Let me start by saying that I never thought I would finish this book. That’s not to say that it is a bad book, in fact I found it both well written and interesting. It just seemed that so many things would come up when I tried to read and at 550+ pages it seemed daunting as the first book to undertake in CBR5. However, I finally finished this evening and am ready to talk about it.
I was drawn to this book
because it was $1.99 in the Kindle store because the stories of Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin and the gang have always intrigued me, but I haven’t found an effective outlet for that curiosity. Most of the books I’ve tried have been too dry or dense and I end up tossing them to the side. As historical fiction, this obviously has a much lighter feel but I think probably gives an honest depiction of it’s central characters. That being said, I know nothing about the central characters other than random TV shows here and there, so I can’t judge how “legitimate” the story is.
Woolley writes effectively enough to not bog the reader down with overwrought descriptions of vales and villages, but goes into enough depth to bring the reader rounded characters that you’re not only interested in but begin to root for. The story is written from Gwen’s POV and begins in her home of Rheged, and follows her on her journey of becoming the High Queen of Britain. It ends with the formation of the Knights of the Round Table, so presumably more “queenly” things happen in books two and three.
I was enraptured in the description of the different religions and how they interacted with each other, since Gwen and Arthur presided over both pagan and Christian regions. There was a quote that struck me as we seem to have the same conflicts today:
I couldn’t help wondering why some Christians were loving and caring toward their fellowmen while others were constantly judgmental and difficult. There didn’t seem to be an answer, and in the end I thanked Vinnie for her concern over my soul and kept a fair distance between myself and her religion.
Raised as a pagan, Gwen was taught to respect the beliefs of others, especially her subjects, and her levelheadedness in terms of her rule (thus far in the story) are endearing. We learn about her upbringing in Rheged and her friends at court, but the story really picks up when her and the wedding party travel to meet Arthur for their marriage. There are knights, battles, druids, priestesses, horses, embroidery, and Merlin, plus much much more.
We meet a teenager, who goes off to a strange land to marry someone she’s met only once, to rule a huge kingdom. For me the differences in what’s expected of teenagers these days was resounding, as I thought about my 13 year old sister going off to rule over people somewhere and it made me quake with fear. It was a very different world back then, filled with wonder and magic as opposed to technology and destruction and I think the simplicity of some things is what draws me to historical fiction in the first place.
What really makes the book a winner for me is Woolley’s writing. She makes me want to go back in time and be friends with Gwen. She’s lighthearted, optimistic but realistic, and smart. I suppose that’s what draws us to still read and learn about her today. Another quote I really enjoyed had nothing to do with anything, but was a lovely piece of writing and really sealed my resolve to embrace Woolley’s Gwen with all my heart:
A beekeeper, his precious hives carefully wrapped in linen and straw for the journey, hailed us with great good cheer. Bees are always a good omen, and I was sure he would sit down next to his charges this evening and carefully describe all that he had seen and heard on the Road this day, for the little golden honey gatherers have to be kept advised of everything that affects their owner. I wondered how he would describe us, and what the bees would think.
My only issue with the book would be the flashbacks. Sometimes they seem a little forced and the story doesn’t quite lead up to a logical reminiscing period. There are a few anachronistic terms used in the story as well. I take no issue with them, and they’re addressed in the author’s note, but some history buffs may find them annoying. Overall the book is enjoyable and I would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
There was one part of the book that made me laugh, even though I don’t think it was intentional. Regardless, this is what I pictured in my head: