Half Sick of Shadows; a review, in which I am half sick of this book (okay, more than half)

This book does not deserve this great cover

I forced myself to finish this. I honestly don’t know why.

**This review contains spoilers**

God. God I hated this so much.

Okay, so here’s the setup: Elaine is an oracle (cool). Elaine is being emotionally abused by her evil depressed mother, who is the only mentally ill character in this book (somewhat less cool). Elaine then goes to Avalon, where everyone is liberated and wears skimpy clothing and is neo-pagan in sixth century fantasy Britain for some reason! (GO BACK GO BACK I WANT TO GO BACK) Yeah, suffice to say that this book impressed me with an interesting first scene and then took a swan dive off a cliff. At least my expectations weren’t that high? …Still though, I was foolish enough to at least have some expectations!

Clearly, I need to stop doing that with modern Arthuriana.

I’ll get into all the ugly stuff later, but let me start off by saying that I was super confused about the plot for most of the book? Elaine’s visions led me to believe that this was going to cover all of Arthur’s reign from his rise to his fall, because she kept having visions about the arthurpocalypse and How It All Fell Apart (ooh). And then I was at the middle of the book and Arthur hadn’t even married Guinevere yet? I honestly had to rack my brains to remember if this was really a standalone. Anyway, yeah, I could have done with a few less visions! Or at least put something in the blurb to make it clear that this is about Arthur’s rise to power? Maybe?

So yeah, the plot was really boring and I honestly don’t know why I was supposed to care. Oh no, Merlin is supporting Mordred, who is now Arthur’s half-brother for some reason and also in love with Morgause because this book decided to devote its existence to making me want to throw up! Why is Merlin doing this (especially when supporting Mordred goes against everything he stood for in the legends)? I don’t know! Elaine wants to stop this, because Mordred will run the kingdom into the ground! At least in an unspecified vision Elaine had, anyway. Why couldn’t we have seen that vision? It would have given such a better sense of the stakes if we could have seen what would have happened to Albion. Elaine is all-in for Arthur for…reasons I guess! I don’t know why! Why can’t she grab power for herself and be queen if she can literally see the future? She’d do a better job of it than either of those two schmucks.

I couldn’t help but compare this to Nirvana in Fire as I read this, not because it was anywhere NEAR as good as Nirvana in Fire, but because both stories had a protagonist who puts their life on hold to get some other guy on the throne. But Mei Changsu had a clear reason for wanting the current emperor off the throne, because the emperor was responsible for the death of his family. I get why that would drive you to do really extreme things! And I also understand why he would think Prince Jing was the best guy to be on the throne. Prince Jing is a guy who REALLY cares about justice, and the corrupt royal court doesn’t have a lot of guys like that. I just…wasn’t convinced about Arthur? It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that I don’t understand why he’s good, let alone the best guy to be on the throne. I don’t know why Elaine cares so much about this guy, other than that Nimue told her he would bring some vague ‘golden age’ or whatever. Sure, I…guess he’s better than Mordred? Were there no other options? Why are my only two options ‘evil weasel’ and ‘stale chunk of white bread?’

Also, like…Nihuang was more of a girl power icon than any of the women in these books will ever be.

Speaking of girl power! The way feminism was handled in this book was so simplistic, heavy-handed, and sometimes…just plain dumb? Probably the most egregious scene was with Morgana and the tapestry. Okay, okay, get this. Morgana walks into the room, points to the unicorn on the tapestry and asks Elaine if she knows what the unicorn represents. Elaine answers that it represents virtue, and Morgana responds that it represents virginity, and the men don’t want to tell her that because they don’t want to seem too interested in what goes on between a girl’s legs (her words, not mine). I…

POLICING WOMEN’S SEXUALITY IS THE WHOLE POINT FOR THESE PEOPLE AND THAT ABSOLUTELY EXTENDS TO HOW THEY TREAT TEENAGERS. Oh boy, I wish this were how the world worked! I sure WISH that men would pretend not to care too much about a teenage girl’s sexuality! Someone take me to this fantasy world, please! *bangs head against a wall* I have literally read an article in which a girl’s parents pulled her out of the swim team at age TEN because the swimsuit she had to wear was too tight (fitted swimsuits are required for competitive swimming)! I have heard of young teenage girls getting lectured for being a ‘stumbling block’ to the older men in their church because the young girl wore a shirt that was too tight or something. Please explain to me again how these types of men will act so bashfully around young women that they don’t even want to mention virginity in front of them.

