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

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

**Mild spoilers throughout**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Were you gone?” Guinevere asked.

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

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

Look I have a type okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, About Celtic Fairies (part 1)

So! IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT THERE IS MISINFORMATION ON THE INTERNET. Like, seriously. Some of those little infographics about fairies that I’ve seen on Pinterest get over half their information wrong. It’s just…if you’re going to make a worldbuilding post, make a worldbuilding post! Don’t say that this is what whatever century Irish peasants believed! For heaven’s sake. So I am here, set to clear up misinformation about fairies and possibly accidentally spread it anyway! But let’s hope for the best.

Disclaimer: This post deals with Celtic fairies, and, more specifically, Irish fairies; much of this information applies to British folklore too, I think, but Irish fairies are what I studied obsessively during my teen years. Also, it’s certainly possible that I may be a massive hypocrite and get over half my information wrong, but if I do, please correct me. I try to fact-check as carefully as I can, but I’m only human (or am I ooh)

So! Let’s have a little Q & A! We’ll call this imaginary questioner ‘Person 1’, P1 for short. ‘M’ is for ‘Mothling’.

P1: Oh! Fairies! Those cute little winged things in gardens, right? Tinkerbell!!!

M: …No. That’s a Victorian trope. I’m honestly not sure if there are any fairies of the sort I speak of that have wings, and not all fairies are little. Some are. Definitely not all. Some have very…changeable size; in their true form they’re probably smallish, but try getting them to tell you that. Let’s not generalize here!

And we do not talk about Tinkerbell. She has her merits, but she’s not the topic of this conversation.

You know, I’ve somehow lived my life without reading Peter Pan? I’ve read Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio. Pinocchio was a bizarre book, frankly speaking, although I still liked it. But I’m not letting this turn into a review of Pinocchio.

P1: Alright, so by fairies you mean those wicked and dark creatures in YA, treating mortals as their playthings and without a care in the world for any creature but themselves. They’re so scary and immoral, aren’t they?

M: …

Sort of? I guess? Not really? I’m talking about folklore fairies. They’re…kind of like that? (Not in the same way, though.)

OKAY, FINE, I’VE HAD ENOUGH. THE WORD IS AMORAL. NOT IMMORAL. I’ve just always interpreted the fey morality structure as being outside of a human construct, and I mean, I guess you can just make them like especially wicked humans if you want to, with the same motivations and the same impulses?? But I mean, why would you want to. (This has been a callout post to The Cruel Prince. Sorry not sorry. It’s just not how I like my fairies.)

Also, fairies do good things as well. They do. Sometimes they help humans. Sometimes they don’t. They aren’t all bad all the time, and it’s a little ridiculous to write them that way.

So no, we’re not really talking about those, either. As a side note, I’d prefer it if YA would stop talking about how their darker takes on fairies are closer to how original fairies were portrayed. No you’re not closer. You are certainly not.

P1: [grabs my arms (wings?)] TELL ME ABOUT CHANGELINGS.

M: Okay! Ease up there! That’s when a fairy steals a human child from the cradle and leaves a fairy child in its place, which is called a changeling. The fairy child is usually ill-tempered, cries a lot, and remains scrawny despite guzzling much more milk than a normal child. The fairy child is not always an actual child! There is one fairy tale where the changeling admitted to being thousands of years old. Why you’d be thousands of years old and masquerade as a baby, which is one of the most boring creatures in existence, God only knows. Some of them really are fairy children, though! Like a lot of things in folklore, it seems to vary.

Oh. And also, the fairy child usually met a horrific death at the hands of their human parents. And the ‘fairy child’ was probably a sick baby, a disabled child, or simply an abuse victim with unloving parents (look, you can’t tell me awful parents didn’t take advantage of that superstition). Man, I’ve just made myself depressed. I remember searching and searching for a story about a changeling with a happy ending for the fairy, and I found maybe a couple? A couple in a whole sea of stories about murdered babies. People really believed this stuff. They really murdered their children because of a superstition.

As for why the fairies were supposed to do this? I honestly don’t know if there was much of an explanation. I remember reading something about ‘human babies are prettier and they like that better’, but first of all, let’s be real. That makes literally no sense. Can we all just agree that newborn babies are ugly? And also, I’m sure humans feel that their children are worth exchanging the literal world for, but…that seems like quite a bit of inconvenience to go through for one baby. Yeah! I just don’t get it! If you do know of an in-folklore explanation, please do tell me, because I have been wondering about this for quite a while. It seems to be one of those things that just happens, with no reasonable explanation.

P1: So, is anyone else at risk of getting kidnapped?

M: Oh, yeah. Women get kidnapped as brides or nursemaids all the time. I’m also pretty sure that Lady Wilde spoke of human men getting kidnapped and forced into marriage, too, but I can’t find the link right now. Darn it.

Also, from what I can tell, children usually get replaced with an actual fairy; adults usually get replaced with a stick or other small object that has been enchanted to look like them, or else they’ll just disappear suddenly. That’s what I remember, anyway. Allow me to go off and read through all those changeling stories before I commit to this, though. I know I have never read a story where a fairy lives in the place of an adult human, but that certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Honestly, that sounds like it’d make a cool YA book.

Oh, and the illusion ‘dies’ shortly after it’s left there. Changelings get killed or forcibly removed, or else they’ll just stay with the family.

