I Am Morgan Le Fay is a young adult novel which tries to give Morgan Le Fay more of a reason for her actions and more psychological depth. It’s reasonably successful in that, though it’s not one of my favourite Arthurian stories I’ve ever read — it seems a bit slight, and Morgan’s behaviour and the outcome was entirely obvious. The mythology is a bit of a hotchpotch, but I didn’t mind that too much because it was so lightly touched on. Cernunnos is a character, but it doesn’t really go into the significance of magic and how that’s linked to divinity in their world.
I kind of think I might be able to judge this better once I’ve read I Am Mordred as well, to see how Springer handles Mordred. Mary Stewart manages to excuse Mordred everything while throwing the blame on Morgan, and there’s always blame to go around in Arthurian stories, so I’d kind of like to see where it shifts in this case. Presumably not to Mordred, but to whom?
I’ve read this several times now, and I always go back and forth on it a little. Initially, I think I was a teeeeeny bit ashamed to be caught reading something that is a romance in both the modern and the medieval senses of the word. Then I included it in my dissertation and had to think about it critically. And now… now I get to read it just for pure fun. Which is great: it makes me realise how much this version of Gawain is exactly what made me love the character in the first place, and that this retelling of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’s story was what guided me toward reading and loving the Gawain ballads.
It’s fun, with and without the romance; I love this version of Camelot, which is practical at the same time as romantic. There’s the knights, but there are also Saxon boys staying at the court as hostages. Guinevere is a queen and a figure of romance, but she’s also Arthur’s other half, managing Camelot alongside Kay, maintaining a whole set of duties belonging to queenship. There’s no polite ignorance of the need for an heir: Gawain is openly Arthur’s heir. (And definitely worthy of it; this version of Gawain doesn’t kill women or go on mad rampages yelling for blood. He’s courtly, though human — somewhere between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte Darthur‘s least flattering sections.)
And Rhian is a great character too: determined, but not foolhardy; clever, but not infallible; cautious, but not immune to Gawain’s pretty face. Brave, but not insensible.
The two make a great pairing, and it’s a joy to read — as it’s also a joy to read of Arthur and Guinevere’s genuine love.
There are some frustrating aspects to this, like a certain judgemental quality around women who have sex (but not men), and an unfortunate editing slip-up where even when “father” is being used as a name, it isn’t capitalised… but it’s still fun, and I’m glad I got the chance to read it in a relaxed way like this.
Sidenote: I don’t understand why the US version has changed Rhian’s name to Risa. Well, probably to avoid people thinking it’s pronounced “Ryan”, but that doesn’t mean I like the decision — Rhian is a pretty and Welsh name, and it fits much better in the context than “Risa”.
The Empty Kingdom is quite a long way away — in time, in distance, and in the kind of story it is — from The Winter Prince. Medraut and the Arthurian characters are much less in evidence now, and Telemakos is definitely our hero, and one I enjoy completely independently from his links to the Arthurian story, which is almost unimportant by this point in the story.
Unlike The Winter Prince and The Lion Hunter, this book is less about healing and focuses more on the political intrigue. One thing I found very interesting about these books was how unpredictable I found them: I’ve read a lot of books and usually am able to predict their twists and turns. While some parts of this were easy to guess, most were not. So it’s a breath of fresh air in general, as well as an interesting and — so far as I know — new addition to the Arthurian tradition.
I can easily imagine that more might be written for this series, and I’d be interested to read it.
After finishing The Winter Prince, I had to stop for a minute to think about it — do I like it? How much did I enjoy it? The style is very interesting: it seems to be straight first person narration at times, but when Medraut’s mother appears, it becomes apparent that he’s addressing the story to her. It deals with one of the issues that lie at the heart of the Arthurian mythos, often blamed for the fall of Camelot: the incest between Arthur and his sister. It works out the issues, in a way, binding Medraut to his brother, Lleu, and neutralising him, though it’s not an easy road for either of them to walk.
It also deals with the issues of abuse, a horribly powerful link between Medraut and his mother, and even between his mother and his brothers. He has to deal with the tangled feelings that come when at one moment someone will hurt you horrifically and the next comfort you, when they’ll say it’s for your own good or that you did wrong, to excuse them torturing you. Medraut’s confusion is well done: I couldn’t predict what he would do and how, I couldn’t predict whether he would go free of her at the end or not.
With the point of view it took, I suppose it’d be hard to show more of Medraut’s mother and her motivations, but I found that somewhat difficult to swallow, of everything in the book. So casually evil, toying with other people as though they’re not real… Goewin and Ginevra are positive female characters, to an extent, though the latter does very little after the opening of the novel. Goewin hints at a way she could become like Medraut’s mother, so there is a bit of a sense of circumstances making her the way she is, but still… I did want more, I wanted less senseless evil and more a sense of someone made the way she is by being wronged and so on. Turning Morgause and Morgan Le Fay and their like into evil witches is one of those ways of pathologising female power that people don’t seem to guard against.
The Winter Prince can be a quick, easy read, but there’s darkness at the heart of it — which is, I suppose, countered by the end.
