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
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!
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!
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
I read 72 books this year. Who am I. I mean, to be fair, a few of those are short stories and Goodreads just counted them as books for some reason, but still.
(Also I’m pretty sure the only reason why I’ve read so much this year is because I had a mental breakdown towards the end of my spring semester and then took the Fall semester off and thus am able to read like I’m in high school again lmao.)
But anyway! I thought I’d do some mini-reviews to bring in the new year! I ended up having to split this up into two parts because it got so long lmao, I’ll post part two tomorrow (hopefully).
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo(translated by J.R.R. Tolkien)
AHHH THIS WAS SO GOOD GAWAIN IS VERY BISEXUAL-CODED AND THE WRITING IS BEAUTIFUL. EVERYTHING IS AMAZING. THE OTHER TWO POEMS WERE REALLY GOOD TOO.
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Yeah so this is basically everything I hate about YA. Halfbaked plots and characters, a really immature style to the whole thing, weird homophobic stereotypes out of nowhere?? At least the writing was pretty, though! Full review here.
The Five and Twenty Tales of the Genie by Sivadasa
This was pretty interesting? It didn’t stick with me too much (as an aside, I think this is the only book where the main scene I remember is the sex scene. Huh), but I’m glad I read it. There is some misogyny in here, of course, but it was written in the middle ages, so I’m not going to hold that against it. It provided an interesting glimpse into the time period!
A Treatise of the Nobilitie and Excellencie of Womankynde by Cornelius Agrippa
This was a really interesting read, but the main thing I remember are the virgin birth horses and the reason why we know that the virgin birth horses aren’t real is because of the Virgin Mary or something. The support of women was nice, though! I simply found myself a little distracted by that one thing!
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
I will admit I don’t remember this book very well, but I really liked it at the time. If I’m being honest, the main thing I remember about it is that the nonbinary rep was really good and that I thought the ending was kind of pat, but I liked the rest. That’s it!
AGHHHHHH THIS ANTHOLOGY WAS ABSOLUTELY GODAWFUL AND I HATE IT SO MUCH. Full review here.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Hmm, so I still would have hated this either way, don’t get me wrong, but the ableism towards this one schizophrenic minor character + the ableism in how the main character discusses Jane Eyre did NOT endear me to her. Full review here.
Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
Uh, this was kind of awful. Don’t get me wrong, the book had me invested, it was just also kind of awful. The racism was definitely a no from me, and a lot of plot points seemed to be added in for the drama as opposed to originating organically from the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love drama! I just want organic drama, though. Full review here.
Folk Tales of Brittany by Elsie Masson
I’ll admit I don’t really remember the books I read toward the beginning of the year and I left this unrated and unreviewed, so honestly, who knows? I remember liking some of the stories? I do not remember this book?
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
This was extremely silly but also very cute! I will admit that the insta-love was grating and the love interest was barely above manic pixie dream girl levels. Jordan was great, though, he made the book for me, and I thought the heroine was pretty cute. Full review here.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
I remember loving the writing and the magical realism. The way the author wove in the folklore from the heroine’s country with the narrative was amazing. **spoilers** In retrospect, I would have appreciated it if the hero had had an arc from ‘vaguely defending the heroine’s sister’s abusive boyfriend’ to ‘not doing that and in fact apologizing,’ but maybe the fact that the hero didn’t get an arc was kind of the point? Maybe the point is that he died and thus never got the chance to grow as a person? Idk. Despite my mixed feelings on the hero, I still really liked this book!
Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland by John Gregorson Campbell
This was so interesting and I loved learning more about Scottish fairies! So much super cool information in this.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
I LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH. It deserves the hype imo. Full review here.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
This is definitely not the worst retelling of Arthurian legend that I’ve read. Now, I know that’s not necessarily high praise because I have read some AWFUL Arthurian retellings, but this book is definitely not that bad. I do think the plot could have held together better, and I don’t really like Arthurian retellings that are set in a modern time period (well. There may be a few fics on AO3 with this premise that I love, but they actually have fun with their premise and make it a comedy. Which yeah, I do think anything approaching the absolute chaos that Arthurian knights in the modern day would bring should probably be a comedy). And Nick, the hero, was bland as flour. But I really liked the heroine, and I think the portrayal of the discrimination really stuck with me? Yeah, I’ve got mixed feelings on this one! Definitely not a terrible book, but it also didn’t stick with me, and it could have been WAY better with a little more editing.
