I had read one of Kiersten White’s books last year for the Retellings Challenge and, while I thought it missed the point of being about Egyptian myths, it was a nice enough teen romance. So I thought why not see what White does with Arthurian legends. The setup – Guinevere is dead and our protagonist is an impostor taking over her place – sounded exciting enough. Sadly, pretty much everything about this book ended up being lame and left me feeling very “meh”.
THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION
by Kiersten White
Published: Delacorte Press, 2019
Ebook: 352 pages
Series: Camelot Rising #1
My rating: 2/10
Opening line: There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl on the cusp of womanhood.
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?
We follow a young girl impersonating Guinevere on her way to marry King Arthur. She has been sent there by her father, Merlin, to protect the king from a mysterious threat. What that threat is – we don’t know and neither does Guinevere. But she’ll just have to go to Camelot, marry the king (who is in on the whole thing by the way), and protect him from evil magic. By doing magic herself. Which is outlawed… but the king knows about it and lets her do magic in secret. Because reasons. Don’t ask too many questions, this book doesn’t make sense. It’s 350 pages of Guinevere making magical knots, thinking how hard it is to be queen (even though she never really does any queen stuff). Seriously, that’s it.
There is never a feeling of an actual threat. And because Arthur knows of Guinevere’s secret, this isn’t a source of excitement either. Guinevere doesn’t really have to pretend that much, she only has to convince people of being the real Guinevere who don’t get that close to her. There’s never any tension, there’s never the feeling that she has to watch out or risk being caught… any potential for thrilling plot points was taken right out of the book at the very beginning. Who does that?? Why not make Arthur unaware and Guinevere actually having the difficult job of convincing her new husband that she is who she says he is? I’ll tell you why. Because then you can’t have her fall in love with three separate people in one book.
The only, and I mean only, thing that made this book bearable was the magic used by Guinevere. She makes knots. I know, doesn’t sound that great, does it? But it was the only original idea that kept me vaguely interested in finishing this book. Guinevere knots her hair for protection, uses metal knots to keep the castle safe, and so on. This kind of magic always takes a toll, so either she has to use her blood to make a spell work, or she loses her eyesight for a while, etc. I love magic that comes with a price and while nothing is explained about this magic system, at least it was something that made me continue reading because I was hoping to learn more about it. Spoiler: no such luck.
The other thing that is probably supposed to hook readers is Guinevere’s real identity. I suspect this question will remain open until the end of this series, so I will never find out (and I don’t much care, to be honest). But unlike the three (!) potential romances, at least the question of who she is and why Merlin sent her to Camelot was mildly interesting.
Guinevere is missing a lot of memories yet she never seems to question this. It’s like “oh hey, I barely remember how I grew up, who my mother was, how I spent my childhood, or much of anything else about myself, but let’s just go with it because I HAVE TO PROTECT ARTHUR FROM SOME UNKNOWN THREAT THAT I’VE ALSO NEVER QUESTIONED!” While this might have been explained pretty easily – just invent something, author, that’s what you do for a living! – it never is and that makes Guinevere not only seem boring but also pretty damn stupid. Why should I care about someone who is presented as an intelligent and somewhat powerful character yet behaves like an idiot all of the time?
As for the romances and the “plot twist” about Lancelot… It was all so obvious and so lame. I would try to use a better word to describe it but lame actually encapsulates it perfectly. So Guinevere is married to Arthur and mostly has friendly feelings toward him. However, there are many scenes in which her heart starts racing or she wants to touch his hair or whatever, so a potential romance is implied. Then of course there’s Mordred who flirts with Guinevere pretty often and she reacts like a giggling teenage girl, not like a young woman on a mission to protect her husband and king. Aaaaand let’s not forget Lancelot because we all know how the legend goes. Apart from being just too much, there was also no distinction between Guinevere’s feelings for these three people. I had to roll my eyes so hard, you guys…
After three quarters of the book passed without any plot to speak of, apparently someone (author, editor, whoever) realized that something should probably happen. So we get a last minute threat which was presented as some kind of twist. But if you retell King Arthur’s story and use what everyone knows about that story, by no stretch of the imagination can you call it a plot twist. The shocking reveals weren’t shocking, the moment just fell completely flat. Just as flat as the characters whose only distinguishing qualities are their looks.
I did kind of like how Tristan and Isolde was incorporated into the story, even though the author drops that side plot pretty quickly, making it feel like token name dropping. This entire book was just a string of nothings held together by cardboard characters behaving like morons. Anything that could have been interested was immediately shut down by the author, leaving an empty husk of a book. No matter how many Sir Whatshisnames you mention, if you don’t show who the characters are, if you don’t show the world they live in, if all you do is tell me how Guinevere’s breathing quickens when lover A/B/C is nearby, then you’ll lose my interest pretty fast. The only brownie points go to the magic system and that’s being generous.
All things considered, this book had nothing to offer. I don’t know why I should continue reading this series. Even if we do eventually get more information about Guinevere’s origin, why would I read another 300 pages of her sitting around, thinking half-finished thoughts about some threat and making knots? The way Kiersten White churns out books, I probably shouldn’t be surprised. This was so bad, in fact, that it will probably be my last foray into her work.
MY RATING: 2/10 – Bad!
P.S.: It probably didn’t help this book that I read The Mists of Avalon only a few months ago…