Anyway, this was all a lead-in to Morgana’s sex joke, because of course it was. Arthur is RIDING the unicorn? Get it??? *waggles eyebrows* If your sex joke has to be explained that much in order for it to make sense, it isn’t a very good joke. Kill me now.

And then Morgana proceeds to burn the tapestry #ForTheLols, which makes me want to kill her. Embroidery is so hard and those girls worked on the tapestry so much. Just because Elaine hates the tapestry doesn’t mean all the girls who worked on it do. It must have been some of those girls’ pride and joy. That was the moment I decided I hated Morgana.

The feminism would swing between being about historical issues no modern woman would have to face and modern issues no historical woman would likely face. And sometimes issues NO woman would face, ever (see the tapestry). The corset represents female oppression!!! Get it, because the boning in a corset is like a cage?? Sort of like how real women are in a metaphorical cage?? DO YOU GET THE SYMBOLISM??? And the pooooooor women, not being able to practice archery and having to wear corsets and all that. Because medieval women absolutely wore corsets and didn’t practice archery.

A medieval woman hunting with a bow and arrow in a cute pink dress

…Okay, look here. Medieval noblewomen practiced archery because oh, look at that! They went hunting! They absolutely didn’t wear corsets. My God. The author just lifted a bunch of stereotypes about the 19th century in order to write her book. At one point the heroine wears a dress that has cap sleeves, which. I’m pretty sure would not have been done in the medieval period? All the women in paintings that I’ve seen have their arms covered up to their wrists, which would have been a pretty nice thing to mention if you want to talk about modesty! Oh, and at one point, Elaine literally says ‘not all men,’ to which Guinevere replies, ‘not all men, Elaine……but enough of them,’ and I’m sorry, did I stumble onto a twitter conversation somehow? Because I would like to get off. Like. Are you writing about 19th century–oh, I’m sorry, medieval oppression of women, or are you making commentary on how they’re oppressed in the present day? Or are you going to look at the ways in which the treatment of women stays the same throughout history, discussing how while times change, some of the ways in which people treat women remain the same, and–oh, you just steamrolled past that option. Didn’t even notice it. Never mind, I’m not sure what else I expected.

You know what, I give up. I’m going to have Mordred say “yes all men” and shove a guy out a window. If Laura Sebastian can do it, so can I.

(A quick note: I don’t think Arthuriana has to be historically accurate at all! It’s basically impossible to write historically accurate Arthuriana, if you want to get down to it. But my personal preference is for the world to feel more medieval than this? And I really just don’t understand why we’re segueing into 19th century women’s issues.)

I also think the feminism in this book doesn’t address a lot of women out there? The liberation in this book is found in wildness. Avalon, with its sexy sexy bonfires and women who wear skimpy clothing, is liberated. THEIR women do stuff. They can do magic and be fighters. Lyonesse is liberated. Their women are werewolves and they wear short skirts and kill people! They’re wild and they run and fight! Camelot’s women…

…Um, they’re just not mentioned? Elaine’s mom is mentioned. She’s evil and abusive. Morgause is mentioned. She’s evil because she wants power for herself, unlike good and sweet Elaine who wants power for a man. And worse, Morgause is too feminine, unlike the heroine, who is just the right amount of feminine! Morgause cares about her appearance and stuff, which makes her an evul harpy who is evul! Seriously, Morgause is such a negative female stereotype. I do not understand why you would pretend to write a feminist novel and then treat your female villains this way?

To be fair, Elaine is from Camelot, but she spends most of her teenage years on Avalon, and she has Avalon’s values. I’m not counting her. Even though she is more ‘normal’ than her friends, she still seems like an exceptional woman to me, with her powers as a seeress that allows her to influence the rise and fall of kings. What of the normal women? The women who aren’t werewolves, or sorceresses, or kingmakers?

