18 December 2010

Book Review Number 19: Gwenhwyfar, the White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey

Ever since I first read Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, I've had a thing for strong female Arthurian Legend.  And Gwenhwyfar is a book firmly in this tradition.  The book tells the story of Arthur's third Gwen, the daughter of a western King.  She had talent for both the sight and for horsemanship.  She needs to make the decision which path to take and finally decides to become a Warrior Princess (very different from Xena, though).  She's very successful in her chosen profession, becoming a thing of terror to the Saxons. And she's happy doing what she's doing.

But her life is never easy.  First, her younger sister, Little Gwen, is jealous of everything that Gwen does and wants and tries to charm her way into doing as she wants.  Then Medraut (or Mordred, traditionally) decides from a young age that he is in love with Gwen and will have her.  She meets and falls in love with Lancelin, but she is convinced that he won't be able to see her as both a warrior and a woman.  And then she is told that she needs to give up everything she's been working for all her life to become Arthur's third wife.  Bundled off to Arthur's side, she is stuck inside the castle, unable to practice the things she enjoys and stuck among gossiping women that bore her.  One day, tired of doing what she's supposed to, she asks for the makings of fletchings and spends her day working on them.  Rather than realizing Gwen's true calling, Arthur takes it as a sign that Gwen is pregnant and leaves her to go off and fight.  Medraut takes this opportunity to kidnap her and put Little Gwen in her place.  Through friendship and ingenuity, she escapes.  And that just begins more trouble, and the downfall of Arthur.

This is a very different telling of Arthurian legend, but I found myself enjoying it a lot.  It wasn't the Christian Gwen (who always bugged me) and it had a lot of strong female characters.  Seeing Gwen's life and ambitions change from the time she was a little girl until she was a woman grown was a good insight into the world around her.  The men weren't all idiots, which was another refreshing change - so often, I've found one sex or the other to be weak.  

I definitely recommend it if you liked Mists of Avalon.  It's not the same book, nor the same length, but it is in the same vein and a very good read.