We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal
I loved getting to see my babies again ❤ I miss them already. I should reread this as soon as I’m in a mood to reread things again.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Unfortunately blah. Another great premise ruined by insta-love. Also, while I did find the political intrigue more interesting than the romance–although there are a lot of things I think I would find more interesting than the romance, to be honest–there were also situations where the heroine would just make stupid decisions. You’re letting yourself get blackmailed over that? Okay.
I actually really liked this! It felt a bit unpolished in some respects–there were some weird grammar mistakes, occasionally the representation was a little eh, and there was this one timeskip that was VERY confusing and bothered me an unreasonable amount. Not to mention that the chapters were much too long. But! All that being said! I can apparently be distracted from any flaws in a book by a well-written antiheroine. She was just exquisitely awful and wonderful to watch. Full review here.
Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie Mclemore
The writing was beautiful, but I found the rest of this kind of forgettable. However, I’ll forgive a lot of things for a Snow White and Rose Red retelling. The blurb is a lie, though, unfortunately. Rose is not that manipulative or mean. I’m sorry, she’s literally just a girl in a tough situation. From everything I remember, anyway??? I wish I could get mean antiheroine Rose Red, but alas. Full review here.
The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White
*sobs because this book could have been so much better* There was like. No plot. And Guinevere, Arthur, and Lancelot were SO bland. Mordred was the only bright spot in this book and the poor thing only got like a few pages.
**spoilers for the next book** Let me just rant for a paragraph here. So, I’m reading in reviews that the final book ends up with Guinevere/Lancelot as the endgame ship. If the author was gunning for Guinevere/Lancelot, I literally do not know why she didn’t write it into this one. Mordred is the only person I’m convinced that Guinevere actually likes. (I mean, she seems to at least feel genuine affection towards Brangien, but if we interpret that as romantic, then I feel that we’re getting pretty far into AU land at that point. Although I do ship it!) She likes Arthur because she’s been told to like Arthur. She likes Lancelot because Lancelot is devoted for her, so what else is she supposed to feel for Lancelot? This book did not do its job of convincing me that Guinevere feels anything genuine for like. ANYONE besides Mordred or Brangien, and I’m talking about platonic relationships, too. And yet somehow she ends up with Lancelot in the next book I guess??? Somehow? That was just. NOT built up at all and I’m annoyed, because I’d love some more sapphic Arthuriana! I guess I’ll have to write some, lmao. **okay, I’ve got the spoilers out of the way, you can look now!**
Uhh, wow, this is complicated. So, at first I thought it was an okay book, even though it had incredibly simplistic takes on bigotry and was very feel-good. And then I found out that the author had been inspired for his story by residential schools and I feel like the analogy was just. Very weak and not well-used? I’ve seen different people have different takes on the discourse as far as that goes–some people didn’t like it at all, some people thought it was okay because ultimately the book wasn’t that inspired by residential schools–and I’m not sure how I feel about that one, but either way, I found this book very forgettable. Even without knowing what this book was inspired by, I still think this is pretty blah.
This was very cute! I have seen reviews pointing out that the arrangement between Scottie and Irene kind of pressures Irene into outing herself, and I do agree with that–and sometimes Scottie doesn’t really treat Irene all that well, I thought that pressuring her into going to her ex-friend’s party was kind of terrible–but despite all that, the story remained engaging for me, and Irene is AMAZING, so I forgive it for its sins. Again, it’s just really cute. Also, the mean girl cheerleader is the heroine?? I love this.
SO DISAPPOINTED. This anthology looked so cool. I mean, retellings of Asian fairy tales?? But I didn’t like very many of the stories that much. A lot of them were bad YA with bad prose or simplistic characterization, and I think I honestly might be starting to grow out of YA, which is a very sad realization for me.
THIS WAS SO GOOD AND THE ART WAS SO BEAUTIFUL I AM FANGIRLING.
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
Hi so I loved this with my whole heart?? The portrayal of toxic friendships was really good and the romance was very sweet! Also I’ve got autistic headcanons for Ishu so I know I connected to the main character lmao
This was a very cute short story about an aromantic dragon who is friends with a phoenix! I thought that the characterization could have been a little stronger, but it’s not that much of a problem in a 40-page story, so I didn’t mind it. This was very slow and sweet and I really enjoyed reading this!