Anyway, we never hear about the women who do fit in and what they go through. We also never hear about the women who don’t fit in in different ways from Elaine and co. The feminism is just not very intersectional. There are a few women of color, but they’re either relegated to relatively minor roles, or, uh…We’ll get to that later. The closest thing we get to queer rep is Guinevere and Elaine jokingly flirting, but don’t worry, folks! They’re very straight, they’re just flirting because they’re not homophobic and women flirting is funny or…something? I guess? Seriously, they had more chemistry in that one scene than either of them EVER do with their trash boyfriends. We never hear about any disabled or mentally ill women. Oh wait, I almost forgot! We do hear about one mentally ill woman, who is mentally ill and abusive. Can’t forget Elaine’s mom.

Look, I don’t mind mentally ill abusive characters. In fact, I think there’s absolutely a place for them. Not all mentally ill people are good, that’s stupid. We’re people, not just an identity, and sometimes people are very bad. And I do think that since mental illness affects all parts of your life (or it can, anyway), it makes sense that someone’s toxic or abusive behavior would be influenced by their mental illness. But does she have to be the only mentally ill character in the story? Does Morgana have to say “She’s touched in the head” and imply that that is the reason why Elaine should leave her? I know the author said she had depression, and I respect that she probably had a reason for portraying depression in that way, but I also have depression, and personally? It didn’t sit right with me, and I’m just a little bitter. Why can’t Elaine have depression and struggle to get out of bed and leave her tower sometimes? Why can’t Lancelot draw her out–not cure her, but make things a little better–and convince her to brave the dangers of the real world, a place that’s confusing and sometimes harsh and not at all as simple as her tapestries? Why is that not the heroine the 21st century needs or whatever?

(Like…giving her depression would have given her a connection to the Tennyson poem that she absolutely did not have lmao.)

There are a few women of color, but I don’t think they were handled well? Nimue is Black, and I don’t have too many problems with her–sure, she’s not that interesting, but it’s not like she stands out for that in that cast. Morgana and Morgause, though?? They’re both described as having ‘bronze skin,’ and the way it’s written, is, uh…

She was beautiful in a cruel way, with luminous bronze skin, long, wavy hair the color of jet, a hawklike nose, and a wide mouth painted red as blood.

I just! I don’t like how she’s described as ‘beautiful in a cruel way’ and then it goes on to describe her bronze skin and aquiline nose! This rubs me the wrong way! I hate this so much!

Oh, and Mordred has a ‘hooked nose?’ And, if I remember correctly, Morgause does, too? I…*slowly slides into the dirt* If you’re wondering why this upsets me, hooked noses are something Jewish people are often stereotyped as having. (TW for discussions of antisemitism in the link.) I’m not trying to cancel the author and I’m not trying to argue that she’s a bad person, but I wish she or her editor had googled ‘antisemitic coding’ before publishing this.

Random little things that annoyed me:

-There were places where the writing just…did not make sense? “Relief falls over Arthur’s expression like a velvet curtain.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN.

-Mordred has ‘sand-colored’ hair in one scene and black hair in another. I refuse to believe this book was edited.

-Everyone in this book swears using the words ‘Maiden, Mother, and Crone,’ which, while I’m pretty sure it comes from beliefs about Hecate, is still a very modern phrasing? Honestly, though, the fact that half the characters in this book practiced a modern religion is the least bad thing about this book. (Nothing against neo-pagans or anything like that! I just don’t understand why the characters happen to believe the exact same thing as neo-pagans in the 21st century when they supposedly aren’t time travelers lmao?)

-The magic in this book is SO hokey. At one point Morgana literally pulls down the moon from the sky and threatens to destroy it. Okay Admiral Zhao. Admiral Zhao did it better, tbh. What even was this book.

-Morgana has purple eyes?????

-The worst thing? LANCELOT KEPT CALLING ELAINE ‘SHALOTT.’ THAT IS LIKE IF SOMEONE KEPT CALLING ME BY THE NAME OF MY HOMETOWN. WHAT PARALLEL UNIVERSE HAVE I ENTERED INTO THAT THIS BOOK EXISTS. I WANT OUT.

The ONE thing about this book that I liked is that the heroine understands the need for propaganda, and in general, the political intrigue wasn’t awful. That was the one thing. Everything else? Throw it away. Preferably somewhere far away from me, please.

Anyway, this was an awful experience! I possibly enjoyed reading Yu Wu more, and I didn’t even finish that one because the hero was a burning dumpster fire full of toxic waste. A burning dumpster fire full of toxic waste is still better than watching paint dry, though, which was what reading this felt like.

The Camelot Betrayal; a review, in which I finally accept that this series is not going to get better

I realized I wrote a (very long) review on The Guinevere Deception and then forgot to post a review of the sequel to the blog. Oops. I kept meaning to get around to cross-posting my review from Goodreads and then I kept forgetting, but whatever, it’s done now.

The Camelot Betrayal was both…a better and a worse reading experience than the first one in the series. It was better because my expectations were way lowered after that small disaster of a first book, but. I mean, less Mordred? Mordred’s the best character, why is he barely in this. Even though the first book was kinda sorta aggressively mediocre (sorry), I still think the author really could have turned it around in the second book! As it is, though, the trilogy didn’t get worse, but it also very much did not get better.

**This review contains spoilers! And also a little bit of cursing, just in case you’re uncomfortable with that**

I probably spelled some of the names differently from how they’re spelled in the book, because Arthurian names tend to have ten different variants each and I didn’t want to look up each character lmao

I feel like I should knock off a star for making Morgan Mordred’s mom and whatever the fuck this trilogy did to the Pendragon family tree, but you know what? I will put aside my pettiness for today.

(BERTILAK IS GAWAIN’S BOYFRIEND. NOT MORDRED’S DAD. WHAT THE FUCK. LOT IS A CHARACTER THAT EXISTS, HE’S MORDRED’S DAD IN QUITE A FEW VERSIONS OF THE LEGENDS, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE. MAKING BERTILAK MORDRED’S DAD INSTEAD OF GAWAIN’S BOYFRIEND IS HOMOPHOBIA. SEND HELP.)

After thinking about it for awhile, I realized my problem with this book is that it has no fucking plot. (Okay, I also have problems with Arthur and Gwen’s missing personalities, but that’s a rant for another time.) Yeah, sure, there’s some stuff about the Dark Queen–love of my life and I want to kiss her–but she’s a distant threat at best. Arthur occasionally rides off to the cursed lands to do…I don’t know what he does, actually. Guinevere occasionally ties knots. Everyone is concerned, but no one’s really doing anything about the villain? And the villain doesn’t really do anything to them? Villains who aren’t active in their own stories CAN work, but usually only when there’s another, more prominent villain to do their dirty work. Imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader, LOTR without the Ringwraiths and the orc generals. And before you ask, no, Mordred does not fulfill the role of the more active villain. In fact, let me make a list of the things Mordred does:

  1. Convinces Guinevere he doesn’t, actually, want to kill her (this is not a trick to gain her trust and then betray her, in case you were wondering)
  2. Makes out with Guinevere in a dream sequence/vision (was this really him though? Should I count this?)
  3. Helps out Rhoslyn and her girls
  4. Helps Guinevere out when she wanted to leave Camelot at the end [Edit: Okay wow you can really tell I read this in a depression-induced haze because I thought that Guinevere agreed to go with Mordred and Morgana at the end in order to find out the truth about her origins? Okay yeah I started the third book and apparently she left Camelot to find out about her origins and THEN got kidnapped by Mordred and Morgana lmao. It’s really too bad that the first time she tries to make an active decision to further the plot, she immediately gets kidnapped. But anyway! I have no reading comprehension, but my point about there not being an active villain in this book still holds. A character doing one bad thing at the end of a book isn’t enough to make them an active villain]

THAT’S IT. He’s not evil, okay? Yes, he may have committed a small act of eco-terrorism at the end of the last book, but if you’re not going to keep up those villainous acts in the second one, my memory of why I’m supposed to feel conflicted about this guy is going to fade real fast. Besides, as mentioned above, the Dark Queen is the love of my life and I want to kiss her. In my eyes, he did me a favor. Mordred just wants to resurrect grandma and then kick back in a cottage in the woods with his cute not-girlfriend Guinevere and you can’t convince me otherwise.

None of the subplots feel naturally woven into the main plots, because there is no main plot to really weave into. It’s just…Oh hey! I should save that dragon! Oh hey! I should save Iseult now! The story jumps around SO bad. Guinevere doesn’t do anything! Sure, she saves Iseult, but as far as for the main plot? What does she do?? Mordred doesn’t do anything! Arthur might do some things, but he sure as hell won’t tell Guinevere anything about that, because this is a Healthy Relationship in a Feminist Book! A feminist book that lowkey defends persecuting witches, I guess. (Yes, I’m still mad about this! ‘Oh, persecuting witches is bad, but also we aren’t going to call Arthur out for this, because that might make him feel bad.’ Cry me a river.)

