In this retelling of the Arthurian legend, Lancelot becomes a woman disguised as a man, and Guinevere longs to rule the realm.
The tale of King Arthur has undergone many permutations over time, including feminist interpretations (for example, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon). Here, Lancelot starts out as Anna, but at 10 years old, her life changes forever when she witnesses her mother’s rape and murder. To keep Anna safe, her father decides to raise her as a boy and train her in combat—preferable to women’s work anyway, Anna thinks. Lancelot grows up determined to fight effectively, protect the innocent, and let no one discover her secret. Guinevere, too, has some secrets. She would like to rule Camelot in her own right, and she’s attracted to women, not men—women like Queen Morgan, Arthur’s half sister, and Lancelot, whose disguise Guinevere sees through immediately, unlike the soldiers (“How had this woman ever managed to live concealed as a man? She must be daring beyond measure,” Guinevere speculates). Lancelot immediately impresses the queen (“There actually was a woman who had learned to fight! She marveled at the muscular arms that contrasted with the woman’s large, gentle brown eyes”). As readers learn the true stories behind Gawaine, Mordred, and similar figures, Arthur fights his famous battles with Lancelot by his side, and Lancelot and Guinevere begin a passionate affair. In her debut book, Douglas does more than introduce cross-dressing and same-sex romance to the Arthurian mythos; Lancelot’s unique status allows her to dissect the whole warrior mystique. She soon realizes that warfare is bloody, wasteful, and permanently horrifying for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Women’s work is dull; their roles and skirts are confining; but, Lancelot thinks, “was wearing breeches worth going through this horrible slaughter?” And despite sharing so much, Guinevere can’t understand Lancelot’s war experience. “How could you talk about it with a woman? No one could,” says a friend. Such contradictions add interest to a familiar story—but the telling is so slow and leisurely that sustaining interest becomes difficult. And, though the challenges of a medieval same-sex relationship invite sympathy, Douglas gives her lovers little in common beyond a physical attraction, a need for secrets, and a hatred of sewing. A second volume, Lancelot and Guinevere, is planned to continue their story.
Provides a distinctly fresh, if slow-moving, take on Camelot.