Gwenhwyfar: the white spirit by Mercedes Lackey

  Chris  Review by:  Chris

Title:  Gwenhwyfar: the white spirit

Author:  Mercedes Lackey

Collection:  Adult Fiction

For all novels that delve into the Arthurian universe, the challenge is to make the old topic new and interesting.  Mercedes Lackey does this by following the feminist trend of the past few decades and tells the well-known story from Guinevere’s perspective.  She also follows the Welsh tradition rather than the better-known French one used by Thomas Malory.  In so doing, Lackey strips out the Francophile elements of the medieval romance to place it more firmly within the early history of the British isles.  This move makes the novel read more like historical fiction than fantasy.  Arthur and his knights adhere to Roman military tactics and everywhere there are remnants of the Empire, which pulled out of Britain at some unspecified time in the not-too-distant past.  In addition, the Saxons that will eventually overrun the island appear as invaders and a seemingly inexorable threat to Arthur’s kingdom.  Even the conversion from Celtic Druidism is foreshadowed by the presence of Christian monks; however, the transition is far from complete or smooth.  Lackey has the two existing side-by-side in mutual dislike and misunderstanding.

Gwenhyfar  is divided into three sections.  In the first, the title character is a young princess growing up in the household of a Welsh King, though the geography of this world is never precisely given.  Instead, readers are left to figure it out much as they are in fantasy novels that involve original worlds or planets.  In the second section, Gwenhyfar becomes a warrior chief who encourages a superstitious fear that she is some sort of marauding spirit.  This creative part of the tale is derived partly from the novel’s subtitle, which is a possible translation of the Welsh name Gwenhyfar (Guinevere).  In the third section, she marries the legendary King Arthur and becomes High Queen, not something she really seeks or wants.  The story is slow paced with intricate plotting, well-developed characters, and a carefully depicted setting.  The historical detail in particular will make this novel appealing to fans of Celtic myth as much as to those who enjoy Arthurian legend.

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