Pardon me for assuming that a book with Gwenhwyfach in it might flesh out Lancelot and Guinevere’s relationship with each other a little. I was expecting Gwenhwyfach to trick Arthur into betraying Guinevere and then Lancelot would save her and Guinevere would have to deal with the fact that Arthur doesn’t actually trust her, and she would realize that she’s currently falling for Lancelot and it would be very cute and gay and–I’m getting carried away. Just. Anything but Gwenhwyfach being the annoying little sister who likes party-planning. (I mean, points for not villainizing her, though, I was getting tired of the girl hate.) Guinevere and Lancelot hardly ever have any in-depth conversations, and they don’t really seem to be on the same wavelength. I never have any idea of what they mean to each other. This isn’t even a developed friendship, let alone a romantic relationship.

I realize I accidentally make it sound like Lancelot and Guinevere have a romantic relationship in this book. They don’t. I don’t really know what they feel for each other in this book, tbh? I do think their relationship should have been WAY more fleshed out, whatever it is.

And what is up with how the story portrays Blanchefleur? She does literally nothing wrong in the legend that she’s in, from what I remember. Why is this story so bent on portraying her as an evil harpy? I believe I said this in my reading updates on Goodreads, and I’ll say it again: it’s not very feminist to turn a perfectly fine woman into a misogynist stereotype. I’ll admit I never paid Blanchefleur much mind before, but I love her now. I’m contractually obligated to love every mythological woman who gets portrayed in a shitty way for no reason.

Also, while I do definitely appreciate Brangien and Iseult’s relationship, I can’t help but feel like the story didn’t explore as many opportunities for diversity as it could have. Which is to say, STOP WRITING PALOMIDES OUT OF THE TRISTRAM AND ISEULT STORIES, DAMN IT. If Iseult can have a relationship with Brangien, why can’t Tristram have a relationship with Palomides? That’d be cute. I ship it. Palomides is suspiciously missing from a lot of retellings of Tristram and Iseult, despite the fact that he plays a prominent role in their story in the legends. He’s a Middle Eastern character, and I can’t help but wonder if that has something to do with him hardly ever showing up in retellings. Idk, it just doesn’t sit right with me.
And Gawain’s potential bisexuality hardly ever seems to get explored in mainstream retellings, either. This man made out with a faery knight. I’ve heard that at one point in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, he literally told Lancelot that he wished he were a pretty girl so that Lancelot would fall in love with him. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think he’s straight. I wanted MORE from this character, but alas! He was doomed to be a bit-part role in this book. (For the record, I don’t think Lancelot’s straight in the legends, either. He and the half-giant knight Galehaut definitely had something going on)

(This is COMPLETELY off-topic, but speaking of queer retellings, I want someone to write the Guinevere/Iseult epic one of these days. They were such bros in Le Morte D’Arthur ❤ I have SO many ideas for Arthurian retellings that I’m never going to write. It’s getting worrying.)

And also?? Enby Lancelot seemed to be hinted at at some point in the first book (it’s been a while, but I remember she expressed discomfort with women’s clothing, and I seem to recall that Mordred referred to her as being in a grey area gender-wise), but it’s NEVER mentioned again in this one.

I’ll keep this part brief, because this review is already getting long, but the prose was pretty inconsistent. There were some parts that were legitimately really good, and a lot that…wasn’t. There was a LOT of telling instead of showing, and not in a particularly effective way. I also wish the worldbuilding had been better? I was super confused on how much fantasy!England diverged from real England. The setting never ended up feeling that real.

I know I’m complaining a lot, but I will say that the story was very cute. It was an entertaining read if I turned my brain off! I do like reading about Guinevere and the girls going on adventures! Mordred was also very cute and kept me from DNF-ing ❤ He’s the light of my life and the only reason I rated this more than two stars.

