Damosel: In Which the Lady of the Lake Renders a Frank and Often Startling Account of Her Wondrous Life and Times

Damosel: In Which the Lady of the Lake Renders a Frank and Often Startling Account of Her Wondrous Life and Times

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by Stephanie Spinner

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WATER SPIRIT DAMOSEL, the Lady of the Lake, glides through Arthurian legend like a glamorous wraith, shimmering and shifting between the worlds of fairies and humans. Her knowledge is vast (magic, metal, men’s hearts) and leads to her greatest honor—and worst mistake. Damosel makes a promise to the wizard Merlin to protect young King Arthur, and then dares… See more details below


WATER SPIRIT DAMOSEL, the Lady of the Lake, glides through Arthurian legend like a glamorous wraith, shimmering and shifting between the worlds of fairies and humans. Her knowledge is vast (magic, metal, men’s hearts) and leads to her greatest honor—and worst mistake. Damosel makes a promise to the wizard Merlin to protect young King Arthur, and then dares to break it—with devastating results. All the while, 17-year-old Twixt—a dwarf in a world where difference can be deadly—finds himself freed from his cruel masters and moving closer to the one place he never expected to see: King Arthur’s court at Camelot.

Stephanie Spinner intertwines the two narratives of Damosel and Twixt to draw us straight into the rich Arthurian land of enchantment.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
Although rules guide Damosel, the mythical Lady of the Lake, she justifies her sometimes arbitrary behavior, emphasizing she is telling her story to correct mistruths criticizing her interactions with the wizard Merlin. Damosel reveals how her metallurgical skills resulted in Merlin commissioning her to create a jeweled sword and blood-stanching scabbard for his protege, Arthur. Damosel tolerates her devious cousin Nimue's greed for magical powers and desire for Merlin. Remaining at her lake, Damosel sends Nimue to Arthur's wedding to Guinevere where a distraught woman seeking her stolen dog interrupts the festivities and Merlin insists Arthur dispatch knights on three quests. Damosel listens to Nimue's accounts of those quests. Twixt, a dwarf, also chronicles related events, including when he escapes from his abusive owners with one of Arthur's knights who takes Twixt to Camelot. Damosel is vexed when Nimue uses magic to trap Merlin in a cave. Merlin requests Damosel assume responsibilities to guard Arthur from his malevolent relatives. Damosel is distracted when she weds Sir Pelleas, blissfully indulging in domestic activities and forgetting about Merlin and Arthur for years until memories of rules regarding promises force her to intervene. Damosel's ethereal voice lures readers to enter her timeless world. Damosel's and Twixt's narratives sometimes reiterate information the other previously presented. A brief note identifies literary and historical precedents that shaped this Arthurian depiction. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
VOYA - Brenna Shanks
Spinner retells the legend of Camelot from the viewpoint of the Lady of the Lake. Damosel is a carefree water spirit when Merlin comes to her with a request to forge a sword for the future king. The Ladies of the Lake have always been skilled in metalwork and Damosel knows she cannot refuse - she has to follow the Rules Governing the Ladies of the Lake and one of them is the Rule of Service to Future Kings. But Damosel finds that making the sword is not enough. She must help guide the new king, a task that becomes even more vital when her heartless cousin Nimue imprisons Merlin. She is helped in her task by Twixt, a dwarf and jester at King Arthur's court. The tale alternates between these two characters. Although the story covers familiar ground, the perspectives are fresh. Some of the stories are told rather than shown, since Damosel often watches things from afar. Twixt's adventures are more lively. Years zoom by, sometimes with little context. The spirit world, with its rules and strange denizens, is almost more interesting than the doings at Camelot. Overall, although the plot is uneven, the unique perspectives and voices, particularly Damosel's, are worthwhile. Fans of Arthurian legends will also like the new spin on things. Reviewer: Brenna Shanks
School Library Journal

Gr 6-10

Spinner's presentation of the Arthurian legends is told primarily through the voice of the Lady of the Lake. Damosel begins by explaining how she used her magical and metalworking abilities to create Excalibur for King Arthur, and how her cousin Nimue's involvement with Merlin led to his imprisonment. Damosel's involvement with Arthur's court continues when Merlin asks her to look after Arthur. She lives her life according to the rules that govern her kind, such as "A Lady Always Keeps Her Promises," but she learns that rules are made to be broken as she finds love and drama in Arthur's court. Damosel's narrative is interspersed with chapters from the perspective of Twixt, Arthur's dwarf court jester, who offers a more intimate and gritty picture of court life. The combination of these two unusual perspectives allows Spinner to create interest and suspense, even though readers know that the conclusion can only be Arthur's downfall. Fans of Arthurian legends will enjoy this new take on these familiar tales.-Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI

Kirkus Reviews
Damosel is the Lady of the Lake, who knows the Rules chapter and verse (The Rule of Unwavering Politesse, A Lady Always Keeps her Promises, etc.) and follows them. Her gift is metalwork, so it is she Merlin asks to forge the sword Excalibur for Arthur. She does so, but cannot save Merlin from her flirtatious, power-hungry cousin Nimue, here drawn as the original manipulative Mean Girl-no wait, that's Morgan. While Damosel promises Merlin to protect Arthur always, she fails, breaking both Rules and promise when she falls in love with Sir Pelleas, who then dies. Damosel's first-person narrative alternates with that of Twixt, a dwarf, who provides his own wry commentary as he moves from squire to jester at Camelot to companion to Guinevere in her cloistered years. Both plot structure and character development seem arbitrary, in place to retell the tales but not offering readers any substantially new insight into the traditional legends. Readers in search of Arthurian retellings will be better served by those of Gerald Morris or Nancy Springer. (Fantasy. 10-14)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Library Edition
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


I am so well versed in The Rules Governing the Ladies of the Lake that I could recite them backward on a dare, but the wisdom I treasure most was gleaned not from that vast, ancient compendium but from my own earnest blundering. To wit: learn the Rules so you know when to break them.
It took me half a lifetime to understand this.

