This wasn’t really what I expected it to be—at all. Being a huge fan of all things Arthurian, I’d heard much about this novel and its legacy in the Arthurian world; it was pretty much a must-read, from what I could gather. However, I found myself mostly…bored. And exasperated. I didn’t end up really liking any of the characters, Morgaine least of all—I didn’t even like Arthur all that much, which really disappointed me. (I’m a firm believer that Arthur should always be heroic and awesome and cool, and it always saddens me when he’s not portrayed that way.) Yes, this book was told from female points of view, but if I could call it active feminist fiction is another matter entirely—it was mostly a novel of women who do absolutely nothing except wait for others to do stuff and then whine about their circumstances. Perhaps the most bothersome part was that I thought I should have been reading an epic fantasy tale, and instead, I was reading a novel that pretty much used all its energy to bash Christianity in every possibly way it could. This was more a religious argument than an actual Arthurian tale. So if you were like me and had heard about this book, despite your possible love for Arthurian stories, there’s not really anything here that was done spectacularly well, and the purple prose will probably make you want to skip hundreds of pages at a time.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- Although the writing could get a little…lengthy (it is a more than eight hundred page novel, after all), I never found myself really bored with the story as it progressed. I thought it maintained a somewhat natural pace, even though it covers many years in a comparatively short novel. I kept up, I followed along—I never got lost, which I thought was somewhat impressive, given the length and the amount of detail put into everything. I thought some things took way too long to be told, but overall, I enjoyed the actual reading experience of digesting the words and thinking about the story and where it was headed.
What I Didn’t Like:
- This book said more about the pros and cons of Christianity than anything else. For me, religious has never played a huge part of the Arthurian myths, and it took center stage in this particular novel. I was irked because of the prejudice of so many characters against one another—the Merlin and Arthur were the only ones who made even an inkling of sense when they talked about religion. Meanwhile, you had characters like Morgaine and Viviane, who wanted to spit fire and brimstone at any and all Christians; and on the other hand, there was Gwenhwyfar, who was pretty much insane when it came to her religion—screaming at Kevin the Bard because of his deformities, believing that his evil caused her to miscarry her children, etc. It was irritating how much time was spent just talking about evil Christians or evil Goddess worshippers; I just wanted to get back to the mythology and the actual story at hand. It didn’t feel like a fantasy novel, because the narrators couldn’t make me believe in the Goddess or her power to control anything (except make people miserable), and there was no other fantastical aspect of the story to think about. It was a religious debate. Pretty much nothing else happened.
- I think we were supposed to sympathize with a lot of characters that I just didn’t like. I felt bad for Igraine, but that kind of ends when you realize how little attention she paid to her only daughter after remarrying Uther. Then you feel kind of bad for Morgaine, but then not really because she attacks and demonizes her brother, who never actually did anything malicious to her on purpose—Morgaine often forgot that Arthur was just as used as she was, as far the Beltane rituals went. Don’t even get me started on Gwenhwyfar and Lancelet—they were so annoying that my vision went a little red any time they were together. Lancelet was probably the most annoying of them all, and sometimes the text just got weird. I’m not even sure of what happened half the time, but I think there was a threesome between Lancelet, Gwenhwyfar, and Arthur, and that somehow led to Lancelet wondering if he was bisexual? I think? I’m not sure. Anyway, I just found myself mostly irritated with everyone. Even Arthur, when he would listen to Gwenhwyfar and do stupid things because she asked him to. The only one I didn’t hate was the Merlin, Taliesin, but he’s barely in the novel. All the characters have stories that make you sad for them, but then they have qualities and they do things that make you hate them, regardless of what they’ve been through. I sympathized with nobody (except maybe Arthur and Kevin), and that makes for a pretty poor reading experience.
Overall: This novel just didn’t live up to the hype for me. I was expecting something mind-blowingly awesome, and it just didn’t happen. This book focused way too much on religious debate and was full of characters you honestly didn’t care about—that, combined with the purple prose that went on for ages didn’t make me enjoy almost any part of this book. I wanted to get lost in the story, and I tried to for a time, but ultimately, I wasn’t impressed with Bradley’s writing, her characters, or the story she tried to create. The whole thing seemed anticlimactic and pointless to me. Definitely not recommended by me, and certainly not for anyone under the age of sixteen or so. Reader discretion is advised!