Gwen Rowley, Knights of the Round Table: Lancelot (Jove Books, 2006)

Gwen Rowley gives us a surprisingly 21st century Sir Lancelot. Is he mad or soulless, a killing machine or a sensitive lover? He is wracked with indecision, torn between incompatible oaths to his sovereigns, to his lover, to one closer than a lover. To say that Lancelot du Lac is the product of a dysfunctional childhood is worse than an understatement. Kidnapped as an infant, raised by the Lady of the Lake and the Green Knight (if you can call the latter's efforts to kill him "raising"), then dumped at Camelot in ignorance of his very name. It's no wonder the poor boy is a little mixed up.

We see Lancelot refracted through the women in his life. Practical Elaine, the realist, loves him at first sight. The Lady of the Lake raises him for some devious purpose that never becomes quite clear. Guinevere is so closely tied to him that she fears to live without him, even as she tortures him by dividing his allegiances. Brisen heals him. Morgause wants him, but only as a boytoy to satisfy her sexually and a weapon to bring down her half-brother Arthur.

Rowley takes one of the focal stories of Western European literature and puts her own spin on it. She comes up with a fascinating and novel theory to explain Lancelot and Guinevere's relationship. She even manages to concoct a fairly happy ending -- a rare thing in Arthurian legend.

Do we really need a new spin on Camelot? Define "need." Do we really need a new spin on anything? At least this is neither a sanitized version (the sex is graphic, but tasteful, and almost all the violence is off-stage somewhere) nor an unrecognizable one (familiar characters' names are spelled in the familiar manner, not in some crypto-Celtic gibberish). Apparently Rowley is planning at least two other books in the series, one on Geraint and one on Gawain, and it will be interesting to see what she does with them.

[Faith J. Cormier]

I have been unable to track down Gwen Rowley on the Web. Even the publisher's Web site doesn't have anything about her. Pity. She will be one to keep an eye on, if you can find her to begin with.