Medieval Elite Women and the Exercise of Power, 1100–1400: Moving beyond the Exceptionalist Debate by Heather J. Tanner
I LOVED THIS SO MUCH. It’s so interesting to me to learn more about how medieval noblewomen lived their lives and how they maintained and exercised power! It’s a collection of essays about different medieval noblewomen, and I enjoyed basically every one (from what I recall. I can’t really recall any of the books I read this year very well, it’s all a blur tbh).
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
So, this started out slow for me, but I was really invested by the halfway mark. I love scheming empresses. Also, the writing was beautiful for the most part? There were a couple sentences that were clunky, but other than that, it flowed REALLY well.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
*insert long wail of pain here*
I HATED THIS MORE THAN I HATED 2021. IT’S SO WISHY-WASHY AND INTROSPECTIVE IN THE MOST PRETENTIOUS OF WAYS AND IT’S BAD. I DON’T CARE ABOUT SEA SALT, I DON’T CARE ABOUT ASTROLOGY, I DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT MONSTERS IF YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S TELLING ME ABOUT THEM. ALSO ALL OF THE HEROINE’S RELATIONSHIPS SEEM VERY UNHEALTHY AND I THINK MAYBE SHE SHOULD BECOME A BETTER PERSON AND GET BETTER FRIENDS, A BETTER WIFE, AND A BETTER FAMILY (ALTHOUGH HER MOM SEEMS ALRIGHT, TO BE FAIR, AND THE THING WITH HER FRIEND FROM THE TEA SHOP WAS HER FAULT. WHAT EVEN WAS THAT).
*deep breath* alright, caps lock rant is over now. I don’t have a review, but I do have a lot of ranty reading updates if you want to read them lmao
I’m going to skip over the fairy tale books I read for the sake of time but you should totally checkthemout because the illustrations are gorgeous and looking at them kind of makes me feel like I’ve stepped into a fairy tale world myself!
Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti
AHHH EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS WAS SO GOOD. THE WRITING, THE CHARACTERS, THE FAIRY TALE VIBES, THE SISTERS, EVERYTHING. YOU SHOULD GO READ IT, IT’S FAIRLY SHORT AND YOU CAN FIND IT ONLINE FOR FREE.
Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies
This was really informative and I learned a lot!
Walewein ende Keye
I’ll admit I don’t remember this one very well but a) I’m always down for Arthurian legends and b) GRINGOLET
The Perilous Cemetery
THIS WAS WILD I mean anything with Gawain in it is bound to be wild but THIS FELT ALMOST WILDER THAN USUAL.
My review is here but I feel like it doesn’t encapsulate the whole experience. It’s just. Such a weird little story.
Anyway, thank you for reading such a long post lmao. A lot of the fantasy I’ve read this year has just been…disappointing? Maybe it’s just a case of the disappointments standing out more than the ones I liked, though. Still, when I think of the books I liked this year, the ones that come to mind are the classics and the academic stuff, not really the fantasy. It’s a shame, I hope I find better SFF soon!
I have not updated this project in like…a year? It was giving me anxiety, so I stopped doing it. And also like…I started it when I was seventeen so my grammar was really weird and I had single quotes instead of double quotes for some reason?? And WordPress is super weird so I can’t figure out how to make one sentence into a different color without changing the color of my whole paragraph and now I have to change my formatting for this project???
But I’m back to it now, and I’m definitely going to try to keep working through it! I’ve got a pretty big hyperfixation on Arthurian legends, and blogging about it is a pretty good way to sate it.
Previously on Le Morte D’Arthur: Arthur attempted to murder his infant son in order to avoid the prophecy of doom, which always goes well and has never backfired on any mythological parent ever! Anyway, long story short, Mordred survives. Bad luck for all those other kids Arthur ALSO killed just to make sure he got him, though.
