There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.
Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.
To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.
Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?
Warnings: self-harm (magical sacrifices), violence and physical abuse, death of animal, mention of sexual assault
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to read this book – I always have a thing for Arthurian legends and its retellings, so naturally this book was high on my reading list. The story is from the point of view of ‘Guinevere’, a forest witch who was mentored by Merlin, to take the place of the real (but dead) princess who was to marry Arthur; this Guinevere has been sent on a mission to protect him from magical harm. When she comes to Camelot, she has a singular purpose – set up protections around him, and try to see if anything or anybody is working against him through magical means. Her role as a queen is something that she feels fits poorly on her, since it is marriage concocted as cover to explain her presence and access. In a kingdom that has forbidden the use of magic due to fear it could give rise to darker forces, her challenges include hiding her magic, while also presenting herself as a queen who matches the legend of Arthur.
There are plenty of things from the legend that make it here, some kept the same, and some altered. Guinevere being a changeling is an obvious one, and then there is a Black Tristan, a queer Isolde, and a possibly genderqueer Lancelot. The core of Camelot’s ideology – the belief in a kingdom built on justice, order and honor, remains – an ideal that Arthur fights for throughout the book, and which Guinevere admires him for, and supports him in. Their relationship is a major plot point, as she goes back and forth on her role in his life, whether she can be his queen or his protector (he knows about her magic and Merlin sending her). Her purpose is also what binds her to Camelot, because she only sees her duty as to be needed or of some use to him. Her character arc is a complex one, which I feel still is only in its initial stages, as she is still seeking out her identity in this. Her memories and pre-Guinevere life being unknown to herself, she is also a mystery to the reader in What she is, and what do those flashes of moments and the glimpses from the Dark Queen really mean. Of the secondary characters, I loved how Mordred was constructed, and my other favorite was the plucky mom-friend Brangien.
There are some Princess Mononoke vibes in the main conflict which I am liking already and looking forward to how it will play out, and what it will mean for her, who has to continuously choose and trust that she has been put on the right path by the god-like Merlin. The ending should have been predictable, what with the allusions to the source material (and the now glaringly obvious clues in the synopsis), but the author still managed to pull out a surprise. The pace was slow, and it builds to something akin to a intermission. I felt that there wasn’t enough of a character or story arc for Guinevere to actually call it a conclusion, but the story still felt satisfactory in a way. There were still plenty of threads in play and I guess the anticipation of those being unraveled in the next book made this one quite an enjoyable read, too.
Is it diverse? Side sapphic couple; PoC characters; possible sapphic couple
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Delacorte Press, via Netgalley.
Other books by the author
Releases on November 5, 2019