Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future. On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic. When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle. As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.
A retelling of The Lady Of Shallot where she leaves her tower. That was basically all I needed to know to be incredibly intrigued about this book. I knew it was going to be a feminist King Arthur retelling, and that is basically it. But that was enough for me to be ready and eager to see what this book was going to hold. Trigger warnings: suicide, emotional abuse, blood, violence
I have finished this book, and I am still sitting here slightly slack jawed. I am awed. Wow. Holy heck. A book. What a seriously, seriously good book.
Where do I even start with a book that left me staring like I was just smacked over the head with brilliance.
I guess I will start with the pacing, and the storytelling in general. It is told in the past, present, and future. Yes, three tenses, all intertwined throughout the entire book. And woah, does it work. It works so, so well. It creates this ache; this book hurts. But I think that is the beauty in it. The light that is experienced happens when it is known it will be snuffed out. Everything is barreling toward a future that only seems to end grief and heartbreak in betrayal. There is such love and happiness that is between the characters, and yet those are told in the past tense, when they were sheltered and away. Not in the present, when they are forced to make decisions that cut. And the future that seems like it will crush them under its weight. These tree pieces in time, all so different, but pieced and placed together in a way that makes them all coherent, that lends itself to the plot, the emotions, of the book. It makes it better. It is a big part of what makes this book so, so good.
I could spend so much time talking about the emotional response this book evoked from me. Because wow, did it evoke emotions. Gosh, it is a book that hurts, but gosh, is it amazing. It’s not all about the pain and the suffering and the hurt. There’s the happiness and the light and the loved and the friendship in between. And I think that makes everything ache more. This book is the definition of bittersweet, mixing the two together until they become one, until it becomes something that slides down the throat but warms the stomach. It knows how to play emotions to the perfect tune, plucking them until they sound just right.
I fell in love with Elaine, with Lance, with Gwen, with Arthur, with Morgana. I fell in love with them all. The friendship, the bond, they share is something special. They are something of a family. And seeing them face the future together, face the kingdom, their roles in stopping the ruin that is on the horizon, was heartbreaking and amazing and all kinds of wonderful. Seeing how they came to be, how they are, and what they could be, it’s just, it’s hard to describe. They all carry their own weights. They all carry their own pains. And things fracture, and some things break. But some flourish, and some come together. They have choices to make, and they want to make damn sure they make good ones. They are wrapped up in so much tragedy. But there is so much love between them. Just, wow.
I also completely loved Gawain. He was very sweet and very earnest and I loved him a whole lot.
The way Elaine Saw the future was a highlight for me. How the future in this book was presented was a highlight in general for me. This whole book is a fight against the future, against the versions of the future that would cause the most pain. There is such a effort to create a future that is happy, that is alright, but there are so many pitfalls, so many choices, so many things that could happen. There is the threat of the future hanging over every choice, every decision. There is the future that seems like it is going to come to pass no matter what. There is the heartbreak that is right around the corner, the ruin that seems to be inevitable. And the present that needs to be dealt with to keep that future from happening. It’s just, something incredible. It’s hurts and it aches, knowing how things will fracture, knowing how things might fall apart, watching the seeds to be sown that will lead to ruin. It hurts, knowing that things that were so happy, are now breaking in front of your eyes, and knowing that they could still break more.
The writing, holy heck, the writing. I wanted to highlight every single line, that’s how talented Sebastian is. Seriously, this book written spectacularly, with lines that made me want to stop in awe and just, sentence after sentence that was beautifully crafted. Just, so, so, well written.
I love this book so, so much. Sebastian makes you fall in love with these characters, makes them feel fresh and incredibly their own, and then slames some kind of truth of the legend of King Arthur on you. You want to root for them, you want them to be alright. But you also know how the legend goes. And some legends don’t end well. It is a spectacular book, and just, wow. I love it a whole lot.