Book Review: The Guinevere Deception

guinevere deceptionThe Guinevere Deception
by Kiersten White
Young Adult / Fantasy
340 pages
Published November 2019

Kiersten White has solidified her spot on my Always-Read list. After Slayer and the And I Darken trilogy, I knew I liked her. With The Guinevere Deception she is three for three – or five for five, if you count the And I Darken trilogy separately – and that’s enough to land her squarely on my list of “READ ALL OF HER SHIT.” I need to get my hands on The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, since I’ve heard so many good things about it!

The Guinevere Deception is much less dark than the And I Darken trilogy, more on a par with Slayer. Not to say there aren’t dark themes here; there are plenty of those. While our “Guinevere” mentions often in her thoughts that she’s thankful for the real Guinevere for dying and making all this possible, I wouldn’t put it past this version of Merlin to have actually killed the real Guinevere and forced the possibility of this deception. I should back up and explain.

The story opens on Guinevere riding towards Camelot to be married to Arthur, however we learn from Guinevere (the story is told from her POV) that she’s not the real Guinevere. She is Merlin’s daughter, sent to protect Arthur after Merlin was banished from Camelot along with all magic. She, Merlin, and Arthur all know that Arthur needs magical protection, and though she’s not as strong as Merlin, the people of Camelot also don’t know she has magic. So she’s allowed to stay. We never learn Guinevere’s real name. (Maybe we will in future books?)

So Guinevere often reflects on the dead woman she’s impersonating. There’s also some consent issues with memory magic. Guinevere messes with a knight’s memory in order to let a dragon get away, and through the course of the book, we realize her own mind has been muddled when it comes to certain things. Merlin has a lot to answer for, domestic abuse and emotional abuse being the first of many sins.

I always love retellings of the Arthurian legends, because it’s fun to see the different takes on each facet of the tale. A changed romance here, a gender swap there, a slightly different parentage or sibling relationship over there. Someday I want to see an Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot polyamorous triad instead of a love triangle, but that has yet to appear.

For some reason, I picked up this book thinking it was a standalone. I’m not sure why I thought that; it’s actually the beginning of a trilogy. I’m looking forward to spending more time with these characters, though, and seeing where some of these relationships go. I really enjoyed this book, even as it made me quite angry at Merlin. I’m cheering for the Lady of the Lake, but I can’t tell you why without ruining some surprises! 

It’s interesting that the main plotline – the danger to Arthur – feels like a secondary plotline. I think the true main plotline is “Who IS Guinevere?” and that has not yet been answered by the end of the book. I have a strong suspicion, but I’ll have to wait for the next book to find out.

From the cover of The Guinevere Deception:

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 that 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, knotted 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?

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Library Loot Wednesday

Two middle-grade books this week, because a third in the series just came out, and they sound so stinkin’ cute. It’s basically a strong girl-focused series with dragons. So heck yes. The first two – the two I’ve checked out – are The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart and The Girl With The Dragon Heart. The third, which I have a hold on, is The Princess Who Flew With Dragons.

TTT – Worst Bookmarks

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is Bookmarks, but, well. I don’t -use- bookmarks. I either read a book the entire way through, or remember the page number, or just flip the book upside down on my chair or headboard. Sooooooo, inspired by X on Twitter, this week’s post is my Top Ten Bad Bookmarks. (No books were harmed in the making of this post, though I debated it!)

So. Ten Things You Should NOT Use As Bookmarks! (Starring, my To Be Read list.) In no particular order:

 

  1. The Cat.

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Rating: 2/10. Would Not Recommend. Unpredictable. Prone to getting up and walking away, leaving book un-bookmarked. If cat is still ON book when you want to retrieve it, injury may result. Cat may decide you are done reading before you do. (Book: Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A Levine.)

 

2. Wine.

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Rating: 3/10. Would Not Recommend. Useful for drinking WITH some books, but tricky to balance inside book. A nudge would send it rolling away, resulting in an un-bookmarked book and possibly a mess. (Book: Docile by K. M. Szpara.)

