Mining the same vein as Marion Zimmer Bradley's genre classic The Mists of Avalon, Arthurian aficionado McKenzie focuses on the feminine and the pagan in this prequel to The Child Queen. Initially, 12-year-old Guinevere is the dutiful ward of her wily Aunt Alyse and a timid companion to her cousin Princess Elaine. Guinevere is fearful of the prophecy hanging over her since birth-that she will wed a great king, but betray him and then be betrayed, and that her name would be remembered for a thousand years. She shows her fiery spirit only when riding alone. She learns her solitude is illusory when she is confronted by a pagan hill man-one of the "Old Ones"-sworn to protect her because of the prophecy. When the hill men are implicated in a treacherous plot, Elaine kidnapped and Alyse's throne endangered, Guinevere discovers her own courage and finds a "gift for doing the right thing." McKenzie uses excellent period details (Guinevere feels overwhelmed by a gift of lace, "costlier than jewels, being so rare"). Her female characters are strong and give advice relevant to contemporary readers; as Alyse says, "Beauty is a fleeting weapon. It's the use of your wits that will carve you a place in life." Ages 10-14. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Nicole Peterson
Guinevere does not believe the prophecy that was given about her when she was a baby, but most other people do. And that is why she is constantly protected when she rides her horse in the woods. Since her mother died giving birth to her and her father is getting too old, this princess was sent to live with her aunt and cousin in another kingdom. Although she is well cared for, her aunt is jealous of the young princess who looks like her mother, the sister to her aunt. But Princess Guinevere is a true heroine, showing character and skill well beyond her years. This medieval fictional story is the first in a series of books about the young Guinevere before she became King Arthur's Queen. Since we do not know how much of the story of King Arthur is fact or fiction, the author has plenty of room for creativity. The book is well researched, and events, descriptions of things as simple as household chores, and even words from the period are authentic. Reviewer: Nicole Peterson
VOYA - Pam Carlson
Before ever meeting Arthur, Guinevere proves herself a worthy queen-to-be. At the age of twelve, she is beautiful, headstrong, intelligent, and courageous. She possesses both the spirit and image of her mother, who dared to marry an older man for love rather than duty and died in childbirth. Her Aunt Alyse serves as Guinevere's guardian, attempting unsuccessfully to reign in Gwen's high spirits, especially her love of riding alone in the woods. There Guinevere discovers that she is under the protection of the Old Ones, a tribe so well hidden few are aware of their existence. When the kingdom is threatened by an arrogant young neighbor while the king is away assisting Arthur in battle, Gwen's true gift is revealed-the power to inspire love and admiration in people in every walk of life. She is the talisman around whom others rally as Alyse conducts her people in a clever and fierce battle against the enemy. Victory comes just a few days before the king's return with his announcement that Gwen is to marry the mysterious Arthur. McKenzie succeeds in detailing everyday royal life with all of its intrigue. She allows each character to rise to surprising heroism although readers might have a difficult time accepting preteen Gwen's incredibly mature abilities. Scattered throughout is both wonderment and denial toward the prophecies concerning her. Fans of the Arthurian legend will be entranced by this inventive tale of the queen most well known as a betrayer of her king. Reviewer: Pam Carlson
KLIATT - KLIATT Review
Yes, that Guinevere. Here she is nearly 13 years old, a foster child living in her cousin Elaine's household. Elaine's father, King Pellinore, is fighting in support of the young High King, Arthur. While King Pellinore is away from his kingdom in Wales, a tyrant attempts to take over the kingdom, capturing Elaine as a hostage to get Queen Alyse to succumb to his demands. Guinevere is a smart, athletic girl, given to putting on boy's clothes and galloping off into the wilds on her beloved horse, making friends with the Old People who speak Mountain Welsh and worship the goddess Rhiannon. Through her courage and intelligence, Guinevere devises a plan to rescue Elaine and help thwart the rebellion and save Queen Alyse and the kingdom itself. We never meet Arthur in this story, but he is coming soon. When King Pellinore asks Arthur for a gift to give to his ward Guinevere on the occasion of her 13th birthday, Arthur sends a beautiful filly, trained by (gasp!) Lancelot. This will impress horse lovers and those young YA readers who like stories of young heroines, smart and tough. It's a good introduction to the numerous stories about King Arthur. Age Range: Ages 12 to 15. REVIEWER: Claire Rosser (Vol. 42, No. 1)
