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Bewildering Stories

Nancy McKenzie, Guinevere’s Gamble

reviewed by Jerry Wright

Guinevere's Gamble
Author: Nancy McKenzie
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
(June 9, 2009)
Hardcover: $16.99
Length: 368 pages
ISBN-10: 0375843469
I don’t know why Knopf and Random House sends a 62-year-old man books suitable for teenage girls, but the process continues. When one comes, I look at it and then put it aside for the library or the used book store. Unlike Spider Robinson, when he was reviewing for Galaxy, I don’t have a wood-burning stove that needs paper for fire-starting. Which would be a sad use of books anyway. However...

In this case, on the positive side, this book is a fantasy. On the negative side of the ledger, it is an ARTHURIAN fantasy. I can’t believe that this particular field of fiction hasn’t been worked into inconsequentiality. Still and all, I thought I’d give it a try. Yes, it is the second book of The Chrysalis Queen Quartet, and I have not read the first book; nor for that matter, am I even familiar with Ms. McKenzie. She seems to like the Arthurian milieu, however, as her previous books deal with the adult Guinevere as well as Tristan and Isolde (or Essylte, according to this book...) Was it worth the time spent? Absolutely.

As the story begins, Guinevere is a gawky, tomboyish 13-year-old, lowly ward of King Pellinore in the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd. She had previously discovered that she was being secretly guarded by the pagan hill-people and was the subject of a prophecy no one believes, one about her being wedded to a great king... Yeah, right. Among other things, in the first book she stumbles upon a sinister plot in the castle that it seems only she can thwart. Okay, I’ll look for Book One, Guinevere’s Gift.

Gwen now must travel with the King and Queen as well as her romantically day-dreaming younger cousin Elaine to a meeting of all the Welsh kings, where they’ll determine if they’ll accept the sovereignty of this Arthur guy. Sir Bedwyr (aka Bedivere) is Arthur’s representative; but also at the meeting are the mysterious Merlin as well as Arthur’s sister, Morgaine.

For some reason that Guinevere can’t determine, Morgaine takes an instant dislike to her; no, really a hatred. Morgaine tries to poison everyone’s opinion of Gwen, and as well there is once again a desire among the kings to destroy those pagan hill-people. The story moves along in a spritely, amusing fashion, with much intrigue and derring-do. Although aimed at 10- to 15-year old girls, it is a book that even an old guy can enjoy. And I did. And now, I’ll have to look for the next of these Chrysalis Queen Quartet books.

Copyright © 2009 by Jerry Wright

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