It's been a long while since I have read a Mercedes Lackey book (in fact it's been even longer than I thought- the last one I read was The Snow Queen, back in 2008 when I started this blog). I've been hoarding The Sleeping Beauty, which is the fifth book in her Five Hundred Kingdoms series (side note: I just found out the sixth book is coming this fall! I'm excited!) But my copy of The Sleeping Beauty is hard covered, so I didn't want to bring it out to camp. But then I discovered that Gwenhwyfar was also on the List. And so, since my copy is soft-covered, Gwenhwyfar accompanied me out to camp.
Gwenhwyfar tells the story of Arthur's third queen (by a twist of fate, all three have the same name). Gwenhwyfar is the third of four daughters to King Lleudd Ogrfan Gawr. As a child she has Power, and assumes she will follow in her mother's footsteps by joining the Ladies of the Cauldron. But there is another fate in store for her. For Gwen is also blessed by Epona, the horse goddess. On the advice of her hero, a female chariot driver named Braith, Gwen finds herself training to be a warrior. She falls into this life with a passion, determined to become one of her father's war chiefs.
But it is only after she has achieved all that she dreamt of that fate conspires to make her Arthur's third wife. As the daughter of a king, she always knew that such could be her fate, and so she bows to it. But how can a warrior turn her back on the life she loves?
It took me a bit to really get into Gwenhwyfar. But once I did, it was well worth the read. Gwen is a wonderful character who I really found myself empathizing with, especially when she was required to become more womanly as the High Queen. While I am not a warrior, I understood what she felt when she was confined within the palace. Someone like her will never be happy, no matter how comfortable and pretty the cage is. She needs to be free.
Something that Arthur says near the end beautifully summed this up: "I tried to make you - what you were not. I took a warhorse, and tried to fit it to a plow" (397). Gwen tries - and fails - to be what she is not in order to please everyone else. And in the end this fails because she is not meant for ploughing.
Gwenhwyfar was a beautiful book, especially for anyone who has ever struggled with trying to be something they are not.