Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey

I am a novice Grail enthusiast. I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln long before Dan Brown brought the theory to the mass public and have many other King Arthur (et al) books in my personal library. So, when I read the premise of this book, the tale told through the eyes of Gwenhwyfar (the Welsh spelling of Guinevere), I thought this would go nicely into my collection.

Lackey starts with Gwen's history as a princess born to a minor King, Lleudd Ogrfan Gawr. Arthur in this tale is the High King, that all of the minor Kings swear fealty to. Together these Kings and their loyal subjects ward off threats from the Saxons and the Northerners to keep the land safe.

Gwen is the second youngest of four sisters. There are limited paths for young girls at this time and it looks like Gwen is filled with the magical "Power", the same as her mother. But Gwen chooses the path of the warrior instead, learning to race chariots, tend the horses, sword fighting, etc. She is good at what she does and soon becomes her father's favoured daughter, much to the dismay of the youngest of the girl. The youngest, nicknamed Little Gwen, because she is so like Gwenhwyfar in looks yet not in nature;
she's very envious little troublemaker.

As life continues, Gwen's oldest sister "goes to the Ladies" to learn all of the mystical aspects of life at that time, while Gwen is continuing her training. Meanwhile, Arthur has been married to two Gwenhwyfars to this point. The first having given him two sons, which would ensure the continuity of the blood line and the throne. But, all too soon, they are killed and soon after their mother dies, heartsick at the loss of her boys. He marries a second Gwenhwyfar, only to have different difficulties in that marriage also.

Finally, an arranged marriage is set up between Arthur and the Gwen we are following. Unfortunately for her, the marriage is secondary to the High King, his first reason being a bargain made for some of her father's horses. Gwen's life has gone from that of a respected warrior to an all but imprisoned Queen, kept for only the purpose of producing a proper heir. But she has always known that these, that all of her sacrifices are for the greater good of the kingdom.

The tale travels through many familiar aspects of the Arthur legends - the enchantment of Arthur by his half-sister, the betrayal by the seed of that enchantment, the meeting of Gwen and Lancelin - but with the background of the Welsh version. Incidentally, the Grail is not mentioned, but it does not leave things lacking by any means.

For me, I've always felt that Gwen got a bad rap, historically, making Arthur the most famous cuckold ever. Within this version, we get to see a different take on it, Arthur being a more minor player in the actual story, and I loved it. I was totally engrossed and did not want to put this book down. Even though the outcome never significantly changes, I was hoping this time it would and was routing for Gwen, wholeheartedly, to get what she wanted. And, when the inevitable climax hit, I cried like a baby!

Mercedes Lackey can truly tell a good story, making it feel like this was the first time I had read about these characters. It is the first Lackey book that I've actually read, though I have had the Mage Storms series on my shelf for...well, I'm embarrassed to say for how long, but they remain unread. That will not be the case for much longer!

(I apologize about the long review, but I really felt this book deserved it!!)


Melissa (My World) said...

This book sounds really good. I would have a hard time keeping the Gwens separate. Was there different spellings or something to help you with which one what doing what?

Sounds very nice. I myself like these kinds of books. I may have to look into this one further.


Mel (He Followed Me Home) said...

I love that Gwen is such a strong character. Guess I need to grab a box of kleenex for the ending!

Jackie said...

Melissa - it really isn't hard to tell them apart since the first two are relatively small players in "Gwen's" life. It's the Gwen/Little Gwen that was a little trickier but not overly so. Def. not something that should put you off:-)

Mel - yep, tissues for sure...then again maybe it's just me. I love a happy ending but you know how this story goes. And, yes, she's a very strong character. It's an empowering read for women.

Heather said...

I enjoyed reading your take on the story. I reveiwed it earlier this week and loved the book as well. I do plan to read more by the author as for some reason I haven't read any even though they do appeal to me.

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