After the death of Uther Pendragon, his son Arthur reigned, and Arthur held many wars in his day in order to get all of England into his hands, for there were many kings within the realm of England, Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall. [Maybe Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall were ruling themselves just fine? Just throwing that out there as a hypothetical idea]
When King Arthur was at London, a knight came and gave the king tidings of how the king Rience of North Wales had raised up a great number of people and had entered into the land and burned and slew King Arthur’s people. [It’s been a while, so I almost forgot, but I’m pretty sure that that’s the guy who collects the beards of his enemies for….reasons??]
“If this is true,” said Arthur, “it would be a great shame unto my estate unless I withstand him mightily.”
“It is true,” said the knight, “for I saw the army myself.”
“Well,” said the king, “send forth a proclamation that all the lords, knights, and gentlemen of arms should draw back to the castle called Camelot.” And there the king held council, and held a great tournament. [Is this really time for a tournament lmao]
When the king came to Camelot with his barons, there came a damsel sent as a messenger from the great Lady Lile of Avalon. And when she came before King Arthur, she told him where she came from, and why she was sent as a messenger. Then she let her richly-furred cloak fall, and showed that she was girded with a fine sword.
The king marveled, and said, “damsel, for what cause do you have that sword? It does not beseem you.” [I’m not mad at Arthur for period accurate sexism, but I would like to say that girls with swords are sexy and let the sexy sword woman live in peace (spoiler alert: She doesn’t)]
“I shall tell you,” said the damsel. “This sword I am girt with causes me great sorrow and difficulty, for I may not be delivered of this sword except by a knight; and the knight must be a good man, without villainy or treachery or treason. [Am I using the correct tenses of gird? I do not know and I do not care.] And if I find a knight with all these virtues, he may draw this sword from the sheath. I have been to King Rience, and he and all his knights have tried to pull out the sword, but none could.”
“This is a great marvel,” said Arthur, “if this be true. I will myself attempt to draw out the sword. I do not presume myself to be the best knight, but I will give example to all the barons that they may try, each one after the other, when I have attempted it.” Then Arthur took the sword by the sheath and the girdle and pulled at it eagerly, but the sword would not move. [*sips tea* so, about your son that you attempted to murder]
“Sire,” said the damsel. “You need not pull half so hard. He that shall pull it out shall do so with little effort.”
“You speak well,” said Arthur. “My barons may try.”
“But beware that you are not defiled with shame, treachery, or guile, for you will not be able to pull out the sword,” said the damsel. [Didn’t she already say this?] “For he must be a clean knight without villainy and of a gentle strain on both his father’s and mother’s side.” [Not only do YOU have to be good, your parents have to be good, too! What is going on with this magic sword]
Most of the barons that were there at that time tried all in a row, but no one had good luck. So the damsel made great sorrow out of measure, and said, “alas, I thought that this court would have the best knights without treachery or treason.” [Look, not to be a hater, but is a weird magic sword really the end all and be all of character judgement?]
“By my faith,” said Arthur, “these are as good knights as any that have lived in the world, but they cannot help you; so I am displeased.”
I feel like my English always low-key falls apart whenever I try to sort of wrangle Malory into modernish English, but I’m definitely WAY better at it than I was at seventeen. I probably ought to go back to the earlier chapters I’ve done and clean them up after a while. Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed the latest bizarre Arthurian adventure! It only gets weirder from here.
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.
…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.
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:
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)
Makes out with Guinevere in a dream sequence/vision (was this really him though? Should I count this?)
Helps out Rhoslyn and her girls
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.
This post is mostly a joke, but is also inspired by the fact that I’ve heard people talk about being gay, trans, and other such things like they were invented in the 60’s or something?! Sometimes people speak of it like it’s a trend, and that is just weird. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to change anyone’s mind about queer rights, but at least learn your classical history. People talking like that says more about the state of their history classes than anything else.
(I say, like someone who paid attention in history class, which I did not. But at least I paid enough attention to know that everyone was REALLY FREAKING GAY IN ANCIENT GREECE.)
Anyway, this is not a comprehensive list of mythological and folkloric queers. Some characters are undeniably queer and others are queer because I say so. I also include various religious characters because I can! (Also, yes, I mostly included stories I like, so most of these characters get a high rating.)
You should definitely go watch this video as well! It’s much better than anything I could ever do.
