Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey

DAW, 2009     ISBN: 9780756405854

In this Arthurian novel, Lackey focuses on the Welsh tales of Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), in which King Arthur has three wives in succession, each named Gwenhwyfar. The Gwenhwyfar of this novel  is one of four  daughters of a Celtic King. Intended by her mother to go and serve the Ladies, learning the magic of the old pagan rites and becoming a Priestess, Gwenhwyfar is much more interested in horses and in becoming a warrior. At the encouragement of Braith, one of her father’s warriors, and because she has a sister with the gift, who will go to the Ladies in her place, Gwenhwyfar is permitted to become a warrior.

She works hard at her lessons, and over the years earns the position of leader of her father’s scouts—all talented horsemen and trackers who are physically too small to be of much use in direct battle.

When Saxons invade one winter, King Arthur sends his best tactician, Lancelin (Lancelot) to consult on battle plans, and Gwen is included in the discussion with all the War Lords as they plan an attack. Gwen has already managed to terrify the Saxons by appearing to them as a white spirit, and calling out the names of those she seeks. When the battle finally takes place, the victory comes easily, though not without bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Gwen finds herself attracted to Lancelin, but is forced to accept that he can see her only as a warrior, or as a woman, not both together.

Gwenhwyfar’s life changes dramatically when the second Queen Gwenhwyfar dies, and Arthur is still without a legal heir: she is forced to accept the duty of a princess and serve the land by becoming Arthur’s third wife.  However, her adventures do not end, but rather change, as she is thrust into the midst of intrigue and plotting, and she once again acquits herself as a warrior and meets up again with Lancelin.

As always, Lackey spins a good tale, and her foray into the world of Arthurian legend is a welcome addition.

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