If Ever I Would Leave You: Arthurian stories for a new generation - Jenny Trout, Jessica Jarman, Bronwyn Green, Abigail Barnette

The four-star rating is in reference to only one of the three novellas in this anthology, "A Choice Fit for a Queen" by Abigail Barnette (a.k.a. Jenny Trout). The other two I found unreadable; however, they weren't the reason I bought the book, and given its bargain price, I feel rather justified in thinking and speaking as if I bought one story only.


"A Choice Fit for a Queen" is a youthful story (but it has too much sex to be "Young Adult" and isn't melodramatic enough to be "New Adult"). It's six weeks in one summer which is a turning point in Madison's life, from which she'll emerge with a new sense of confidence, a new direction, and a readiness to trust herself with decisions about her future. And her love affairs with two different men are an important part of that: she's learning about love and relationships, but not only that; it's inextricably tied up with her overall development.


Barnette/Trout did a really fine job of writing here. The first person narration is perceptive, and self-aware and humorous enough to keep from sinking into angst; furthermore, readers aren't simply told about her feelings when interacting with her two men, Rhys and Thom, it is actually visible: her light-as-air, full-of-possibility meetings with Rhys, and the subtle sense of missed connection with Thom even though he is very sexy and kind. It's great that Thom is not written as a villain in any sense; which does make it hard for Madison to decide to break up with him -- but in real life, some people who are perfectly nice just aren't right for us.


The story of Guinevere is a leitmotif throughout. It was Thom's favorite story and perhaps his long-time sympathetic engagement with the queen's legend was a major reason he was able to react so well to Madison choosing someone else over him (but included in the novella is a minor character, an MRA-type, who has a different more negative attitude to Guinevere and also to women in his own life). And thinking about Guinevere was also a tool for Madison in working through her own decisions. I like the idea of great classic stories as tools for thinking and feeling, especially when they don't force a single interpretation, as we see here.