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?

Book Review: Red, White, and Royal Blue

red white & royal blueRed, White, and Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
M/M Romance (New Adult)
421 pages
Published May 2019

I have been looking forward to this book for several months, and it arrived just in time for Pride, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. It is very much an adult romance, complete with sex scenes. They are not the focus of the story, but they’re definitely not skimped on, either!

Red, White, and Royal Blue takes the bisexual son of the (female!) US President and pits him against the closeted (at order of his grandmother) gay youngest prince of England. After they make a scene at an international event (oh, enemies-to-lovers trope, how I love thee!) the two boys are ordered to make nice, and make it look like their scene was just friendly rough-housing that got out of hand. As typical for enemies-to-lovers, once they’re forced to spend time together, they each start to realize the other isn’t all that bad.

I loved so much about this book. I loved Alex and Henry. I loved the side characters. I loved the formatting when the author includes email and text chains between characters. I loved that the boys start quoting real historical queer letters to each other.

I mean, with sentences like “Henry lets Alex take him apart with painstaking patience and precision, moans the name of God so many times that the room feels consecrated.” How do you NOT fall in love with this book? Just – wow.

I could totally see the author writing stories for the rest of “The Trio” – the president and vice president’s kids/grandkids (Alex’s sister, June, and their best friend, Nora.) But this book stands just fine completely on its own.

This book ranks right up there with The Priory of the Orange Tree, and that’s one of my new all-time favorites. So yeah. Absolutely fantastic romance.

From the cover of Red, White, and Royal Blue:

When his mother became President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius – his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with an actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex/Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family and state and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: Stage a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instagrammable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the presidential campaign and upend two nations. It raises the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

Book Review: Little Bee, and World Refugee Day

little bee refugeeLittle Bee
by Chris Cleave
Contemporary Fiction
267 pages
Published 2009

Today is World Refugee Day. First observed in 2001, it is dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of refugees all across the world. African Refugee Day had been observed in some countries prior to the UN declaring it World Refugee Day, but the Organization of African Unity agreed to have the two days coincide.

To honor World Refugee Day, today I’m going to talk about Little Bee. Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee in the United Kingdom. She and her sister witnessed the destruction of their village by an oil company’s thugs, and were hunted down to eliminate the witnesses. In a chance encounter on a Nigerian beach, she met Sarah and Andrew, a couple from London trying to save their marriage by going on an exotic holiday. The encounter changes the lives of all three of them, and when Little Bee makes it to the United Kingdom, they are the only people she knows. She arrives at their home on the day of Andrew’s funeral, and Sarah takes her in.

The book switches between the viewpoints of Sarah and Little Bee, and it does suffer from that, a bit. I couldn’t wait for Sarah’s chapters to be done so I could get back to Little Bee. Her viewpoint – her voice – was enthralling. Some first-person views are just the person thinking to themselves, while some first-person views are the person talking to the reader. Sarah was the first type, and Little Bee the second. Reading her explanations of the differences between her old life and her new life, and how the girls from her village wouldn’t understand things, was amazing. I was hooked within the first ten pages of the book, specifically her note about scars:

I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.

The events Little Bee talks about having witnessed are horrifying. And she recognizes that. She could be bitter, she could be depressed, she could be insane, but she is not. She manages to have hope, and even joy. She sees other refugees around her commit suicide, and in fact always has a plan for how to kill herself “if the men come.” Because the stories of refugees always begin with “the men came and they…” and she’d rather kill herself than let herself be taken. Despite this, she has hope for a future. Or perhaps she simply takes joy in the present.

The book is not a happy one. Like Sing, Unburied, Sing, it’s an important book but not exactly an enjoyable one. There are enjoyable parts. But there are very hard parts, too. (I should note, here, a TRIGGER WARNING for a graphic description of rape, when Little Bee tells Sarah what happened to Little Bee’s older sister.) It did not end the way I wanted it to, though it ended in an unexpected way. I suppose it was too much to hope for a Happy Ever After when the vast majority of refugees don’t get one.

For all that there were very tough scenes to get through in this book, I’m still putting it on my Best of 2018 list. Little Bee’s voice and viewpoint is amazing, the story is well researched, and the plot absorbing. This is a book I’d like to have on my shelf.

This book fills the “book talked about in another book” (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) prompt for PopSugar 2018, and the “refugee MC” prompt for Booked 2018.

From the cover of Little Bee:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book.

It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.

Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:

This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there . . .

Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.