This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books I’d Like to Reread”, which is a topic just made for me — the first one in a while I think I could talk for ages about — because I love rereading. Honourable mentions in advance to Chaliceand The Hobbit, both of which I already reread recently! And I’m just going to leave it unsaid that I want to reread The Dark is Rising books, since I do that every year.
Seaward, Susan Cooper. I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while. Heck, by the time this post goes live, I might’ve got round to it already. It’s beautifully written, a bit more mature than The Dark is Rising, and I love the characters a lot. I read it right through the day I got it, I think, at Christmas a couple of years ago. And then I made my partner read it, and my mother, and… everyone else I could get my hands on, really.
The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay. I think this might be the next book in my chronological-by-publishing-date reread of GGK’s work. I think it’s my mother’s favourite of GGK’s books, and my partner loves it too; I remember liking it, though it wasn’t my favourite, but it’s one of the few I’ve only read once so far (along with Under Heaven, which is too new for me to have reread yet).
Sunshine, Robin McKinley. This is another I might’ve got round to already by the time this post goes live, because I’m tearing a streak through Robin McKinley’s work lately. Sunshine is one of my favourites; the world-building, the characters and their relationships, all the talk about food… And also, vampires done right, so that they’re genuinely fucking freaky, even Our Hero.
Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey. And pretty much everything by Carey, actually. I love the richness of her writing, and the intrigues of the court in Terre D’Ange. Honestly, if it wasn’t for all the sex and BDSM in the book, I’d recommend it to everyone, because the actual world-building is really cool. But I’m aware it’s not something everyone can be comfortable with.
The Fire’s Stone, Tanya Huff. I could swear I’ve already talked about wanting to reread this somewhere on the blog, but I can’t find it. I did start a reread recently, but then got interrupted. I’m particularly curious because just before I first read this, my partner and I were working on an original world/plot that was very, very similar in many ways. And I’m looking forward to the relationship between the three main characters, and the way the situation turns out for them all. It’s sweet, feel-good stuff.
The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. I’ve always loved the way Cornwell handles the legends. Okay, some of his characters really don’t fit with the legends, and I do like the legends, but at the same time he has one of the most likeable versions of Galahad, and a really interesting take on the magic/reality stuff where the narrator can view it as magic and we can dismiss it as trickery, or maybe not quite.
The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner. And the rest of the series. It’s easy to read, fun, and does interesting things with the character, the world, etc. I’m less a fan of the most recent book, but I’m still going to try rereading it.
The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin. The whole series, really, but this one is my favourite. It marks a separation from the world of the first book, which is fairly conventional fantasy, and begins to shape a place for women and a different view of the world that’s more in line with Le Guin’s own beliefs. And she’s so good at writing the small clear moments of quiet that really shine (Ged’s hand and the thistle).
Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb. It’s been a long time, and I miss Fitz, Nighteyes and Verity. (My mother never liked Verity nearly as much as I do, but I find him one of the most genuine characters of the lot — not subtle, not perfect for his job, but doing what he can and making good despite the difficulty.) And there’s a new Fool trilogy now, which I even got an ARC for originally, so I want to reread everything to get back up to speed for it.
Sorcerer’s Treason, Sarah Zettel. I remember these being good books, using a less typically Western fantasy setting, with a lot of Russian influence and I think later Asian? I remember finding it very different, at any rate, and I do like Zettel’s work. So, soooon. I hope.
Any of these your own special favourite? Let me know! I comment back to everyone who comments here, both on my post and on your own if you’ve done one.
There’s still a lot about The Crystal Cave that bothers me, but I think, on balance, I liked it better now than I did the first time I read it. As I’ve said, it’s Misogynistic Merlin, which is my least favourite flavour — you have some clear-headed, quick-thinking, powerful women, but then you have lines like this: “Duchess and slut alike, they need not even study to deceive.” And the whole bit about weak female magic and Merlin needing to be a virgin and blahblahblah. Could definitely have done without that.
Still, not having recently read Sword at Sunset, or anything else of Rosemary Sutcliff’s, this managed to have something of that flavour without the narration, and the characterisation of Ambrosius, being too much overshadowed by Sutcliff. I know for sure which one is the better book, and which one I enjoy more, but this doesn’t stand up so badly when it’s not right up against something by a master like Sutcliff. I got more into the relationships this time, though I wish Merlin didn’t leave such a trail of servant characters dead in his wake. I liked Cerdic, liked Cadal; their deaths because of their faith in Merlin were pretty hard to take. I know he does acknowledge a measure of that but still, gah. The relationship between Merlin and Ambrosius really does work, though, the slow realisation of what’s going on there, and their closeness. Also the fact that Merlin isn’t forced to be a warrior (though that makes the ending, where he is, doubly odd).
The mix of magic and science here is a little weird. The standing stones are raised using math, but the prophecy really is second sight; the dragons are just symbols, but the vision is real. It’s like a step between out-and-out fantasy and realism. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I tend to prefer things that go at it a bit more unequivocally! If Merlin can see the future, why is there no other magic in the world?
Anyway, I’m going on to the other books now, though I seem to recall from summaries there’s more flavours of misogynistic Merlin awaiting me.