The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.
There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.
Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.
To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.
Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?
Whoo boy, do I have some things to say about this book.
A lot of my friends on Goodreads lamented over the first 80% of this book and thought it picked up at the end. I had the opposite reaction. Because of course I did. I actually loved the beginning of this. I was drawn into the mystery and the intrigue. I have a long attention span, and so I was HERE for the minor details of the time period and setting.
And then the book ended…
Gather round, friends, and settle in for another Feminist Rant That Nobody Asked For.
First, let me address my lack of a rating. In case you haven’t noticed, I stopped reviewing books I don’t like. For a number of reasons that I really don’t want to get into right now. As a whole, I did not like this book, which is one of the reasons I’m not rating it.
The other is that I still have faith in this series. I adore Kiersten White. Her feminist retellings are fire. That was true for most of this book too.
But, Lord, that ending.
My hope is that there was a point to it. That it’s a setup for the rest of the series and that the main character, Guinevere, is going to pull a 180 sometime during the second installment.
WARNING: UNMARKED SPOILERS AHEAD
Let’s dive right into the meat of my issue, shall we? This ending is not feminist. At all. In fact, it embodies a devastatingly subversive antifeminist theme in literature that was first popularized in The Taming of the Shrew.
This book is based on Arthurian legend. Our heroine is Guinevere, but not really, because the real Guinevere died and our nameless female lead is just impersonating her.
Arthur banned magic in Camelot, ousting Merlin, his former adviser. But there’s a darkness on the horizon that threatens the realm, so Merlin sends Guinevere to protect Arthur. They marry.
Arthur is kind and benevolent and everything a king should be. Guinevere immediately worships the ground he walks on. Even though he’s never there for her because he’s so busy running a kingdom. Even though she feels like she can never tell him everything about herself. Regardless of the fact that – SURPRISE – he’s in on her deception.
That’s right. He knows Merlin sent her and is okay with her doing magic even though he regularly banishes or executes others caught practicing magical arts because….well that’s never really fleshed out. Which makes him seem like a massive hypocrite from the get go.
And then there’s Mordred, Arthur’s most trusted knight and nephew (who is actually a year older than Arthur because their family tree is all sorts of fucked up). He tasks Mordred with guarding Guinevere when he isn’t around. Which is almost always.
Mordred and Guinevere grow close. He discovers her magical secret and instead of outing her, he protects her. She can talk to him in a way that she can’t with Arthur. She feels like her real self with him.
A self that she’s confused about. There are massive holes in her memory. Merlin deceived her and she thinks he even went so far as to erase her past from her mind. It turns out he didn’t really send her to protect Arthur, but sent her to be protected from the rising darkness.
And Arthur knew about it. In fact, Arthur knows more about her than she does. Does she poke at that? Ask him why? What he knows? If he can fill in her memory gaps? Nope. She just blindly trusts that he’s not keeping some terrible shit from her, even though there are MANY hints that he’s keeping some terrible shit from her.
The whole premise of this story is nature vs order. Magic is depicted as wild and chaotic. It’s not good or evil, it simply IS. Like a wolf that kills a baby deer. Is that sad and horrible? Yup, but guess what, the wolf’s gotta eat, man. If it doesn’t kill the deer, it dies. We don’t get to choose which one of them lives.
And then there’s order. Man imposing his will on nature. Enacting edicts and laws to curb chaos. Shaping the very landscape around him to better suit his own needs.
Arthur is order. He defeated the Dark Queen, banished magic, and with the help of Merlin, put the land to sleep. When she’s with him, Guinevere is made lesser. She has to hide her magic. She comes at least second, always, but sometimes even third or fourth or fifth. She’s more of an afterthought for him. And like Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew, Arthur endows her with characteristics he prefers, namely voicelessness and usefulness. He only ever goes to her when he needs her to do something for him. Not him, Arthur, the man, but the king.
At one point, he even portrays her as a helpless victim who had to be saved by a brave knight after SHE heroically saved not one, but two people. He did this because she couldn’t tell him the truth of what really happened.
But she told Mordred.
If Arthur is order, then Mordred is chaos. He’s an outrageous, sometimes hilarious flirt. He doesn’t want to impose his will on Guinevere. He likes her just as she is: wild and free and powerful. There’s a spark between them that doesn’t exist between her and her husband.
And in the end, she chooses Arthur over him.
You see, she accidentally awakens the Dark Queen. Mordred is there, and he revels in the queen’s rise. Because it turns out that he is magical too. And he’s been forced to watch others of his kind flee or be killed by men.
If you’re thinking he was secretly evil the whole time and now I’m trying to get you to have sympathy for the “bad guy”, I assure you, he wasn’t, and I’m not. He’s VERY clear that he isn’t on the side of the Dark Queen. He’s not her minion, he just wants to see a balance brought back to nature before the order of man kills what little magic is left in the world.
And really, who could blame him for that? Just look at the havoc that man’s “order” has wreaked on our planet. I’m at the point where I was actually rooting for the rise of the Dark Queen.
Burn everything to the ground. I am with you, Your Majesty.
Mordred, while not as far gone as me, sees to it that the Dark Queen rises. Afterward, he urges Guinevere to run away with him. To stop making herself less than for the sake of a king who has no time for her. Who lies to her. Who doesn’t even love her like Mordred does.
But Guinevere, working against her own self interest, chooses Arthur instead. And I literally wanted to cry.
The antifeminist theme I referred to in the beginning of this review is one in which women in literature, are “tamed” by the men they’re with. Civilized. Molded into a shape more pleasing for the man. They start the books with their own agency, much like Guinevere, and by the end act as nothing so much as a mirror for their husbands.
I’m praying that I’m wrong about this series. That Guinevere chooses Arthur because of her own naivete and the fact that she’s imprinted on him because of Merlin’s manipulations. After all, the wizard shoved his own trust and love for Arthur INTO her brain.
My hope is that she snaps out of it. That Arthur tells her all the terrible shit he and Merlin have kept from her and she realizes she made THE WRONG CHOICE and runs screaming after Mordred.
Because if not, I am going to be beyond disappointed in this. And I will put a star rating to that disappointment.