Long ago I had no inkling. I was a feckless young lake spirit, living in damp contentment in a place called Looe Pool. My home was deep and wide, the limpid blue of an aquamarine. Because it was only a stone's throw from the ocean, I could hear waves breaking day and night--a steady, soothing sound, like a giant breathing through a stuffy nose.

Grand as the ocean was, nothing compared to my Lake, for its water was refreshing in summer, bracing in winter, and, unlike the surf, very drinkable. I loved its taste of ducks' feet and shale.

I treasured solitude in those days, so I kept the Lake hidden. It was a feat well within my powers, for as a Lady, I commanded significant magic, just as my forebears had. There are severe restrictions to what I can divulge ("A Lady Does Not Discuss Her Ancestry or Her Training"), but I will say that I could obscure most things (including myself) to mere shadows and could move from one element to another as smoothly as rain gliding off a leaf. Like other Ladies, I knew countless helping and hindering spells, and I need hardly mention that I was bewitching, with every sort of glamour at my disposal--from the subtler ones all the way up to the dizzying, the blinding, and the stupefying.

Moreover, I could see what was hidden in men's hearts--which had its advantages, as men are always trying to hide something. But it was a gift I seldom used, for in those days I avoided mortals, deeming them rough, hasty creatures with indifferent manners and unfathomable customs. They were boistous, too--noisier than birds but without the pretty feathers. So I kept my distance, and they kept their secrets.
Another of my talents (and an unusual one for a Lady) was the ability to work metal, which I could shape and forge as well as any cave-dwelling gnome. I made necklaces of silver droplets, gold armbands shaped like leafy vines, candlesticks, pitchers, ewers, and tongs. I went through a long goblet phase--fifty years at least. Eventually I moved on to weapons--but more of that later.

Finally, as I have said, I could recite each and every one of the Rules Governing the Ladies of the Lake, having committed the entire body to memory when I was ninety-eight. I was only a child then and eager to prove my cleverness, but my achievement (such as it was) proved to be of questionable value, for, having memorized the Rules, I was then bound to follow them--not only by honor, but also because the skin between my toes itched (sometimes quite painfully) if I did not.

This could be irksome.

Which brings me to Merlin.

Far too much has been said (and sung) about what passed between the great wizard and me, and almost all of it is irritating nonsense. I did not flirt with him, nor did I charm him into loving me. I did not crave his powers, and I most emphatically did not lock him up by turning his own magic against him. The truth--sordid and shocking enough to make me cringe for at least a hundred years--is far more interesting, and I fully intend to reveal it. Until then, I will say only this: Merlin did introduce me to Arthur, and in doing so changed my life forever.


Merlin called on me one spring morning, just as the water lilies were opening to the sun. He did me the courtesy of coming into the Lake, but after I assured him that we could speak just as well on land, we floated to the shallows and then walked ashore. By this time the thrushes were singing, a lovely song, very liquid, about mayflies and grubs. We listened for a moment, and then Merlin told me why he had come.

"The future king of Britain will soon be needing a sword and scabbard," he said. "Will you fashion them?"

I said I would. As I mentioned, a Lady who can work metal is a rarity--like a sweet-voiced goblin or a fairy who likes numbers. But I enjoyed the gift and never questioned it. Perhaps--and this occurred to me many years later--I was given it so that I could perform this very task, which was more important than I knew.
In any event, even if I had wanted to refuse (and I did not), I was disallowed. The Rule of Service to Future Kings was clear about that.

"The sword must be invincible, and the scabbard must have the power to stanch his blood if he is wounded," Merlin continued.

Good idea for the scabbard, I thought, hoping I had the spell for it.

"Both should be heavily jeweled," he said, "as befits a king," and I nodded. I liked jewels. In fact, I loved them like a dragon.

"And they must be ready in three years," he concluded.


The wizard's long, thin nostrils flared, as if the word smelled bad.

"It will take me almost three years to forge and temper the blade," I told him, "and the grip alone requires a year. I will need nine years."

"Nine." He drew the word out, as if considering the number; at the same time the sky darkened and thunder rumbled directly overhead. "The boy is twelve," he said pointedly, "and will very soon be ready to take the throne." A bolt of lightning hit a tree on the horizon, and it toppled in flames.

Merlin, Merlin, Merlin! I thought. Do you really think that roiling the weather will make me hurry? Think again! I gave him a smile with just a hint of glamour in it (the girlish, honeylike sort). "Nine years," I repeated.

I was pleased to see his face soften. "Nine years it is," he said, as if there had never been a difference of opinion.

I nodded. The sky cleared. We touched palms and bowed, and I began to sink into the Lake.

"You won't forget the scabbard?" he called.

I shook my head. "Be sure to bring him when you return," I called back.
"Done," he promised, fading into the atmosphere.

From the Hardcover edition.

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