The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere Reimagined

Written by Parker J. Cole
Review by J. Lynn Else

515 AD. Gwenhwyfar and Arthur are both on the cusp of retaking their lands. Their plans have been shaping for 10 years now. Gwenhwyfar, born as Princess Fayola, fled her home at 10 years old after her aunt murdered her mother, the Kandake, and seized the throne. Arthur’s father is a tyrant whose cruelty has stood unchallenged for too long. When the two meet, there’s an instant attraction. Could it be their shared losses pulling them together, or is it something more? Can either of them give up their throne for their growing love?

Parker J. Cole spins a fascinating tale of a woman from Nobadia who fled to Scotland to live amongst the Picts as a warrior, breathing new life into the well-known name: Gwenhwyfar. While I’ve never heard of rulership legitimized by hexadactyly in the cult of Isis/Wusa, it is interesting to read about birth defects being an advantage in ancient times. There are new legs to Arthur’s journey, but as there are so many legends surrounding this historical figure, I enjoyed the new elements.

The prologue starts with Fayola fleeing, then things jarringly switch backwards in time for an untold number of months with Chapter One opening before Fayola’s mother was murdered. The nonlinear narrative isn’t always clearly defined, which frustrated.

The characters are well-developed. While some names are recognizable, like Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, others are not, such as Leofsige (not to be confused with the medieval Bishop of Worcester, Leofsige) and Gowon (not to be confused with the Klingon, Gowron). The Once and Future Queen gives voice to both women and people of color, whose beautiful and empowering stories have largely been left silent in history. Adding more political intrigue, scope of setting, and character depth, this is an enjoyable alternate history twist to Arthurian legend.