[Book Review] From Every Bitter Thing

From Every Bitter Thing : The Real Story of Guenevere and Lancelot / Robert Rice
From Every Bitter Thing is the story of Guenevere, a woman raised in a matriarchal Pict society who is sacrificed, first to the ambitions of her father, the king, and then to the goals of Arthur, the husband forced upon her by political expedience. In the patriarchal and increasingly Christian society of post-Roman Britain, Guenevere is determined to set her own spiritual course, a course made infinitely more difficult when she falls in love with Lancelot, the peasant mercenary whom she has hired to protect her. Her quest is not to unify England or discover the Holy Grail but to find freedom to follow her own life’s path.

A character-driven drama, From Every Bitter Thing views the often-misunderstood story of Guenevere through a historical lens, but is also a winning tale of heroism, glory, and romance. What gives the story contemporary resonance is its concern, albeit low-keyed, for more transcendental themes in a world as much spiritually as physically under threat. More than just another reenactment of the usual King Arthur legend, From Every Bitter Thing is a spellbinding account of a world teetering on a new dark age.
I'm not sure completely what to make of this book.  First of all is the premise, where the author states in a preface that he has personally examined a document known as the Gwenhwyfar manuscript and that this novel is the unaltered "substance of the story, but have taken the liberty to modernize the form to make it easier to read."  I'm just not convinced that this story is at all strongly based on actual historical documents.  Even with modernized language, the themes are just far too modern in feel and sensibility.

From Every Bitter Thing is definitely a unique take on the Arthurian legend, but falls short of standing out as a "winning tale of heroism, glory, and romance."  Instead we get a tale of politics, religious upheaval, ill-fated romance, and desperation.  For me perhaps the most interesting part of the story is the small amount reserved for a hermit that Lancelot meets.  Guenevere is well acquainted with the duplicity of men in power, including attempts on her life by her own father, yet believes that words on a paper will be honored by the man she was married to in a war bargain.  In many ways it feels as if the characters of Morgaine/Morgana and Guenevere were merged into one through the pagan priestess role, though Arthur still has a son by his (unnamed) sister.

An interesting book for those enamored with the Arthurian legend, but not an overwhelmingly thrilling or compelling one when stood up against the incredible body of fiction already in existence telling the stories of Arthur and Guenevere.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.


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