 

3. Fall.

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Rating: 5/10. Possible. Only useful a few months out of the year. Careful to find dry leaves. Or, if you’re like me and a windstorm recently TOOK all of your leaves, use fake. Which potentially makes this usable outside of Autumn, but strange. (Book: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade.)

 

4. Minecraft.

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Rating: 6/10. Obscures view of game, but effective bookmark. Probably not Best Game Ever, but game that holds my attention. (Book: Best Game Ever by RR Angell.)

 

5. Car.

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Rating: 3/10. Effective, but requires keys. Exposes book to weather. Neighbors look at you weird. Only useful while spouse is home. (Book: A Song For A New Day by Sarah Pinsker.)

 

6. My (Physical) TBR.

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Rating: 2/10. On par with cat. Lengthy bookmarking process, followed by period of angst while looking at gigantic pile of books to read. Do Not Recommend. (Book: America: the Beautiful cookbook.)

 

7. Curtains.

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Rating: 1/10. Requires magic to keep in place. Do Not Recommend. Also inaccurate. This is our first house. (Book: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.)

 

8. Orc.

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Rating: 8/10. Best so far. Tricky to find right angle to stand up. Looks like he’s screaming at you for not finishing your book. Recommended. (Book: Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier.)

 

9. Leftover Halloween Candy.

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Rating: 7/10. Built-in snacks. Effective until spouse wanders by and eats your bookmark. Recommended if living alone. (Book: The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis.)

 

10. Spouse.

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Rating: 9/10. Best Bookmark on the list. Responds audibly when wondering where you left your book. Reminds you to get back to reading. Not prone to walking away without notice. Marks off for looking at you weird when asked to put book on head, but ultimately pleased to have Hat. (Book: Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys)

Book Review: Song of the Crimson Flower

song of the crimson flowerSong of the Crimson Flower
by Julie C. Dao
Fantasy / Romance
272 pages
Published November 2019

This is a companion book to Julie Dao’s duology, after Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. I really enjoyed the three books as a whole; the stories in each book were connected but standalones at the same time. In Forest of a Thousand Lanterns we had the rise of the evil queen from Snow White (but Asian) and Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix was Snow White (but Asian). Kingdom could stand alone fine, but knowing the back story of Xifeng made the ending that much more heartbreaking. Similarly, Song of the Crimson Flower could also stand alone just fine, but knowing the background of Commander Wei made his small part in the story much more worthwhile, and lent more weight to the cameo by Empress Jade.

But Song of the Crimson Flower isn’t about Empress Jade, or Commander Wei. Song is about Lan, a nobleman’s daughter of no real import, and Bao, the poor orphan boy who loves her. Bao reveals an elaborate deception to Lan, and in her heartbreak, she is cruel to him and sends him away. He flees their village and happens across the river witch, who thinks he came to her for some malicious purpose, curses him, and sends him back to where he came from. Which happens to be Lan, who is already regretting her actions towards him. Lan agrees to help break his curse, and we’re off on the adventure.

The book is actually quite short – under 300 pages – and a LOT happens. Dao has a rare talent for description and action, together in a succinct way that makes it a lush tale that doesn’t FEEL like it’s hurried along, but is still over before you know it. (For an example of her beautiful prose, see my last Friday 56!) This is a lovely addition to Forest and Kingdom, and I’m curious if Dao plans to write more in this world or not.

From the cover of Song of the Crimson Flower:

WILL LOVE BREAK THE SPELL?

After cruelly rejecting Bao, the poor physician’s assistant who loves, her, Lan, a wealthy nobleman’s daughter, regrets her actions. So when she finds Bao’s prized flute floating in his boat near her house, she takes it into her care, not knowing that his soul has been trapped inside it by an evil witch, who cursed Bao, telling him that only love will set him free. Though Bao now despises her, Lan vows to make amends and help break the spell.

Together, the two travel across the continent, finding themselves in the presence of greatness in the forms of the Great Forest’s Empress Jade and Commander Wei. They journey with Wei, getting tangled in the webs of war, blood magic, and romance along the way. Will Lan and Bao begin to break the spell that’s been placed upon them? Or will they be doomed to live out their lives with black magic running through their veins?

