Book Review

The Excalibur Curse

The Excalibur Curse

  • Author: Kiersten White
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: December 7, 2021
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • Series: Camelot Rising #3

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: violence, blood, death, mention of death of an animal

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The gripping conclusion to the acclaimed Arthurian fantasy trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White finds Guinevere questioning everything—friends and enemies, good and evil, and, most of all, herself.

While journeying north toward the Dark Queen, Guinevere falls into the hands of her enemies. Behind her are Lancelot, trapped on the other side of the magical barrier they created to protect Camelot, and Arthur, who has been led away from his kingdom, chasing after false promises. But the greatest danger isn’t what lies ahead of Guinevere—it’s what’s been buried inside her.

Vowing to unravel the truth of her past with or without Merlin’s help, Guinevere joins forces with the sorceress Morgana and her son, Mordred—and faces the confusing, forbidden feelings she still harbors for him. When Guinevere makes an agonizing discovery about who she is and how she came to be, she finds herself with an impossible choice: fix a terrible crime, or help prevent war.

Guinevere is determined to set things right, whatever the cost. To defeat a rising evil. To remake a kingdom. To undo the mistakes of the past…even if it means destroying herself.

Guinevere has been a changeling, a witch, a queen—but what does it mean to be just a girl? 

I completely fell in love with this story from the first book, and I have been eagerly anticipating this book from day 1. And while it’s by far one of the best King Arthur legend retellings that I’ve read, with a decidedly feminist spin, there are some aspects of the book that fell short of the ridiculously high standards I had set after reading the first two books. But, to be honest, there are many more things that I loved than the few things I didn’t especially enjoy.

Guinevere is at the conclusion of her journey of self-discovery. Throughout the series, she’s been on her own personal side quest to find out who she is and where exactly she came from. I can understand her desire to learn more about this, but the actual reveal? While it was intriguing, I found myself frustrated with how Guinevere works towards resolving it. For me, it was the weakest part of the story. She seemed to lose all the strength, determination, and power that she built up in the earlier books. And along the way, she made no end of really stupid decisions that I just wanted to reach into the book and slap her for. I had to keep reminding myself of how young she is, but still! After everything, she still acted really dumb on a significant number of occasions. I was honestly so disappointed, especially after seeing how much growth she had showed in the previous books. I mean, there was some redemption in her character arc at the end, which left me feeling good about it, but I do hope that she learned and got smarter.

I loved the opportunity to get to know Mordred a little better in this story. In so many books, he’s just portrayed as the villain, but this series really fleshes his character out and makes him so complex and fascinating. I really did like him, and struggled with my own conflicting emotions, so I could understand Guinevere’s feelings for him just fine. He isn’t just a villain here. He’s got hopes, dreams, motivations, struggles, and emotions, and they’re often in direct opposition to what’s expected of him by both his family members and society at large. It can’t be easy for him to be half-fairy and half-human, trying to make his way in a human-dominated world, raised by a human mother who has subversive wishes. This book in particular gave me a much more empathetic spin on him.

The female representation, for the most part, was fabulous. Seeing as how the story is told from the POV of Guinevere, she’s surrounded by women in various aspects of society. We’ve got Brangien, Isolde, Dindrane, Lily, Lancelot, Fina, and Nectudad, all of whom are such strong women in different ways. They’re brilliant, strong, funny, and mischievous, and all form their own sort of a round table. I truly enjoyed meeting Fina and Nectudad, and seeing how their customs are different from those in Camelot, inspiring Guinevere to create some much-needed changes. I was, however, disappointed to see less of Brangien than I had hoped. She’s kind of reduced to a crabby, one-dimensional character in this book, rather than the feisty bestie that she’s been in the previous books. Lancelot was a star in this book, though. I loved seeing her bravery and how devoted she stayed to Guinevere, even through everything that happened. 

I wasn’t thrilled with the free pass that Arthur got. Throughout all the books, he’s fixated on fighting evil, and his absolute dedication that his way is the chosen way, the right way, and how he is the embodiment of good. But the issue with black and white thinking is that it doesn’t allow for shades of gray where most of life actually happens. Guinevere starts to question how correct Arthur’s actions truly are, but no one really joins in on it. And it’s this toxic thought pattern that gets me — the idea that he is the ultimate authority on what is right and good, and no one really has the right to question him, and even worse, no one (other than Guinevere) bothers to. 

The pace was a steady one, with plenty of action that kept me interested and flipping pages long into the night. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, and the multiple plot lines were all intriguing. The found family trope is done to perfection, with the connection between Guinevere and her crew lasting over long distances and all kinds of issues. But the best part of all is that this book left me thinking about what the old stories about King Arthur actually tell us, and questioning them. 

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 15

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