Ah, yes, the OG queer. I was forced to read the Iliad at a young age, so I am very bitter and biased, but he kind of spends a…a lot of time whining? I mean, fighting for Agamemnon is a pretty stupid way to go, so I understand being deeply frustrated, but why is the breaking point for him getting his slave girl taken away??? WHY IS THAT, ACHILLES. So, yeah, values dissonance ruined the book for me at age 13 and Briseis deserved better! Also, why on earth would you risk your boyfriend’s life like that, Achilles?
I award Achilles 3/10 points.
Patroclus gets a 10/10 for being a faithful boyfriend, and according to Wikipedia, he apparently tried to help Briseis! What a wonderful boy.
A trans character from a Romanian folktale called ‘The Girl Who Pretended to be a Boy.’ Despite the name of the fairy tale, Fet-Fruners is decidedly not pretending to be a boy. He’s trans. He has a talking horse, he outwits the people who try to out him, he goes on several quests, and he gets the magical equivalent of gender reassignment surgery at the end!
This story is criminally underrated. Just take a look at this quote:
The sound of the flying hoofs aroused the nun, who understood instantly that the precious treasure was stolen, and her shrieks were so loud and piercing that all the rest came flying to see what was the matter. The hermit followed at their heels, but seeing it was impossible to overtake the thief, he fell on his knees and called his most deadly curse down on her head, praying that if the thief was a man, he might become a woman; and if she was a woman, that she might become a man. In either case he thought that the punishment would be severe.
But punishments are things about which people do not always agree, and when the princess suddenly felt she was really the man she had pretended to be, she was delighted, and if the hermit had only been within reach she would have thanked him from her heart.
When you try to curse someone but really you just give them free gender reassignment surgery 🙃
Anyway, 11/10 and this story deserves more retellings.
So, I only found out today, but apparently Inari is genderqueer! From Wikipedia: “Inari, the kami of agriculture and rice, is depicted as various genders, the most common representations being a young female food goddess, an old man carrying rice, and an androgynous bodhisattva.”
Anyway, 10/10 for this wonderful god! They’re associated with foxes, and I LOVE foxes.
St. Sergius and St. Bacchus
St. Sergius and St. Bacchus were described in an early Greek text as being lovers?! According to Wikipedia, at least. I only just now found that out. (I mean, the scholar who talked about that apparently also made a bunch of highly dubious claims as to the early Church’s stance on homosexuality, but if the Greek story really said that, then it said what it said. Tell me in the comments if you know more about this!)
Anyway, as a Christian, I’m legally obligated to give them 10/10 points!
Not gay but he has sexy paintings. We adopted him.
10/10 to the one true ally!
An Australian aboriginal snake god who appears as both male and female and is associated with rainbows and fertility! Ungud is from the Wunambal people. I love the concept of a rainbow snake god!
10/10. I don’t know much about the god, but!!! Rainbows! Snakes! Those are pretty much the two ultimate queer things!
I used to be pretty eh on him because I heard he hurt Cassandra, but I think that might have been a later myth. On the one hand, Cassandra. On the other hand, sunshine. Music. Bisexuality.
I don’t know, for some reason Apollo and I have just never clicked. I feel like I should like him? He’s really cool and all! But I just never really felt that much of a connection with him?
5/10 highly personal points! I know a lot of you out there really love him, though, and I respect that.
(As a side note, Hyacinth gets 10/10 sympathy points for being yet another mortal caught in a deadly love triangle between two gods. Apparently he got resurrected later?? That’s so nice. I always liked Hyacinth.)
I can’t give him anything less than a positive rating. I’m not stupid. I’m not going to get stricken with dolphins and madness.
8/10! Not based on his actions or anything, he’s a Greek god after all, but…I don’t know, I just find him kind of cool.
She’s one of the virgin goddesses, so…aro-ace queen. She’s always been my favorite goddess. She’s relatively unproblematic as far as Greek goddesses go, and I’ve always loved that she’s a goddess of war and strategy. I looked up to her so much when I was little.
He struck a pair of snakes and Hera turned him into a girl. Hera turned her back into a man seven years later. He’s also a blind prophet, and he made cameos in a couple Greek tragedies, including Oedipus Rex. I find Tiresias very cool, so 7/10.
Aztec god of art, dance, flowers, and song. Also a patron of homosexuals. I don’t know all that much about him, but 9/10 just because FLOWERS.
