Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 0-8217-8030-1
Historical Romance, 2006
Cynthia Breeding’s debut historical romance is an impressively authentic-sounding take on the whole King Arthur-Guinevere-whatshisname love triangle. Even the names here sound more like actual names in fifth century Britain rather than the romanticized versions we are more familiar with today. While this story still has paranormal elements, there is also attempt to give this story plenty of historical authenticity.
Except when it comes to the heroine Gwenhwyfar, that is. The only thing consistent about this character is her inconsistency that never fails to drive me up the wall. She’s the stereotypical stupid don’t-think just-act wretched heroine that doesn’t grow a brain at all in this story.
I’m sure I don’t really need to give a synopsis of the story but anyway, for those who aren’t aware of the legend of Great Adultery of Camelot, our Green Heifer heroine is about to be married off to the great king Arthur for political reasons but she refuses, stomping her foot, shouting at Arthur and everyone else around her that she is a mature woman who can think for herself, makes herself an idiot again and again, gets other people like Lancelot to clean up the mess she creates from her blabbermouth disease, and oh yes, judges everyone else but doesn’t see anything wrong in indulging with sexual intimacies with “the Lancer”, Lancelot because it’s true love, you see.
The subplots involving the scheming Morgana, Arthur’s sister who also had a son Medraut with him (not to be confused with Morgan le Fay who is also in this story) and especially Nimue the priestess of the Old Ways whose reciprocated attraction to Arthur is forever doomed to be unconsummated are very interesting and, in the case of Nimue, heartbreaking especially when this subplot gives Arthur depths and poignancy that the author for some reason fails to give to Lancelot. Away from the Green Heifer, Lancelot is a very tolerable hero with his unexpected moments of sardonic humor and his general competency as King Arthur’s best buddy who get things done (when he’s not thinking of doing the Green Heifer, that is). Camelot’s Destiny is good when it comes to creating a coherent and dramatic story detailing all the way to Arthur’s fall by the Lake.
But the Green Heifer is so much in this story and she gets on my nerves so much, I wish so badly that there is a way I can zap her out of the story so that I can enjoy the rest of it in peace. This woman is… oh my god, I don’t know how to describe her. She’s the kind of heroine who acts like an antagonistic mule but then whines that people don’t like her. Well, with her attitude, can I blame them from treating her like a crazy donkey? She whines that she just wants to be the boss of everyone rather than being a wife but the way she constantly says the wrong things, the only creatures she can lead halfway competently, I suspect, are sheep and even then those sheep will probably flee after an hour under the Green Heifer’s supervision. If you are playing a drinking game to this story, I dare you to take a sip every time the Green Heifer says something that ends with an exclamation mark. I’ll send you a get well postcard when you’re in the hospital. Seriously, the Green Heifer here is always pouting, shouting, and just doing all the wrong things.
The author tries to demonize Arthur, oh she does, by making Arthur treat the Green Heifer badly, at one point even forcing himself on her. But the thing is, the Green Heifer doesn’t even try to want to be a good wife to Arthur. She and the author seem to think that the Green Heifer not shagging Lancelot is enough to put the Green Heifer in a morally superior position. But our charming heroine doesn’t even try to be fair to Arthur so frankly, I’m not surprised a man of that particular era will go crazy seeing his wife making eyes like that to another man. My point here is, Ms Breeding tries to portray the Heifer and Lancelot in a more sympathetic light, but with the Heifer acting like a petulant child so often, she’s not succeeding in my opinion.
For example, it strikes me as amusing early on when, even after hearing Lancelot’s prowess with the “Lance” when it comes to women, the Heifer can still call Arthur a womanizing brute while asking Lancelot to be her friend. It is bad enough that the Heifer pays lip service to virtue only to appease her own sense of morality and she has no intentions of being fair to Arthur even after they are married, but the Heifer’s clueless selective memory in damning Arthur with a moral brush while ignoring the same faults in Lancelot does not improve matters. This is my problem with the Heifer. I don’t have any problem with her finding another man more attractive than her husband. I do, however, have a problem with her acting so immature all the time that her attraction to Lancelot as a result comes off like yet another childish trip of hers.
Ms Breeding’s treatment of Arthur is also inconsistent, which again is not helping her story at all, because Arthur towards the end of the story becomes a tragic character more noble than despicable. Towards the end of the story, the Heifer is sobbing that she loves both Arthur and Lancelot. Now, given that she’s pouting and acting like a brat throughout her marriage to Arthur, how on earth does she come to love Arthur? Of course, she’s then running off with Lancelot towards the sunset when Arthur’s fate is uncertain so la-di-da, why do I care, really.
The author’s treatment of her characters is all over the place. Arthur is one moment the bad guy who’s a foil to sweet and noble Lancelot and then he’s the noble king. The Green Heifer insists that her true love is to Lancelot and then does a turnaround and says that she loves both Lancelot and Arthur. Perhaps Camelot’s Destiny will be a much better book if the author shows her characters’ growth in maturity instead of just telling me that oh, the Heifer now loves everybody or look, there’s Arthur, I must root for him now. I’m impressed with the way the author sweeps the book up into a dramatic climax and I appreciate the amount of work done in making the story more authentic. I just wish that the execution of the characters, especially the Green Heifer, has been better.