Guinevere is a bit of a Mary Sue (though I guess impossibly beautiful is pretty par for the course), and the thing with the unicorn is a little silly,...moreGuinevere is a bit of a Mary Sue (though I guess impossibly beautiful is pretty par for the course), and the thing with the unicorn is a little silly, but Newman's Guinevere books have some of my favorite characters in all Arthuriana.(less)
I bought this for Pamela Dean's short story, "This Fair Gift", which I liked a lot, though I'm clearly going to have to read it again in order to figu...moreI bought this for Pamela Dean's short story, "This Fair Gift", which I liked a lot, though I'm clearly going to have to read it again in order to figure out all of the characters' Arthurian analogues.
I skipped freely, not reading any story which didn't grab me within the first couple of paragraphs, but there were several other stories I liked a lot: Lois Tilton's "Kneeling at His Side"; Janni Lee Simner's "Why Is This Night Different"; Esther Friesner's "Moonlight in Vermont"; Ru Emerson's "Call Him by Name"; Sherwood Smith's "Daria's Window"; and Lee Barwood's "Pyre".(less)
I'm ambivalent about Nancy McKenzie's The Child Queen and The High Queen (recently reprinted as Queen of Camelot); they're reasonably good retellings...moreI'm ambivalent about Nancy McKenzie's The Child Queen and The High Queen (recently reprinted as Queen of Camelot); they're reasonably good retellings of the Arthurian legends, with Guinevere as the viewpoint character, but they have some serious flaws.
McKenzie does a good job making Guinevere into an appealing character in her own right, and she gives us a strong Arthur to go with her, creating a passionate and compelling relationship. At the same time, McKenzie spends so much effort on showing that relationship that she fails to make Guinevere's love for Lancelot believable, which undermines the love triangle aspect of the story (and since McKenzie does use the love triangle as an important plot point, it needs to be credible).
Though I like McKenzie's version of the storyline (particularly the role played by Elaine, here Guinevere's cousin before becoming Lancelot's wife), the writing is somewhat amateurish. The High Queen starts with a conversation between Bedwyr and Guinevere, which McKenzie tries to use as a way to remind the reader of what happened in the first book; however, having Guinevere explaining to Bedwyr (one of Arthur's oldest friends) basic plot details such as the identity of Morgause is simply not convincing. The dialogue is often too modern and the language awkward (for example, Guinevere "flinging" her hands to her ears"). Infelicities of language aside, though, these are a good addition to the body of Arthurian legends, with strong characterization and plot. (less)
The Third Magic is an interesting, but not terribly successful, take on the Arthurian mythos. When 15-year-old Morgan Lefevre travels with her parents...moreThe Third Magic is an interesting, but not terribly successful, take on the Arthurian mythos. When 15-year-old Morgan Lefevre travels with her parents to the ruins of Tintagel in Cornwall, she is mysteriously transported from our world to the world of Nwm, where two groups of sorcerers (the female Circle and the male Line) have been in conflict for centuries. There she meets a boy named Arddu and discovers the secret of their connection to each other and to King Arthur.
The premise of The Third Magic is intriguing, and I thought the way Katz weaves the story into the Arthurian legends was cleverly done, but there are simply too many ideas to be contained in a relatively short book. The only characters with much depth are Morgan and Arddu, and even they are often overwhelmed by the amount of plot Katz is trying to fold into the book; other characters are little more than outlines. It's ambitious, but ultimately disappointing.(less)
Here's an odd thing: an Arthurian murder mystery. It's based on an incident from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the death of Sir Patrise, who...moreHere's an odd thing: an Arthurian murder mystery. It's based on an incident from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the death of Sir Patrise, who dies after eating a poisoned apple at Queen Guenevere's dinner table. When Guenevere is accused of the crime, the loyal seneschal, Sir Kay, sets out to prove her innocence (with Mordred as his companion, of all people).
