Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit

Written by Mercedes Lackey
Review by Veronika Pelka

To reconcile the confusion in historical sources, Mercedes Lackey gives King Arthur three wives—all named Gwen. The third and last defines her own destiny via the path of a warrior.

Gwen’s affinity with horses and weapons made her different from the other women, and with her father’s blessing, she becomes a leader of men and proves herself their equal. The idea that a woman can be more than traditions allow appeals to us and makes us want to hear her story. Unfortunately, the early pages are heavy in description, and the exposition between action, which should enrich the story with context and motivation, often distracts instead. As the Princess of Pywill tells her tale, we see her as strong and fearless, yet capable of intense hatred even for a child. At times, she rambles and comes across as smug, congratulating herself way too often. Although such traits reinforce her success in the story, they lessen her appeal to us.

Gwen is chosen to become Arthur’s third wife to assist in the fight against the influence of the Christ priests and to keep the evil Medraut from power. No longer a young girl, Gwen understands that duty must come before her own dreams. Yet, as the story unfolds, we see she fights her enemies with the code of a warrior. As would be expected, the story has a large cast of characters and an intricate plot.

For those interested in a different interpretation of the Arthurian legend, Gwenhwyfar may satisfy. Certainly, the second half of the book reads much better than the first. But the book has one overarching shortcoming—the text is riddled with contemporary phrases. Like bad punctuation or awkward grammar, these words repeatedly jolted me right out of the story.

Ms. Lackey is a skillful and successful author, but Gwenhwyfar is not her best work.