Something that a lot of medieval literature gets and a lot of modern retellings don’t: It’s actually kind of hard to make Arthur the most interesting character and if you can’t do that, PLEASE don’t make everything in the story revolve around him. Like I recently read a retelling from the point of view of freaking Elaine of Astolat that had her revolve around Arthur. Why would you do that. Why. (And when I say ‘read’, I mean read part of and didn’t finish. I’m going to try to finish it so I can review it on the blog, though.)

The Camelot Betrayal might be the one that finally gets me to sit down and finish a fanfic. Mordred and Guinevere were done so dirty by these books.

The Guinevere Deception; a review, in which we rant about mixed feelings and why the heroine should have chosen the villain, as usual

The cover is, if possible, even prettier in person.

**Mild spoilers throughout**

Before we begin, can we talk about how Mordred, the villain, is portrayed as ever-so-subtly more feminine than the other characters? Oh hey! It’s almost as if femininity is treated as a dangerous, villainous force that is only accepted when it is smothered and tamed! Which, of course, brings us to all our other issues with this book.

This review sums up my issues with this novel (and with literally every book in YA) much better than I probably could. It’s not that it’s a bad book. It felt a little uneven in parts and the setting could have been better developed, but the pacing is good and the writing is exquisite. It’s just…

…Perhaps it isn’t quite as empowering a book as it thinks it is?

Let me regale you with my extremely irrelevant personal experiences. I’ve always been a bit of an outcast, okay? Some of that came from other people, and some of it comes from myself. I naturally prefer being alone. I’m naturally hard to categorize, a thing society finds very dangerous. I don’t *rubs chin* fit in. I don’t want to fit in. Have you ever seen me without this stupid hat on? That’s weird.

Okay, enough with the stupid Riverdale references. I haven’t even watched the show. Anyway, where am I going with this?

Simply that, when a character that society has rejected gets dragged back into society and placed into an acceptable mold, it drives. Me. Batty. It’s not that this is a bad story–it’s not, it could have used better development, but it’s perfectly fine. But I’ve seen a certain trope play out over and over and over, and I am sick of it. Allow me to explain. This story has several directions it could go in as far as the ships go. Guinevere could realize that no one in Camelot is actually really there for her except three people, embrace her inner villainess, get together with Mordred, and have her happy ending (I mean, she’d better get that happy ending. Even the legends had her usually survive till the end, and those were written by medieval writers not very concerned with the perceived feminism of their work). Alternatively, she has a cute, possibly sapphic romance with Lancelot, and I am happy, but maybe won’t read the next two books, because even though I like both characters a lot, I’m going to be quite upset if the pure, chaotic femininity of the Dark Queen* gets demonized without any reflection as to how this may contradict with the themes of this work. If Gwen gets with Mordred, she can become that pure, chaotic femininity herself. Someone like Queen Maeve, like Clytemnestra, like (heh) Morgan le Fey. That would be fun.

*Yes, the villainess really does refer to herself as the Dark Queen. To be perfectly fair, it’s nowhere near the most ridiculous thing an Arthurian character has done. Also, as you can probably tell, this story is a pretty loose retelling. The setting is also more fantasy than medieval in some ways. It threw me off at first, but I got used to it eventually.

But. Of course there’s a but. If it keeps going the same way the story left off, I am going to be very upset.

We’ve all seen the story play out in some book or another, haven’t we? A character is outcast from society in some way, sometimes even persecuted. In Guinevere’s case, she’s a witch in a society that banishes and executes them, and she’s a woman in a society that is very reluctant to give women power. Arthur is not doing much to change this. Arthur is responsible for some of this. And I am terrified that Guinevere is just going to keep trying and trying to prove herself to him. I’ve read so many stories where either the heroine conforms to society and hides part of herself to be accepted (happy endings, am I right!), or else society grudgingly accepts the nonconformist part of her—provided she doesn’t get TOO uppity, of course. Alternatively, the heroine will reject society the same way society has rejected her, embrace her inner powerful villainess, and then die. Can’t have women destroying that status quo, after all! That would be threatening. We might not even have a box to shove her in! Everyone knows only men are allowed to be trailblazers, villains, outcasts who stray from the beaten path. (And even then…a lot of male characters end up getting dragged back into a socially acceptable mold eventually. Can you tell this is my least favorite trope?)

Yeah. I’ve run into stories like that over and over and over, where a character is either forced into a socially acceptable role or killed off. Some of y’all out there are afraid of powerful women, and it shows.

