by Nancy McKenzie
Randon House Publishing Group
I have read quite a few books based on the Arthurian legend in my time. It is one of my favorite genres of books. I have read some that were really good and many that were quite bad. Up until a few days ago, my favorite was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. A huge, epic of a book, I first read it when I was around 13 years old. I read it again a few years ago and found it to be even more wonderful that I remembered. For more than 10 years it has remained my favorite of the Arthurian retellings. But I’m afraid it may have been supplanted by someone new.
One day while I was browsing in Barnes & Noble, this novel jumped out at me. I read the back cover. I had never heard of the author, never heard of the book, and actually passed it by. But something about it called me back to it and I decided to get it. I am so glad I did.
One of the problems I find with many, many, many (!) of the books based on the Arthurian legend is the character of Guinevere. She is rarely, and I mean rarely, a sympathetic character. She is typically a very weak character; weak in mind, body and spirit. Most times it seems like all she does is sit in a corner and pine for Lancelot. I actually read one book where she was terrified to be outside castle walls! (Was that Mists?? I can’t remember!) And she always, always gets on my nerves. I cannot think of any other book where she did NOT get on my nerves.
Except this one. This is the most well developed, multi-faceted, portrayal of Guinevere I have ever encountered. She’s no longer just the pagan beauty forced to marry the great Christian King. And, amazingly enough, she doesn’t betray him. Sure, she still loves Lancelot, but she equally (and, imo, perhaps more) loves Arthur as well. She’s strong. She’s intellegent. She has fears, but she remains clear headed in the face of danger. She is an equal to the greatest king who had ever lived. The only typical characteristic she shared with other Guineveres was how all the men fell in love with her. But I could forgive them that because she was such a fantastic character.
King Arthur was also excellently developed. He was the golden King; wise, strong, and brave. He adored Guinevere and Lancelot. My only complaint with him would be that he was perhaps to understanding and lenient when it came to Guinevere and Lancelot’s love. And Lancelot was the same chivalrous and galant knight he’s always been. And of course, handsome. And has definitely never looked like Richard Gere to me!
Many of the other characters were different in interesting ways, especially many of the Knights of the Round Table. There were a few new twists to the story; especially to the end between Arthur and Mordred which I found fascinating and original. A fresh retelling of the legend; I highly recommend this one to anyone equally enamoured with the legend or looking for a good place to start. And I will definitely be looking for more works by Nancy McKenzie.