Knights of the Round Table: Lancelot
by Gwen Rowley
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-141992
****
Diehard Arthurian purists may not approve of the liberties taken in Lancelot, especially with the character of the heroine and the Lancelot/Guinevere relationship. However, for those who are willing to try a different take on the Arthurian legend, this is a very good romance, well worth your time.

Arrogant Lancelot du Lac is Arthurís champion, but underneath he is a deeply lonely man. Lancelot was kidnapped as an infant and raised by the Lady of the Lake, trained in fighting by the Green Knight, and placed under an enchantment. No one can best Lancelot on the field of battle or in the tournaments Ė as long as he keeps his oath of loyalty to Arthur. His proud, cocky exterior hides his resentment and his conflicting emotions. He loves Arthur, but Lancelot would like to be loved for himself.

Ordered by the impetuous Guinevere to fight in a tournament incognito, Lancelot stops enroute at the keep of Elaine of Corbenic. Lancelot hides his identity from his hosts. What he discovers is a rundown estate on the brink of starvation. Elaineís father spends all of his time seeking the Holy Grail. Her brother is a dissolute drunkard, having once been injured by Lancelot himself in a joust. The spirited, lovely Elaine is all that is keeping the family together Ė and the desperate peasants are poised to rebel.

Lancelot is captivated by Elaine and her practical, spirited approach to life. Her contempt for ďLancelot,Ē however, leaves him nonplussed. They fall in love, but then Lancelotís identity is exposed and Elaine rejects him. Lancelot returns to Arthurís court, where intrigue awaits. It will be some time before he and Elaine meet again, and in the interim, Elaine bears him a son, Galahad. If Elaine is to be Lancelotís salvation, he will have to trust as heís never done in his life.

There is a great deal more to the plot, and many other characters that influence Lancelot. Queen Morgause, for instance, wants Lancelot as a sex partner and as a weapon against Arthur. Guinevereís relationship with Lancelot is complex and doesnít follow the traditional path found in other tellings of the tale. Elaine herself appears to be a compilation of two different Elaines from the Arthurian legend: Elaine of Astolat and Elaine of Corbenic. The Lady of the Lake, the Green Knight, Arthur, and Elaineís servant, Brisen, all play roles. But the characters mesh and the story flows well; itís engrossing from start to finish.

Lancelot is portrayed here as a man who is trapped under the weight of his own successes, while knowing in his heart that he is unworthy and only holds the title of champion by enchanted means. Elaine brings a breath of hope into his life, but heís afraid he cannot hold onto it. Elaine initially sees Lancelot as a means to get out of her desperate situation. Lancelotís disguise allows him to think and act like the man he is, deep inside, and itís this ďrealĒ Lancelot that captures Elaineís interest, and then her heart. The use of a disguise as a method of opening up a character isnít new, but hereís itís used very effectively.

Lancelot covers several years, chronologically, and Elaine and her lover are separated for a good deal of it. This may not appeal to all readers, and the machinations of Arthurís court do upstage the romance in some aspects. However, for an interesting twist on this part of the Arthurian legend, itís a fine read and well worth a look. Gwen Rowley appears to be a new author, and there are two more books planned in this trilogy, with Gawain and Geraint taking center stage. If youíve had enough of vampires for a while, check this out.

--Cathy Sova


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