I certainly have read tales of male and female artisans getting captured. There was one cute one about how the fairies kidnapped a woman who was an especially good baker (unsure how old it is though, sorry), and I’ve read another about the fairies kidnapping a blacksmith. Also, apparently, some of the kidnapped people end up as enchanted slaves. How decent of fairies. I am disgusted. (This has also been a fairy callout post and I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the end of this oh no)

Anyway, kidnapping seems to be kind of their thing.

Basically, if this blog ever goes defunct for no apparent reason, you know what got me!

College. College got me.

Oh! And there are also stories about how the fairies teach the kidnapped girls magic before they send them home. Which is nice, I guess! Not sure if it really makes up for the kidnapping, though. But thanks for trying!

There are also stories about human men kidnapping fairy brides and forcing them into marriage, as you do. (For instance, selkie brides.) Those stories tend to end horribly. As they should! Don’t be a terrible person.

Oh, and by the way, my source for a lot of this section is this. If you’re interested.

P1: There aren’t any stories about human sacrifice, are there?

M: Yes! There are indeed one or two. The most famous one is Tam Lin, of course, where the fairy queen has to pay a teind to hell once every seven years. Lady Wilde also briefly mentions a tradition about human sacrifice. I’m not sure who else talks about it, but do tell me if you know of anything.

P1: …

TELL ME HOW I MAY BE SAFE FROM THEM.

M: Salt! Lots of salt. Salt is good for more than just flavoring. In fact, it’s excellent.

People talk about iron as protection, but one person in a forum somewhere asked where, exactly, people were getting that, and that made me realize that…they’re right? I don’t remember a lot of 19th century collectors of folktales talking about that? Definitely one 17th century guy did. Something something iron is bad because…something something hellfire?! I don’t get it either. I’m sure it makes sense if you’re from the 17th century. (And if you can actually understand the words; I never claimed to be educated) Anyway, if you know of anyone else who speaks about cold iron in relation to fairies, again, do tell me!

Church bells are also excellent, and bread is one we nowadays wouldn’t think of, but Wikipedia says it works! I feel like I might have also read about fire being a source of protection? Idk, man. I’ll try and find it for you. I’m sure there’s other stuff you can do. But, as always, the best protection you can have is being the main character of a fairy tale. Particularly if you’re a bright, clever maiden with a good sense of humor. Those seem to do the best in these types of tales. More seriously, civility and cleverness are the best protection you can have in any situation, and that holds true with fairies, too.

Oh, hey, look at that! I was right about the fire. From Lady Wilde:

Fire is a great preventative against fairy magic, for fire is the most sacred of all created things, and man alone has power over it. No animal has ever yet attained the knowledge of how to draw out the spirit of fire from the stone or the wood, where it has found a dwelling-place. If a ring of fire is made round cattle or a child’s cradle, or if fire is placed under the churn, the fairies have no power to harm. And the spirit of the fire is certain to destroy all fairy magic, if it exist.

I love it when I’m right. Also, quite a few of the changeling stories involve burning the changeling, so maybe I don’t love it when I’m right.

P1: Okay, so where do fairies live?

M: Most of them live in caves and in raths! OH ALSO. I almost forgot to tell you. Do not do not do not mess with fairy ground. Do not build something on it. Do not cut shrubbery on it. Do not even do something seemingly small like plucking a few blades of grass. YOU WILL DIE AND YOUR FARMS WILL BE CURSED. Just don’t do it. I don’t care what you want to do, it’s not worth it. Build somewhere else.

Also, why are you thinking about building on ancient sites anyway? My history-loving heart is angry. Leave the raths alone.

Although, where fairies live depends on the type of fairy, of course! It’s variable. Some live underwater. Some even live in your house!

They’re there. You just can’t see them. >:-)

P1: Dancing?

M: WHY YES INDEED.

Dancing and music is very important. In fact, fairy rings are left there when the fairies dance! And sometimes humans try and join in the dance, which can end badly for the human. Sometimes you’ll be alright. Sometimes you dance to your death. 😉

Not fairy music, but certainly Irish! Also why won’t WordPress center my captions
This has been bothering me

P1: Can they go to heaven?

M: That would depend on who you ask! Usually, the story goes that a group of fairies come up to a traveling priest and ask him if it is possible for them to achieve salvation. The priest always answers no. In some stories, that’s the end of it, and the fairies let out a great cry and sometimes burn down their home.

But there’s also another version, although I’m not sure where I found it. A priest says that the chances of a fairy getting into heaven is as likely as his staff going into bloom. As soon as he leaves, his staff immediately sprouts flowers, and he has to go back and apologize. I don’t remember where I read that, though, so take it with a grain of salt I guess >_<

Okay! I finally found it. It was Swedish, but I’ll leave it here because it’s a cool story.

But my favorite answer from a priest is this: “I will give you a favorable answer, if you can make me a hopeful one. Do you adore and love the Son of God?”

They have no answer.

You can find the stories mentioned here, by the way.

Uh…There’s definitely more to say, but I have realized that this is getting really, really long. I might split this up into two parts? Also, most of my information is from Lady Wilde’s Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, and if it’s not from there than it’s probably either from Wikipedia or else I found it once upon a researching session. If you have any more questions, ask them in the comments!

Also, I’m sorry if there are any weird typos. It’s a long article and WordPress kept having bugs. I hope I caught everything. >_<

So, in conclusion, fairies are our amazing problematic faves, and I hope you learned something new! I love fairies. A lot. (So please don’t kill me for any of the rude things I said about you, any fairies who might be reading this blog. I don’t mean it, much.)