In this fantastical tale of darkness and love, some magical bonds are stronger than blood.

Sunday Stuff

FINALLY A LAID BACK WEEKEND WITH NO REAL PLANS! Oh my god, I haven’t had one of these since August. AND our houseguest – my spouse’s other partner – has gone home for the weekend, so it’s just the two of us. Houseguest is coming back tonight – they’re still looking for other housing – but I NEEDED this weekend.

Things are getting cold in my neck of the woods – I actually saw a short-lived snow flurry on Friday, and I think we’re supposed to get a small-but-measurable amount of snow this week. That’s still really early for us, but I love snow, so I’m not mad!

I am wrestling with how to write a review for The Fever King and The Electric Heir, the duology by Victoria Lee. They’re involved enough books that I’m not going to read my next ARC – also a heavy topic – before I get this review written, which means I keep reading light fluffy stuff instead of K. M. Szpara’s Docile. I’ve got to get this review figured out.

I’m also going to be working on a book list of books with demisexual characters – I’ve seen lots of ace- and aro- spec booklists, but none that are specifically demi. Given that that’s what I am, and there are several books coming out soon with demi characters, I should make one!

The other two projects I’m working on are a piece for another blog – not sure how much I can say about that – and a piece of short fiction my spouse and I have been musing about. Lots of balls in the air at the moment. Oh, and I should probably actually write up a review for Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments at some point, too. Procrastinating on reviews by reading more books only gives me more reviews to write!

I have a hilarious Top Ten Tuesday coming up this week, so stay tuned for that. I promise it will be great!

Book Review: Slay

slaySlay
by Brittney Morris
Young Adult
321 pages
Published September 2019

So I need to begin this review by saying this book was not meant for me. It was written for black teens. Black gamer teens, specifically, but it is 100% about being black, and all the beautiful variety that entails.

I have never seen so many Black issues combined in a single book, and done so beautifully and cohesively. From being the “Black friend” expected to speak for all black people, to dealing with racial bigotry in video games, to wondering if you’re “Black enough,” to refusing to call the cops on a black man, to misogynoir, to the occasional belief that if black women don’t date black men they hate their own race, to whether AAVE is respectable or not, to simply wanting your own space to be black in without being judged – Morris hits SO MANY POINTS and does it in a natural way.

My ONLY complaint about the book is that Kiera is somehow juggling being an honors student, tutoring friends, having a boyfriend, and somehow also hiding the secret that she’s one of two developers for an online game with hundreds of thousands of users? They’re aren’t enough hours in the day! I feel like the author doesn’t realize how much work goes into coding that kind of environment. So I had to suspend my disbelief when it came to that part of the story. Everything else, though, is just fantastic.

The video game itself is fascinating – it’s a VR-based game, so you slip on a headset, gloves, and socks, and walk around as your character, collecting items and using in-game coins to buy cards to duel with. The cards are inspired by all manner of Black culture, from Fufu, a staple food in many African countries, to “That One Auntie’s Potato Salad” and “Reclaiming My Time” (which makes you go REALLY FAST). Each duelist gets to pull, at random, six cards from their decks to duel with, and they have access to every card they personally have bought. Better cards cost more in-game money, or rarer in-game materials to make. It’s a really, really cool idea for a game, and I kind of want somebody to make it now.

The book does need a few content warnings – there’s emotional abuse and cyber-stalking. It’s pretty impactful when it happens.

I loved the book, but as I said, I am absolutely not its intended audience. For that, read this glowing review over at Black Girl Nerds.

I think the book is a good look at the pressure black people – especially black girls – are under. Because it’s never just one issue, even if books like to concentrate on one or a few. It’s always all of them, every day. We’re not always aware of that, as white people – and we should be.

From the cover of Slay:

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer – not her friends, not her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are a “distraction to keep the Black man from becoming great.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, Kiera faces potentially being sued for “antiwhite discrimination,” and an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to harass all the players and take over.

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?