The first historical figure on this list! According to Wikipedia, he wasn’t a very good emperor, but he has this legend where his boyfriend, Dong Xian, fell asleep on his sleeve. Rather than wake Dong Xian up, the emperor told his servant to get him a pair of scissors and he cut off his own sleeve. And that’s beautiful. Also, before he died, he tried to pass the throne on to Dong Xian but no one else let him.
8/10! If you can’t be a good ruler, at least make sure to be a literally legendary boyfriend.
Fox spirits often disguise themselves as women, and stories about foxes tend to portray them as kind of gender-ambiguous, from everything I’ve read. I love fox spirits, they’re just…the best. I spent so much time finding stories about them when I was little. I’d definitely say fox spirits have strong enby vibes.
A trans Arthuriana character! Or at least, Arthurian-adjacent. Merlin shows up in the story. Silence is a character from a story written during the 13th century. I haven’t read the story yet, but from what I’ve heard, Silence is raised as a boy and lives his life as a knight. I think Silence mentions in the poem that he thinks of himself as a boy and feels much more like a boy than a girl? I’m sorry I can’t find the original article with the quotes I read, though. Merlin outs him because Merlin is all kinds of a mess, and poor Silence is forced to live as a girl from then on. Someone needs to retell this story and give it a happy ending.
15/10 to this poor man who deserved better! Even though I haven’t read the story yet…but I’ll get around to it I swear
Everyone’s favorite aro-ace knight! He is living his best life while surrounded by idiots. Considering how his two best friends Lancelot and Tristram ended up, I’d say that not falling in love is pretty much the best thing you can do in Arthuriana?
Dinadan is the comic relief of the story, he doesn’t like fighting, and he’s just overall great. Mordred, in one of the few crimes he committed that make me genuinely angry at him, killed Dinadan during the Grail quest. WHY, Mordred.
I love Dinadan! I stan! 20/10 points.
In Christian tradition, angels are neither male nor female. They’re also very cool. 10/10. (I don’t know how Jewish tradition views them? I assume it’s the same way, but I honestly have no idea. I tried to google it, but I didn’t find anything conclusive. Sorry!)
Also, obligatory quote from Galations 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The creator god in traditional Shona religion! According to Wikipedia, the god is both male and female (or alternatively, neither male nor female? Look, Wiki is not helping me right now). Anyway, reading their Wiki page, they sound very cool! 10/10.
He gives off very strong genderqueer vibes, I think. It’s good enough for me! I loved him so much as a kid. He was my role model! (Heh…whoops.) I love chaotic characters. He doesn’t always act in morally good ways, but he’s just such an entertaining person. 10/10!
You can’t tell me that Celtic fairies aren’t super queer, because you’d be wrong. 20/10 for nostalgia (fairies were literally my childhood).
Mizi Xia is a man who lived during the Zhou dynasty in China (if he even existed at all. We don’t really know). He forged a letter from his lover the duke so he could borrow the duke’s carriage in order to go see his ill mother. Instead of punishing him, the duke praised him for his filial piety. Later, Mizi Xia was eating a peach, and when he found it was especially sweet, he gave it to the duke to eat. But later, when Mizi Xia grew older and his beauty faded, the duke accused him of stealing the carriage and of insulting him by giving him a half-eaten peach. So, the story is a parable about trusting powerful, fickle people.
It’s a sad story, but I still like it. 9/10.
A bi icon!! He had a whole quest where he made out with the Green Knight, the story with him and Ragnelle was the best thing ever, and I’ve heard there are some stories where he and Lancelot have really homoerotic undertones? I love him so much. He’s the actual best. 100/10.
Thank God for Wikipedia, as always. I couldn’t find very many articles about queer fairy tales, but Wikipedia came through! Also, thanks to my younger self for obsessively reading fairy tales and finding some of the obscure stuff.
While researching for this post, I found twoarticles on false homophobic and transphobic beliefs that get spread around, so if you’re someone who has been exposed that sort of talk, they might be worth a read. If you’re looking for something to read for Pride month, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation and Heaven Official’s Blessing are both really, really good! The author’s books do have adult content, although Heaven Official’s Blessing doesn’t have any smut. Both the books are so well-written and I love them so much!
If you know of any other queer folktales or religious stories, tell me in the comments! I always enjoy learning more.