The investigation bogs down a little into a series of episodes with the knights and ladies visited by Kay and Mordred, but it's still a good read, particularly for the characters: the sarcastic, loyal Kay (rarely a character who gets much screen time in Arthurian retellings); the bitter, enigmatic Mordred; and the whole Orkney clan. (less)
The Fionavar Tapestry was Guy Gavriel Kay's first venture into fantasy; he got his start in the genre helping Christopher Tolkien edit his father's un...moreThe Fionavar Tapestry was Guy Gavriel Kay's first venture into fantasy; he got his start in the genre helping Christopher Tolkien edit his father's unfinished Silmarillion, and to an extent, that shows in The Fionavar Tapestry. The story begins when five college students are invited by the mage Loren Silvercloak to journey to his world of Fionavar, the first of all worlds, of which all other worlds are but a shadow. Fionavar has many echoes of Middle-Earth: there are elves (the lios alfar), who are perilously beautiful and journey westward over the sea when they die; there is a great and evil power who breaks free of his prison and threatens the land. The Tolkien elements are well-mixed with other borrowings, largely from Celtic mythology, as well as fantastic beings like dragons and unicorns.
This sounds as though The Fionavar Tapestry is nothing but a pale imitation of other fantasy, but that's the last thing it is. Kay adds his own inventions to the older elements and creates a gorgeous tapestry (that's the only word for it) of a world. Although his writing isn't as polished yet as in later books, the emotional power of his language is stunning (perhaps more stunning than in some of the later books, in fact). I've read these books several times, and they never fail to enthrall me; the world and the characters feel vividly real to me. Perhaps Kay's later books surpass Fionavar in craftsmanship, but none of them surpass its depth of feeling. (less)
Elaine Andraste, now known simply as Seeker, is a servant of the Medb, Queen of the Daoine Sidhe; stolen by the Fae in childhood, she has spent her li...moreElaine Andraste, now known simply as Seeker, is a servant of the Medb, Queen of the Daoine Sidhe; stolen by the Fae in childhood, she has spent her life bound to the Faerie Realm, stealing other human children for the queen. Matthew is a mage, of the mysterious Promethean Club, a group of human magic users in league against Faerie. When the Medb requires Seeker to trap the Merlin, the newest incarnation of the powerful wizard who could save Faerie or doom it, Seeker comes into conflict with Matthew and his allies, as well as with rivals from other Faerie factions.
Blood and Iron weaves together strands of folklore and legend from King Arthur to Tam Lin with Bear's own imaginings to create a compelling vision of Faerie, both terrible and beautiful; it's no wonder the Merlin has difficulty deciding whether to aid Faerie or oppose it. The characters are fiercely memorable, particularly Elaine and her wild Fae companion, Whiskey the kelpie (a shapeshifting water horse). She's one of those characters I think I would recognize if I met her on the street (though I'm not entirely sure I'd want to).
The story is immersive and intricate, full of schemes and rivalries, blood ties and friendships, mystery and sorcery, and the prose is equally complex and allusive. It required some concentration to sink into the narrative, but once I was in, I emerged only with reluctance and stayed up very late one night finishing, because I couldn't bear to put it down and go to bed (I'd just have lain there wondering what was going to happen next anyway).(less)
This and its sequel, The King's Name, are an excellent reworking of the Matter of Britain (i.e., King Arthur and all that) set in a different world fr...moreThis and its sequel, The King's Name, are an excellent reworking of the Matter of Britain (i.e., King Arthur and all that) set in a different world from ours. I use the word "reworking" rather than "retelling" simply because the books aren't a straight retelling of the Arthurian legends; the world is different (largely in that magic and the gods are real), and although there are certainly parallels, the events and characters are sufficiently different to make this more than a retelling.
The narrator is Sulien ap Gwien, the king's greatest warrior; I suppose you could say that she is analogous to Lancelot in that role, but certainly not in any other - she is her own character, not a reflection of a character from the legend as it's usually told. (In fact, another character in the novel, who can see into alternate universes, tells her that she is unique and has no "shadows" in other worlds.) Her narrative voice is distinctive and completely convincing as that of a practical, honorable, military woman, if a bit dry and unemotional.
I had a hard time getting into the books at first, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the amount of time spent in describing battles, which has never been my cup of tea. I ended up liking them very much, though.(less)