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10- Who was Guinevere before she was Queen of Camelot? Though a prophecy foretells that she will be queen of the land, 13-year-old Guinevere would rather be out riding her horse and escaping the confining walls of the castle where she lives with her aunt, Queen Alyse, and uncle, King Pellinore. Arthur, the new High King of Britain, has called Pellinore and his troops away to battle. Taking advantage of the men's absence, dastardly Sir Darric tries to weasel his way into the Queen's good graces so that he can be betrothed to her daughter, Elaine, and take over Pellinore's lands and treasures. He nearly succeeds, but Gwen is skeptical of his intentions and finds out that he has been stealing Pellinore's cattle. Queen Alyse is a sharp woman, and when she realizes that Sir Darric intends to lay siege to her castle and overthrow her, she puts a plan in action that helps save them all. While out riding, Gwen stumbles onto the fact that she is being protected by the Old Ones, who have been watching over her to ensure that the prophecy is fulfilled, and the Old Ones come to the castle's rescue as well. Subtle details of Arthurian legends are woven into the story, but Arthur is a very minor player. Gwen and Queen Alyse are strong and feisty and take care of business while the men are away, making this a good "girl power" story.-Cheri Dobbs, Detroit Country Day Middle School, Beverly Hills, MI
McKenzie offers a tale that would have had more going for it were it not tied to the Arthurian legend. This is a prequel for Guinevere, not yet 13, ward of King Pellinore and his queen Alyse, and the companion of their daughter Elaine. A prophecy at her birth says that she will be married to a great king, but that doesn't look remotely possible. There is a lot of slow setup until the climax, in which Alyse defends her castle with Pellinore away at battle at Arthur's side and Guinevere rescues the abducted Elaine using her wits and the aid of a one-armed spy. The steely Alyse is the most fully realized character, and it's hard to grasp why Guinevere remains loyal to the spiteful and manipulative Elaine. Guinevere and her gift with horses are vividly shown, but the dialogue rings shallow and modern with lines like "you're beautiful when you're angry" and "How can I ever thank you?" There's also a group called "Earth's Beloved," which lives gently off the land, hides in the forests and protects Guinevere. This may find an audience, but they deserve richer fare. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
Read an Excerpt
King Pellinore’s Daughter
“Move over, Gwen. It’s my turn.” Elaine tugged at her cousin’s sleeve. The two girls lay flat on their stomachs on the cold stone floor of the parapet. Guinevere had one eye pressed against a break in the mortar low in the castle wall.
“The courier’s just coming. He’s entered the room. He’s making his reverence.”
“Move over,” Elaine demanded. “I let you look first. Now it’s my turn. You keep watch.”
Guinevere moved aside. “He looks exhausted. I wonder if he’s come straight from the battlefield.” She wriggled closer. “What’s he saying? Can you hear?”
“Shhh! Not if you talk.”
They had known that the new arrival was a royal courier by the dragon cipher on his belt, although he had ridden in with a party of merchants and wagons. Everyone had seen him, a young man with a military straightness in his carriage and the dust of travel still clinging to his clothes. He had come while the tables were being laid for dinner, and Queen Alyse had postponed the meal in order to receive him alone. She had been waiting weeks for a message. Elaine and Guinevere had taken advantage of the confusion and excitement at the courier’s arrival to sneak up the guardroom stairs and learn firsthand through their peephole whether Elaine’s father, King Pellinore, was still alive.
It was six long weeks since Arthur’s courier had come at snowmelt to summon Pellinore of Gwynedd and all his men to war. Half of Wales had risen with him. All of them were eager to fight for the young High King who never lost a battle.
