Elizabeth E. Wein, The Winter Prince (Baen Books, 1993; Firebird, 2003)

There are a lot of books about King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Mordred, Merlin, Tristan, Morgana la Fay. After a while, the phrase "done to death" sits up and does a few backflips, waiting for authors to notice it. However, when it comes to anything remotely Arthurian some tend to go selectively blind. The chances are you know at least the basics of the legend. In fact, if you don't, where's your rock, and is there room for one more? For the thorough reader of Arthurian/Celtic fantasy, there's definitely the danger of becoming jaded or disillusioned by books which seem made on an assembly line, stories which don't manage to tell it with anything approaching a unique voice, content instead to imitate moments of greatness in earlier works.

Are you looking for a new perspective on the same old story? I'm sorry, but you won't find it here. What you'll find when you open The Winter Prince by Elizabeth E. Wein is something great. Ms. Wein not only spins a good tale; she has the voice of a true storyteller. I could go on and on and on and on and on, because The Winter Prince has many virtues.

Simply, The Winter Prince is about a man whose will is tested, and the outcome isn't certain. Dark, white-haired Medraut (one of the most compelling characters in recent literature) is the eldest son of the High King. Not only is he illegitimate, he is the son of Morgause, sister to the High King. Medraut narrates the tale from a first-person perspective, and he addresses it to "you." Morgause is the "you," which is just one way Morgause casts her shadow over her family. She isn't often on stage, but even when she isn't she manages to be absolutely chilling. Bright, beautiful Lleu is the legitimate son of Artor by his wife Genevra, a sickly, spoiled Princeling possessed of immense charisma and talent — the talent just doesn't happen to be for ruling. Lleu is loved wherever he goes; Medraut is looked at suspiciously. Medraut will be tempted into a plot with his mother, to get Artor to trade his kingdom for the life of his beloved son — and it's a good story.

That's one of two things it all comes down to eventually: is the story good? (The second thing is this: is the storyteller good? Refer to paragraph two.) It's possible that The Winter Prince won't be to your taste, merely because you aren't in the mood for something told in the first-person, or because you want something lighter. The Winter Prince doesn't exactly abound with humor, nor with the romance one has come to expect from books of its ilk, but that's okay. It's not that kind of book. The picture Wein paints of a Britain after the Roman Empire's fall trying to hold itself together is detailed, real, and not always pretty. There are no holes to interrupt the stream-of-story, make the reader go "Huh? Is that even possible?"

What else? Dramatic tension that wound this reviewer, at least, so deep into the moment that she cursed out loud and threw her lot in entirely with Medraut when the straw that broke the camel's back fell. The relationships are believable, and the relationship between Medraut and his brother woven so realistically that adjectives just won't do. And that, folks, sums up the book itself: adjectives just won't do. You have to read it to believe it. I highly recommend you do so. It's not a forgettable experience.

[Jessica Paige]