Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit, by Mercedes Lackey

Today I'm taking a look at another Mercedes Lackey book, in this case Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit, which is Lackey's own take on the Arthurian mythos and a sort of reinterpretation as well. When you get something as old as the legends surrounding Arthur there are dozens, if not hundreds of stories which have been edited, altered, censored, expanded, or otherwise changed over the centuries. During her research into Arthurian legend, Lackey came across an interesting and old idea that Arthur actually had three queens, all of whom were named Guinevere, or Gwenhywfar for a more Welsh version. (When it comes to some characters there seems to be a different spelling for each version.) On top of that, one of the Gwenhwyfars also had a sister named Gwenhwyfach, to make it only more confusing. Lackey thought that having three Gwenhwyfars would explain far more about all the shenanigans that Arthur's queen supposedly got into. And also how she could have had two sons or no sons at the same time.

Now, I haven't talked about it much on this blog, aside from that one time I reviewed Le Morte d'Arthur way, way back. But I'm like, a huge sucker for Arthurian legend. I have vivid memories of checking out every book I could find about Arthur from the library, as well as anything I could find about knights, castles, and medieval history in general. So when I was looking through the library and found a reinterpretation of Arthurian myth from an author who I've enjoyed before, I absolutely had to pick it up. And I had an absolute blast listening to this book. It was kind of confusing in the beginning as I was getting myself oriented within the framework of the story, but once the story got its feet under it it just goes and doesn't stop until the very end. And if you're a fan of Arthurian myth as much as I am, you're going to enjoy this story immensely.

Plot-wise the book follows the third and youngest Gwenhwyfar, who is the third of four daughters of one of King Arthur's sub-kings and begins following the path of the warrior in a very Boudica-esque fashion. The story also follows her perspective entirely and never shifts out, which I was kind of annoyed with at the beginning because it's hard to see how Gwen's life and warrior training tie into the larger story which you sense is going on ''out there'' somewhere. Which, as I said, makes the book kind of slow to start. But as the book progresses, I actually started liking the story more and more. There are a lot of things that happen that are obliquely referenced to or not fully explained, or you see snippets of what's going on. But if you're a fan of Arthurian legend and already know the story then you can fill in the details pretty easily. Eventually I came to actually enjoy the limited viewpoint since we were following just Gwen around. Largely because I knew things she didn't and could put things together because I knew the mythos so it became a sort of puzzle for me to put together. By the end, I actually found myself hoping that maybe the characters might be able to avoid the disaster at the very end of the book, with Arthur dying, Camelot falling, and Britain falling into chaos, which was pretty exciting for me.

Lackey also attempts to do a more ''historical'' interpretation of Arthur, you know, aside from all the magic floating around which I'm willing to give her a pass on. Of course, the fact that I'm the absolute worst person to look at any attempt to create a more ''historical'' Arthur came to the fore. I'm the guy who will quibble over whether or not the Romano-British, which is what the characters are supposed to be, would have used stirrups or not. Or even the use of the term castle. I get that picky. But for the most part I was able to put that aside and was able to enjoy the story. There are plenty of things that Lackey does that makes the story feel right to me. It all just really works and make the universe feel real.

Overall, I really loved this book. As I said, I've been a fan of the Arthurian mythos since forever so this book was an easy sell for me. There are some issues I had. The writing doesn't feel quite right in some places, and the book takes a while to get started, but it eventually builds up steam and then there's no stopping it. For a new interpretation of an old classic, with incorporation of elements both old and new, Gwenhwyfar is definitely worth it.

- Kalpar

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