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
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.