Monday, 17 March 2014

Daughter of Camelot by Glynis Cooney

Daughter of Camelot (2013) (Mabon Publishing)
Glynis Cooney
Grade: A-
Genre: young adult / Arthurian legend / fantasy
Source: NetGalley 
YA Reading Bingo Challenge 2014: A book based on a myth

About to celebrate their fourteenth birthdays, twins Deirdre and Rhys are inseparable. In their superstitious community, twins are a sign of bad luck, but they have learnt to ignore the stares and whispers. Her father has always turned a blind eye at Deirdre’s boyish exploits with her brother and best friend Reece, but that’s about to change. Rhys is to embark on the last stage of his training to become a Knight while Deirdre is to accompany her older sister Nia to learn the finer points of etiquette in being a lady.

Court life is much different to what Deirdre had expected. With news of Lancelot and Guinevere’s betrayal fresh on everybody’s lips, kingdoms are quickly taking sides and it is up to Deirdre and Nia to learn all they can in their family’s pledge to support the High King. Court politics are complicated and for Deirdre, dangerous when she overhears a traitorous conversation that wasn’t intended for her ears. She suddenly finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy that she’s determined to topple as part of her bid to thwart Arthur’s destiny …

I’m a sucker for books related to the legends of King Arthur. I wrote over seven thousand words for my Extended Project (AS-level equivalent) on the origins and evolutions of Arthurian legends and I loved it. I’ve slowly been accumulating books related to King Arthur (none of which I’ve read yet) and I have a whole TBR list dedicated to books I discovered during my research. DoC is, I believe, the first new Arthurian book I’ve read since my Extended Project (4 years ago!) and it was a fantastic way to end the drought.

DoC features some beautiful writing. Ms Cooney is descriptive yet concise and tells her version of the legend that is a story as old as time, yet still manages to be fresh and captivating. These short passages allow Ms Cooney to summarise her version of events but also encapsulate her lyrical storytelling wonderfully:

“Our traditions ravaged, the Britons were left to build a nation on the remnants of a system imposed. The country descended into pandemonium. The natural order had been broken beyond repair.
“Until Arthur.
“Arthur created the Round Table as a way to draw men together to find common purpose and settle petty disputes off the battlefield. Thus, he built a community of like-minded men, influential men who want something great for themselves beyond collecting land and trappings. They found that at Camelot. They found honour.”

Though our interaction with Arthur and his great knights is virtually non-existent, Ms Cooney has constructed the atmosphere, culture and way of life in such a way that it didn’t matter. The elements set in the various courts were good to read. Ms Cooney captured the politics, drama, bitchiness and backstabbing perfectly. Deirdre has herself a little flirtation going on (she’s fourteen!) and that attracts the jealousy of another of the women at court. Her naivety is a little hard to believe at times, but she’s spent her entire life in the company of her brother and best friend – hardly conducive to her future as a lady. Deirdre’s learning process over the course of the book is stark and she gets the adventures that she yearns for.

DoC reads like some of my favourite books and it was these similarities that immediately sucked me in. The Mists of Avalon is my favourite ever retelling of King Arthur and similarly re-tells the legends of King Arthur from the perspective of the women in his life. DoC also brought to mind the opening few chapters of Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, one of my favourite and most influential books as I was growing up. Alanna and her brother Thom are eleven years old and about to be sent off to the convent and castle to be taught how to become a Lady and Knight of Tortall, respectively. Both are deeply resistant to the fate that society has consigned them to and Alanna comes up with a plan for Thom to be sent to the Convent to learn magic while she disguises herself as a boy and becomes a Knight. Like Alanna, Deidre longs for adventure and feels stifled by the weight of the future expected of her. While Deirdre doesn’t have to hide her sex and gender in order to have her fun, it is these characteristics that create obstacles to her life as she wants to live it. Marion Zimmer Bradley, Tamora Pierce and Glynis Cooney communicate some important feminist messages that combat gender-stereotypes, whether intentional or not, and I thrive on that knowledge.

DoC is meant to be the first of a trilogy but I can’t find any information on the website about further books. I have a good idea about who the protagonists will be (sequel baiting isn’t limited to romance!) and if I’m right, I’m intrigued to read about their journeys in the aftermath of the fall of the High King. I don’t usually request titles on NetGalley beyond a group of publishers that I routinely follow, but DoC was an exception worth making. This was an enchanting and engaging debut from Glynis Cooney and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she is capable of. 

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