Nancy McKenzie,
The Child Queen
(Del Rey, 1994)

Guinevere is a minor Welsh princess in The Child Queen, Nancy McKenzie's excellent take on the early years of the fabled queen's life. Born under a curse -- or perhaps a blessing -- by the local crone, Guinevere leads a fairly normal existence, growing up with her ambitious cousin Elaine, and hearing countless stories of the new High King of Britain, Arthur, who came to power at the tender age of 14 and united the warring clans into a nation.

The young king sinks into depression when his wife, Guenwyvar, dies in childbirth -- but with neither queen nor heir, he is soon pressed into seeking a new bride. None of the possibilities interest him, however -- until a silver-tongued Welshman speaks glowingly of his own beautiful princess named, of course, Guinevere. Brought to power by her name alone, she also has the misfortune to fall in love with her escort: Lancelot.

The Child Queen is an engaging reimagination of the familiar tale. While the fairy-tale curse of the beginning might put some readers off, don't let it sway you; it quickly gets better from there. Prologue aside, the book is refreshingly free of fantasy; Merlin, a minor character for much of the book, has the Sight, it's true, but he's no starry-robed greybeard with a pointed hat and wand.

Rather, The Child Queen's strength is the sweet romance between king and queen. Arthur, knowing full well Gwen's infatuation with his famous companion, is utterly captivated by her nonetheless, while she proves to be a resilient, wise and loving queen who knows full well what price the nation would pay if she failed in her duty. The development of their characters is rich, detailed and realistic, and they're a pleasure to know.

Told from Guinevere's perspective, the book is light on specifics of battle, but there is plenty of intrigue at court -- primarily, Elaine's continuing desire to take Gwen's place at Arthur's side. And yet, because the book is the first of two, it ends on a happy note -- all too rare in Arthurian circles. The Child Queen is a worthy addition to the saga, and is highly recommended.

Note: The Child Queen and its sequel, The High Queen, were reprinted in 2002 as a single volume, Queen of Camelot.

by Tom Knapp
24 September 2005

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