I JUST WANT GUINEVERE TO GET TOGETHER WITH THE VILLAIN, OKAY. (I want her to become a villain, at least in the eyes of everyone else.) Mordred didn’t grab me at first–I thought he was pretty condescending toward her at the beginning of the book, excuse me that is your queen show some respect–but he shapes up shortly after, and I’d say he treats her…maybe a lot better than Arthur does. Let’s examine the many, many sins of Arthur Pendragon as a boyfriend, shall we?

Firstly, Arthur lies to her. Like, a lot. He lies to her about quite important things. Guinevere admits this at the end! But she goes back to him anyway.

Secondly! Arthur seems to consistently undercut Guinevere’s power while pretending to give her free rein. I don’t know if he’s doing this deliberately or accidentally, but it’s a pretty big problem either way. He takes her along to settle a treaty with the Picts, which is good! But she’s only there to look pretty and be a sign of Arthur’s trust for the other leader. She’s not informed of the politics in any way! Arthur doesn’t let her in on any of his decisions in this process and doesn’t allow for any of her input. Arthur doesn’t allow Guinevere any actual power. He only allows her to be busy with very safe things that she can’t mess up too badly, so she feels like she’s doing something while not actually doing anything important. It’s entirely possible that it’s an accident on Arthur’s part! But he’s still doing it, and it’s beyond frustrating that Guinevere never points it out and struggles against that. At one point, Arthur tells her he wants her to act as his queen, it’s a really big moment, and then cut to the next scene where he puts her in charge of seating arrangements at the tournament. (Give that job to Mordred. He’s obviously in need of something to keep him busy. For heaven’s sake.) She goes so far as to say that Arthur has given her a job not important enough for a king, but fitting for a queen. Good heavens. Have some self-respect, honey.

Thirdly, Arthur just doesn’t spend a lot of time with her. He consistently puts the kingdom’s needs ahead of hers–which, sure, he probably needs to do as king, and I can get frustrated with leaders who put either themselves or their one true luv ahead of their actual duties. But at the point where Guinevere!! gets kidnapped!! and Lancelot and Mordred take way, way more initiative to save her than Arthur ever did? Arthur, maybe it’s time to put your wife first every once in a while. Even if, in the end, you put your country first, your queen still matters, and I’ll thank you to act like it.

I’m fine with heroines who try to fit in with society’s expectations and who are more willing to try to work within the patriarchy rather than against it. But it’s just kind of frustrating to have a book all about celebrating women and fighting the patriarchy, and then the heroine goes along with the patriarchy hook, line, and sinker. She should have either gone with Mordred or made her own plans, and it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to me when she goes back to the man who consistently puts her last. I didn’t get why she would. It wasn’t as though she chose Arthur as the lesser of two evils (which would be a perfectly fair thing to do. Much as I like nature, wicked queens, and fairies, I’m not THAT delusional). She just continues to insist that Arthur is the best man in the world despite all evidence to the contrary, and I don’t understand why she would.

Also, Arthur is just kind of shady in general? Arthur is apparently ordering witch hunts? Guinevere does not question this for some reason. Guinevere does not question a lot of things throughout this story, and I’m left wanting to shake her a lot of times. More on that problem later, though. And also Arthur described Merlin as being a really great guy and then later Mordred tells Guinevere that Merlin assisted in the rape of Arthur’s mom?? I’m starting to be paranoid about everything Arthur Pendragon says and does, and I’m possibly starting to be more paranoid of Arthur than Mordred “Eco-terrorist” Pendragon??

Lancelot is really cool though–she’s a knight pretending to be a man, and she’s implied to be enby (she’s referred to with feminine pronouns so far, in case you were wondering). She and Guinevere have a really respectful relationship, and I do like them a lot, and I do ship them in their own way! It doesn’t have quite the chaotic appeal for me as Guinevere going full villainess, but I still like it!

