Friday, 22 April 2011

Friday Favourite - Women of Camelot by Mary Hoffman


(click here to see inside this book on amazon)

The Muse was sent this beautiful book by the lovely Mary Hoffman, because she knew my author is writing about King Arthur’s daughter. It contains nine stories, each by one of the heroines from the famous legends of King Arthur, fabulously illustrated by Christina Balit in full page colour.

Most of the stories are retellings of perhaps the most famous account of Arthurian legend - Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory - which was written in the fifteenth century. So you’ll find plenty of romantic chivalry in its pages, with knights in shining armour and damsels in distress, and a helpful family tree at the start explains the relationships of the heroines to King Arthur.

Although it’s a book with pictures, this is not a picture book aimed at young readers as such, because the stories have powerful adult themes. The Muse would call it an illustrated short story collection, though the stories also link together to give different views of the wider Arthurian legend, so maybe it should be called a novella in nine parts? Except it's a slim and unusually large paperback, so doesn't look much like a novella... it’s one of those books that’s difficult to shelve.

You won't find King Arthur’s daughter in this book – she is not in Malory's Morte D'Arthur or any of the other fifteenth century stories – but with these retellings written in Mary Hoffman’s elegant prose style, you can sit back and enjoy the stories of:

Igrayne – King Arthur’s mother, who married Uther Pendragon.
Queen Guinevere – King Arthur’s beautiful wife, who fell tragically in love with his champion knight Lancelot.
Nimue – the Lady of the Lake, who loved King Arthur’s enchanter, Merlin.
Lyonet – a fierce damsel, who rode to King Arthur’s court requesting a champion knight to rescue her sister.
Morgan Le Fay – the virgin enchantress, King Arthur’s sister and sworn enemy.
Lady Ragnell – a damsel under enchantment of ugliness who must make a knight love her before she can be beautiful again.
Elaine – who lived in the magical castle where the Grail was kept.

The Muse particularly enjoyed the lesser-known tale of Ragnell, the only story in this collection that comes from another source (the fifteenth century verse “The Marriage of Sir Gawaine”). This one addresses the powerful theme of inner vs. outer beauty, and hints at what it feels like to be a woman who hits middle age – though poor Ragnell is forced there prematurely by enchantments so can escape her curse at the end of the story.

If you’ve been paying attention (Muse: nine stories, seven damsels), two of our heroines get to tell more than one tale. The book ends with the dying King Arthur’s journey to the magical Isle of Avalon, where my author’s new series begins… which makes it doubly appropriate for the enchanted mists of this blog!

First published by Frances Lincoln in 2000, the Muse is not sure how "Women of Camelot" was marketed at the time, but since Katherine enjoyed the stories as an adult fantasy fan they should appeal to a wide readership. The illustrations add to the text and make this book something special to keep on your shelf and pick up to read when you have a romantic, magical moment – perhaps a good example of a book that would NOT work as an e-book!

It will be treasured forever. Thank you, Mary.

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