Guinevere crossed herself quickly. Please, God, let nothing happen to King Pellinore. She missed him dreadfully. He was a rough bear of a man with a jovial nature and a willingness to believe the best of everyone. He had to return safely. If he did not, Queen Alyse would rule Gwynedd alone.
“Listen, Gwen!” Elaine cried. “Father is—”
Guinevere clapped a hand over her mouth, but too late. Behind them, the guardroom door squeaked as it opened, and a sentry emerged. The peephole lay near the corner of the western wall, low to the ground and deep in the shadow cast by torches outside the guardroom door. Experience had taught the girls that they could not be seen if they huddled inside their cloaks and kept absolutely still.
The sentry walked along the rampart, sword in hand, and looked warily about him. It had been a cool spring day, and dusk had brought a chill sea breeze ashore. Nothing stirred but the wind.
The sentry spun around. “Sir?”
“We’ve just got word! The High King’s done it again! The Saxons are running for their lives, and King Pellinore is on his way home at last. Come, lad, and drink a cup of wine with us.”
The sentry’s gaze swept the parapet and peered into the shadows. He sheathed his sword. “I’m coming, sir. I thought I heard—but there’s no one here.”
Guinevere exhaled as the man disappeared back inside the guardroom. Through the open door, she could hear the soldiers’ celebration, a chanted victory paean, and the slosh of wine poured from a jug. “That was close.”
Elaine sat up and pushed the hood from her face. Bright golden curls danced about her shoulders, and her voice exulted. “Father’s alive and coming home victorious! The High King beat the Saxons back—didn’t I say he would? He’s not lost a battle yet. Admit it, now. He’s the best warrior in all the kingdoms. And Father is coming home! Oh, what a feast we shall have when he arrives! I’ll wager my last coin I can beg a new gown from Mama.” She grinned. “You can have my old blue one if I do.”
Guinevere smiled. “Let’s hope those wagons that came in tonight carry your mother’s order of cloth, for the storerooms are as empty as your purse. Hurry now. We’ve got to get back before Grannic and Ailsa discover we’ve gone.”
They tiptoed through the flickering torchlight and past the guardroom door. From within, they could hear the guards’ joyous cheer: “Long may he live, long may he reign! Praise be to Arthur, King of all the Britons!” The girls just had time to fold their cloaks away before their nurses arrived to usher them downstairs for the evening meal. Elaine’s nurse, Grannic, a lanky woman with a sour face and small, calculating eyes, busied herself laying out a new gown for Elaine. She asked no questions about how Elaine had dirtied her present gown; she knew from long experience she would not receive an answer. But Guinevere’s nurse, Ailsa, round, plump, and cheerful, pulled Guinevere into the anteroom for private speech.
“What have you been up to, then?” she said half under her breath as she brushed dust from Guinevere’s skirts. “You were perfectly clean when I left you. And just look at you, with the roses in your cheeks and your hair pulling loose from its pins. You’ve worn your hood. You’ve been outside.”
Guinevere bowed her head. She never liked fooling Ailsa, however easy it was to do. But Elaine had sworn her to secrecy long ago on the subject of the peephole and, in exchange for her silence, allowed her to look through it now and again. Having accepted the bargain, she could not go back on her word.
“I’m sorry, Ailsa.”
Ailsa’s nimble fingers worked swiftly and firmly, replaiting her hair and straightening her gown. There was no question of laying out another; the girl did not have enough to spare. “Now, why, I ask myself, would two young maids want to go outside on a cold spring night? Something to see? Or someone to meet?”
“No, no, nothing like that. Whom would we meet?”
“We were perfectly safe. Honestly. It was just . . . something to do.”
“Are you so idle, then? Perhaps I should speak to the queen. I’ve no doubt she could find a way to relieve you both of the time on your hands.”
Guinevere hid a smile at Ailsa’s pretended threat. “Please, Ailsa, I would tell you if I could. But I can’t. I’ve promised. We were perfectly safe.”
Ailsa finished her ministrations and lifted the girl’s chin so she could look into her face. “I know who it was got the promise out of you, and all I can say is, be as careful as you can. Please, Gwen, for both our sakes.”
From the Hardcover edition.