Jennifer's Reviews > Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit

Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey
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's review
Feb 22, 2011

really liked it

** spoiler alert ** In the book Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey, the third daughter of a Celtic king is given the name of Gwenhwyfar, which means Guinevere in English. Mercedes Lackey's story is set in the time of King Arthur, where kings still rule the land and women are given two paths to take: the path of the Blessing, or the rare path of the Warrior. The story starts off with Gwenhwyfar's childhood, explaining how she came into her love for war and for all things warrior-like and what her family was like. Her mother, Queen Eleri, was a Wise Woman from the path of the Goddess, and her father was the Celtic king Lleudd Ogrfan Gawr, otherwise known as "The Giant. Gwen had three other sisters, Gynath, Gwenhwyfach, and Cataruna. During part one, titled Princess, of the book, Gwen's mother dies from childbirth, Gwen begins her training to become a warrior under her father after meeting with the legendary Braith, a Warrior-Woman serving under Gwen's father, Cataruna goes to train under the Ladies of the path of the Blessing, and Gwen's father goes to war. Some time after Cataruna went to train under the Ladies, a queen by the name of Anna Morgause comes to visit Gwen's castle. With her she brings her younger sister, Morgana, a wet nurse, and her new son Medraut. Anna Morgause's intentions are not quite clear, but it's known that she is trying to set up Morgana and Gwen's father. Luckily, that doesn't happen, and the queen and company leave uncontented. Gwen, like the others, is happy to see them go, especially Medraut. The baby was like a changeling, and had followed Gwen's every move with black eyes. Needless to say, it creeped her out.
In part two, titled Warrior, Gwen is all grown up now and is serving under her father as a Warrior-Woman. Here, it tells of Gwen's adventures as a warrior, and all of her fights against her people's enemy: the Saxons. During one of her adventures, Gwen gains the name "The White Spirit" after terrorizing a Saxon by wearing all white, painting her skin white, and letting her blonde hair loose. This part also introduces Lancelin, which is translated as Lancelot in English. Lancelin is one of the High King Arthur's companions, and was visiting Gwen's warcamp to see how things were running. Another person comes to visit Gwen's warcamp: Medraut, the son of Anna Morgause. Medraut has taken an interest in Gwen and is trying to, ah, "bring her in". Gwen will have none of it, though, since she hates Medraut and has never planned to marry. The High King has also taken a second wife, named Gwenhwyfar just like his first, and still has had no luck in heiring a son, let alone a child, that has lived longer than two years. The second Gwenhwyfar was "taken hostage" by a man named Melwas, which led to Gwen and her warcamp having to go save the High Queen. Gildas, a Christian priest, comes to join Gwen on her expedition to see that the queen is rescued. Turns out, the Queen ran off with Melwas, and wanted to stay with him. Go figure. Eventually, the High Queen is returned to Arthur, but she got sick and died. Gwen wasn't all that surprised when the High Queen died. I think she found it fitting.
In part three of Gwenhwyfar, titled Queen, Gwen is chosen to become King Arthur's new queen. She is incredibly angry about this, being the unwanted part of a bargain between her father and Arthur, but comes to realize that it is for the good of her people to marry the High King. Once she is groomed to be a queen, Gwen is sent to Celliwig, where King Arthur's castle resides, and meets him and the Companions. Lancelin sees her, as well as the other Companions, and immediately Gwen feels strange, for she'd never been looked at in such a way before. Throughout the next several weeks, Gwen leads a very boring life: sit in a solar with her gossiping ladies and, well, pretty much do nothing, every other day she gets bathed and has dinner with the High King and his Companions, and every night she and the high king spend together. Gwen gets to do nothing warrior-like, and it's driving her mad. Soon, after the King assumes Gwen is pregnant (and she most certainly is not), Medraut kidnaps Gwen and makes her stay in a cell somewhere in his castle. After a very long time, Gwen manages to escape Medraut's castle and flees the castle, putting all of her warrior training to good use so that Medraut wouldn't be able to find her. After managing to survive for several days, Gwen comes across Lancelin, who is getting attacked by four men. Gwen helps him, and together they finish off Lancelin's attackers. They then travel together back to Arthur's court, taking refuge in a broken down little cottage. It is there that Lancelin and Gwen reveal to each other how much they like each other, and things happen afterwards. Gwen and Lancelin end up staying there for seven days, and as soon as they are about to head to Arthur's court, Arthur, his men, and Medraut surround the clearing the cottage is in and threaten the two of them. Gwen urges Lancelin to flee, and as soon as he does, Gwen surrenders. Gwen is placed in a cell for a while, until she is led out and taken to a very colorful tent. Apparently, while she was taken prisoner on both accounts, the Saxons have been attacking the High King's lands again and all of Arthur's warriors and men went to go stop them. Once Gwen enteres the tent, she goes up to Arthur and slaps him. What she says to him is my favorite part of this book: '"If I had a gauntlet, it would be at your feet, husband," she spat. "How dare you, how dare you, take exception to anything I have done, when you just spent the last seven months fornicating with my sister?"... "My sister," she repeated, viciously, "Who also happens to be married to Medraut. While Medraut held me captive in his villa, amused himself with me whenever he chose, and you didn't even notice the difference."' She also says something extremely awesome - in my opinion - afterwards, but that is for you to read and see for yourself. After a few moments of arguing, one of Arthur's Companions storms in and tells everyone present that Medraut is at the head of the Saxon army. Gwen goes into her warrior mode and begins ordering everyone to bring her armor, weapons, and horses. She then goes to seek out the King of the Folk, Gwyn Ap Nudd, and asks him to bring passage to Arthur's men so that they reach Arthur and Medraut on time. Once Arthur's men arrive, they go and meet the Saxon army and Medraut. The two sides have a parley, and Gwen, King Arthur, and another go to the middle of the battlefield just to see Medraut and Gwenhwyfach being the parley for the other side. Finally the High King sees that he was tricked. Before much can be spoken over, however, fighting breaks out and the war begins. During the fighting, Gwen gets a vison of carnage and death and she falls weeping to the ground. When she awakes, Gwen sees the second queen right in front of her. It turns out that the second queen had never died. The second queen takes Gwen to witness Arthur's death, where it is proven that Arthur did kill Medraut, but was fatally wounded in the process. Gwen then wakes up in an Abbey, finding out that her side won the battle, and that Gwenhwyfach killed herself a few hours after Arthur died. Lancelin goes somewhere, leaving Gwen behind, and Gwen is left to her own devices.
I believe a theme of this book is whatever choices you make can have a bigger impact on your future because when Gwen choose the path of the Warrior when she was a child helped her in the future. For example, she was able to get away from Medraut's villa alive and was able to fend off several Saxon attacks throughout her lifetime. She also makes other choices that help her find love and to understand sacrifice.
I recommend this book to people who love reading the King Arthur genre and/or like the whole Guinevere/Lancelot love affair. It also shows Guinevere's point of view through her thoughts and responses on her actions. The only thing I hesitate to mention is the fact that the bits mentioning messing around might be a bit too much for younger children, but that stuff isn't too bad and can be skipped without missing anything important. I especially liked how this book was worded and how the story progressed.

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