GAY WEREWOLVES, IT HAS SHAPESHIFTING HAWK BOYFRIENDS, IT HAS HOT FEY GIRLFRIENDS WHO SWEEP IN TO SAVE THE DAY EACH TIME. IT’S AMAZING AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY READ IT.
(Also, when I saw gay werewolves, I don’t mean it literally lmao, it’s just that I think it’s easy to headcanon him that way. I don’t want to raise any false hopes)
Medea did nothing wrong. She killed her kids, you say? Well what if the kids had bad vibes? I think you people just hate to see a girlboss winning.
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson
This was so cute!! In which an autistic girl and the revenant that’s possessing her attempt to save their country from the monsters trying to destroy it. (It’s not stated on page because it’s a medieval fantasy, but it’s heavily implied that she’s autistic, which makes me very happy). Anyway, things go wrong because the girl and the revenant only share one braincell. It’s great.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
This was good, but unfortunately the prose could have used more polishing, and I definitely think it should have been middle grade. The worldbuilding was pretty creative, though! I loved the ghost mammoth.
A List of Cages by Robin Roe
The portrayal of ADHD and abuse was pretty good, although there was some weird stuff in there about home remedying ADHD away, which. What. PLEASE inform me if any of you guys have ADHD and find home remedies useful for you, because I have never heard of this and my mom is into all sorts of herbal medicine stuff?? And I also didn’t like a few weird comments that were made about patients in mental hospitals. There was also some unfortunate misogyny, especially toward Camila, the black female character, and just…hmm. I really liked the portrayal of abuse, though, the main characters were well-developed, and aside from a few weird lines, the ADHD rep was pretty good? I just have mixed feelings toward this one, I guess.
Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women: Politics, Personality, and Literary Production in the Life of Nun Abutsu by Christina Laffin
This was so interesting! I love reading about historical women, and I love reading literary criticism, so this was right up my alley!
Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell
Okay I did not expect the writing style to be this good! A few stories were slower than others, but the ones that were good were REALLY good.
Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
This was really something else. Spooky and weird and wonderful and…somewhat lesbian? How this got published in the 1800s I do not know, but the book is a fun read and a wild ride! Fair warning, if you attempt a drinking game in which you take a shot every time the word ‘languid’ or ‘melancholy’ is used, you will end up with liver poisoning by the end.
Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
This had a slow start, but I ended up really enjoying it by the end! It’s probably not my favorite book ever, but it’s solidly enjoyable, and that’s a lot more than can be said for other books I’ve read this year (oops I did not start this out intending to be bitter). Full review here
The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
THIS WAS NOT SOLIDLY ENJOYABLE. HOW DO YOU TAKE LOKI AND ANGRBODA AND MAKE THEM A) ANNOYING AND B) HAVE NORMAL BORING MARRIAGE PROBLEMS. WHAT WAS UP WITH THIS. OOH, HE JUST CAN’T COMMIT TO ME AND THE KIDS! SHUT UP, I DON’T CARE. IF I WANTED TO READ ABOUT SOME GUY WITH COMMITMENT ISSUES I WOULD READ SOME BOOK ABOUT THE TRIALS AND DESPAIRS OF LIVING IN THE SUBURBS.
Someday I will find a good Arthuriana retelling, but apparently not in 2021! I haven’t been reading as much so far this year, but I am slowly making my way through Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio and Winter’s Orbit. They’re both pretty good so far, even though I’m not too far into Winter’s Orbit yet. I’ve also been working pretty steadily on my fanfic? Hopefully I’ll finally defeat my ADHD-induced writer’s block once and for all, lol.