I thought Brangien and Isolde’s relationship was really nice! Thus far, Brangien is not a stereotype or anything like that. We’ll see how it is when we actually see Isolde and Brangien together on-page, of course, but so far it’s really good! I love Brangien, and she’s my favorite character besides Mordred. I’ll admit I kind of brOTP ship Brangien and Mordred. I don’t want them to become a couple or anything like that, but I want them to become platonic partners in crime. Dindrane was also a really nice character. I don’t run into characters like her too often. I was a little weirded out that someone would rewrite Blanchefleur’s character into the harpy sister-in-law when, from all that I remember, she’s a perfectly nice character in the legends, but oh well. We didn’t see much of Blanchefleur on-page, so hopefully she gets some depth added in the next two books. I do like the focus on female friendships in this book. I will definitely say that. You can’t have a feminist book without female friendships!

Honestly, back to the love triangle, I feel like there’s something wrong with the fact that I feel that which direction the story takes is dependent on which person Guinevere takes as a romantic partner, but I don’t think it’s my fault. Guinevere’s decisions are often made based on what the plot requires rather than decisions a human would actually make in those circumstances. She’s not quite as developed as she should be, and she definitely isn’t developed enough to carry a plot by herself. And it kills me, because she had the potential to have so much bite. And then she didn’t.

Guinevere was also…maybe not quite as smart as she could have been. I understand that she’s lost a lot of her memories and isn’t working with all the information she needs! But she doesn’t ask any questions. She discovers something extremely shady about Merlin? She’ll put off asking Arthur. She doesn’t want to be a bother, and they’re so happy together right now! Arthur’s been keeping something from her? Well, she won’t ask much about it. Arthur can tell her in his own time! Literally everyone who has put her in this precarious situation has been lying to her? Well, she’ll just have to trust them, after all! Arthur is a good and true king, and he must know much better than she does! Has Arthur actually given her reason to believe he’s a good and true person to her? Well, no, but everyone else tells her he’s good and true, so he must be!

It. Is so. Infuriating. I want to shake her and tell her to wake up and embrace her inner villainess.

I’m feeling kind of like an evil villain myself as I write this review. I’m like that annoying character who screams at the main character, “lEt ThE hAtE fLoW tHrOuGh YoU” or something.

(As a side note, the one thing I refuse to blame this book for is the love square. Arthuriana was built on the backs of unholy love pentagrams, and who am I to question that? Judging an Arthuriana book for a love triangle/square/pentagram isn’t really something I’m going to spend my time doing.)

I do have plenty of quotes I like in this book! Most of them from Mordred, of course. Allow me:

Mordred slipped into the shade, finding a cushion near Guinevere and lying idly at her side. “Did you miss me?” His voice slid beneath the chatter so no one else heard.

“Were you gone?” Guinevere asked.

Mordred put his hands to his heart, feigning being pierced by an arrow. He fell onto his back and closed his eyes.

“Are you going to nap instead of hunt?” Brangien asked, cross.

Look I have a type okay

“Brangien.” Mordred put a hand to his chest as though wounded himself. “You have the soul and imagination of a hammer. Stories are not nails to be driven home. They are tapestries to be woven.”

Yeah so he’s the dumb hot villain that I will hopefully forget about/feel embarrassed for liking soon enough, but until then, let me enjoy my bright spot of a slightly disappointing novel in peace.

Am I disgusted with the fact that the hot villainous eco-terrorist is, yet again, my favorite character? Absolutely. Am I going to think about why that is? Absolutely not. I feel I would find many things about myself I would be better off not knowing.

In conclusion, do I like the book? Yes. It was entertaining and funny, even if it wasn’t, again, as developed a book as it could have been. The side characters were wonderful. I think my issues with the book could definitely be solved by the sequels. The problem is, they could also be made a lot worse, and I’m really unsure which direction this trilogy is going to take. I might wait for reviews of the next two books and try to find out what happens before I read (yes, I am one of those psychopaths who doesn’t mind spoiling a book for myself).

But it did really frustrate me to see Guinevere choose the person who she knows has been lying to her and undervaluing her the whole novel. I didn’t understand why she would. I think this book would have done way better as a dark retelling in the vein of Elizabeth Frankenstein, where we know there isn’t really supposed to be a good guy, except for the poor heroine trying to navigate it all. The Guinevere Deception is definitely not the worst book, not at all! But I am left with wracking doubt for the sequels, and there are many, many books that have never left me feeling like that at all.

Also, I was having trouble imagining Guinevere so then I just imagined her as looking like Wen Qing from The Untamed instead, because Wen Qing is beautiful. This is a completely irrelevant fact that I will probably delete before I post the review.