The final selection for our ParnassusNext subscription box for 2019 is The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White. We are so happy to end our young adult first editions club this year with the first book in the Camelot Rising trilogy. Kiersten White is a master of re-tellings, and readers will delight that she has delved into Arthurian legend with a feminist twist.
In the following excerpt, Guinevere arrives at Camelot to meet her destiny:
On her way to the convent she had seen castles of wood that grew from the ground like a perversion of a forest. Even one castle of stone. It was a squat, cross-looking building.
Nothing had prepared her for Camelot.
The land was tamed for miles around it. Fields divided the wild into orderly, neat rows, promising harvests and prosperity. In spite of the presence of more villages and small towns, they had seen no one. This did not inspire the same fear and wariness as the forest. Instead, the men around her grew both more relaxed and more agitated — but with excitement. And then she saw why. She removed her veil. They had arrived.
Camelot was a mountain. An actual mountain. A river had carved it free from the land. Over too many years for her mind to hold, the water had split itself, pushed past on either side, and worn away the land until only the center remained. It still cascaded violently on either side. Beneath Camelot, a great lake lurked, cold and unknowable, fed by the twin rivers and giving birth to a single great river on its far end.
On the mountain, surrounded on all sides by water, a fortress had been carved not by nature but by generations of hands. The gray rock had been chipped away to create fanciful shapes. Twists and knots, demon faces with windows for eyes, stairs curving along the outer edge with nothing but empty space on one side and castle on the other.
The city of Camelot clung to the steep slope beneath the castle.
Most of the houses had been carved from the same rock, but some wooden structures intermingled with them. Streets wound through the buildings, veins and arteries all leading to and from the castle, the heart of Camelot. The roofs were not all of thatch, but mostly of slate, a dark blue mixed with thatch, so that the castle looked as though it were nestled into a patchwork quilt of stone and thatch and wood.
She had not thought men were capable of creating a city so magnificent.
“It is something, is it not?” Envy laced Mordred’s voice. He was jealous of his own city. Perhaps viewing it through her eyes, he saw it anew. It was a thing to be coveted, certainly.
They rode closer. She focused only on the castle. Tried to ignore the ever-present roaring of the rivers and waterfalls. Tried to ignore the fact that she would have to cross a lake to get to her new home.
On the banks of the lake, a festival awaited them. Tents had been erected, flags snapping and whipping in the wind. Music played, and the scent of roasting meat tugged them forward. The men straightened in their saddles. She did the same.
They stopped on the outer edge of the festival grounds. Hundreds of people were there, waiting, all eyes on her. She was grateful she had replaced the veil that hid her from them, and that hid them from her. She had never seen so many people in her entire life. If she had thought the convent crowded and the company of knights overwhelming, that was a trickling stream compared to the roar of this ocean.
A hush fell over the crowd, which rippled like a field of wheat. Someone moved directly through the crowd, and the people parted, closing in again behind him. The murmur that accompanied his procession was one of reverence. Of love. She sensed they had come there to be near him more than they had come to see her.
He strode to her horse and stopped. If the crowd was hushed, her body and mind were anything but.
Sir Bors cleared his throat, his booming voice perfectly at home in this environment. “Your Grace, King Arthur of Camelot, I present to you Princess Guinevere of Cameliard, daughter of King Leodegrance.”
King Arthur bowed, then extended his hand. It engulfed hers. It was a strong hand, firm, steady. Calloused, and with a sense of purpose that pulsed warmly to her through him. She began to dismount, but with the rivers and the lake and the travel, she was still shaky. He bypassed that effort, lifting her free of the horse, spinning her once, and then setting her on the ground with a courtly bow. The crowd roared with approval, drowning out the rivers.
He took off her veil. King Arthur was revealed like the sun breaking free of the clouds. Like Camelot, he looked as though he had been carved straight from nature by a loving and patient hand. Broad shoulders over a trim waist. Taller than any man she had ever met. His face, still youthful at eighteen, was firm and steadfast. His brown eyes were intelligent, but lines around them told stories of time spent outside, smiling. His lips were full and soft, his jaw strong. His hair was cut startlingly short, clipped almost to the skin. All the knights she had met kept theirs long. He wore a simple silver crown as easily as a farmer wore a hat. She could not imagine him without it.
He studied her as well. She wondered what he saw. What they all saw when they looked at her long hair, so dark it shone almost blue in the sun. Her swift and expressive eyebrows. Her freckled nose. The freckles told the truth of her life before now. One of sun and freedom and joy. No convent could have nurtured those freckles.
He took her hand and pressed it to his warm cheek; then he lifted it and returned his attention to the crowd.
“Your future queen, Guinevere!”
The crowd roared, shouting the name Guinevere. Over and over. If only it were actually her name.
Excerpted from The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White. Copyright © 2019 Kiersten Brazier. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Previous selections include critically acclaimed titles like The Downstairs Girl (read an interview with author Stacey Lee here), Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, Enchantée, and Wilder Girls, all of which were included on NPR’s year-end best books list. ParnassusNext selections The Fountains of Silence and Thirteen Doorways were also selected as New York Times best books of the year.
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