Kiersten White’s writing is one of my favorite things. Her feminist retellings of old tales and historical figures are enjoyable and instructive. I still owe whoever suggested And I Darken to me an Edible Arrangement. So when I saw the retelling of Arthurian legend in her hands, I preordered immediately.
I have read some of the other reviews that have been published, and I believe that the criticism is well founded, but perhaps too harsh. The story is slow going, and even at the end we don’t know who “Guinevere” is or where she came from, or why two of the most dangerous magical beings (the Dark Queen and the Lady of the Lake) want to get at her and the third most dangerous (Merlin) kept her in seclusion, training her until the time was right. The real Guinevere died and Merlin, who has been exiled from Camelot, put this new girl in her place to marry Arthur and defend him from magical enemies in Merlin’s stead.
We interact with a limited number of characters and while the pace of the book is to be expected given how many people we have to meet and the world-building that has to occur to match our ideas of Camelot with White’s, the action is low-key until the very last 30 pages. Most of it is Guinevere sneaking around the castle dropping knots all over the place because that’s the magic that she knows: different knots for different spells. We see a small romance bloom between her and Arthur, and whispers of a forbidden romance with Arthur’s cousin Mordred, but nothing gets too serious. Lancelot appears as well, but I’ll let you discover that underwhelming twist for yourself. I enjoyed her friendship with her lady’s maid as well as a knight’s sister, Dindrane. The final twist that spurs the fast-paced conclusion and cliffhanger is also painfully obvious, so much so that I actually groaned out loud. Overall the story is well-written, but lacks in the suspense you might expect from a story with hidden identities and magic.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that this book is targeted at a much younger audience than even And I Darken or her retelling of Frankenstein. All of the twists were SO OBVIOUS and the writing seemed to flirt with the edges of middle grade in its simplicity. Arthur is 18 and Guinevere is 16: can an angry angel get a story like this but with the girl at the age of consent at least? That’s what made me feel like this was for a younger crowd, because I know full well that YA can stretch into the late teens, early twenties. Even Sarah J. Maas has her heroines at 18 years old, but to be fair there is so much sex in her books that she would have to make it that way. It was not uncommon for young women to marry that young in these times, so I guess I won’t hold this one against White too much.
I found The Guinevere Deception compelling in the same way that The Song of Achilles and Circe were compelling; it was a good story that didn’t ask a lot of my imagination. I didn’t have to stretch my belief too far because I was already familiar with the story. The new elements added to the Arthurian legend were interesting enough for me to want to know what happens next. I am worried because the second book of any trilogy is usually the red-headed step-child, and with this first installment so slow to bloom, the second book will need to be much more exciting to carry me through to the trilogy’s finale.
It’s Kiersten White, so it’s good, but don’t expect the excitement and fire that we have found in prior books. Bring your patience, perseverance, and fresh expectations so that this will be an enjoyable, if slow, fantasy read.