The Lady of Shalott, Elaine, is reimagined in this feminist retelling of the well known and loved Arthurian legend.
After the Sight appears in her early teenage years, Elaine moves from Camelot and begins training on the Isle of Avalon where she becomes fast friends with Guinevere, Morgana, Lancelot, and Arthur. All the while, seeing their futures play out, each one more tragic than the next. As fate begins their story, Elaine must decide if she is willing to try to change the future and how much she is willing to sacrifice for those futures.
I just want to put a disclaimer that this book touches on some themes of death and suicide., I will not go into any of the heavy here in my review but wanted everyone to be aware should you decide to pick up your own copy.
One of the genres, for lack of a better term, that I love is the re-telling of a well known story. Be it a fairy tale, myth, or in this case, the Arthurian legend. In fact, of all of them, the Arthurian legend re-tellings are some of my favorites because the original stories are somewhat in question depending on the edition used. Once upon a time, I even considered studying these things because I am so utterly fascinated by them. Needless to say, that did not happen. My love for the Arthurian legend remains and I will always grab a book that skews in that direction. However, as a reader, you then encounter the issue that has plagued authors who play in this sandbox forever - how do you write an original story when everyone already is familiar with the characters and everyone knows how the story ends?
In Half Sick of Shadows, Laura Sebastian attempts to subvert our notions of the Arthurian tale by focusing on lesser known entities in the legend. Our main protagonist, Elaine, appears as a lesser character in many of the tellings. Best known from Tennyson's famous poem, or if you are me, from Anne of Green Gables re-enactment of Tennyson's poem. It is really fun to see Sebastian's crafting of a modern Elaine, it was very refreshing. Additionally, I appreciate that this is one of the few Arthurian takes that presents the group as close knit and whole at one point. It was very clear that in this characterization of Guinevere that Sebastian put a lot of effort into re-tooling her as someone that is flawed, but not overwhelmingly annoying as in some other iterations. Each of the female characters - Elaine, Nimue, Morgana, and Guinevere - are lovingly rendered and fully capable of being heroes in their own right. If anything, the men are only foils for the women to blaze their own trail.
All of the being said, this novel does encounter some issues that kept me from fully embracing the book. The first thing is that the language felt overly modern and trendy. I would be reading along and wrapped up in the story, then something would shift and the language would throw you out of the scene. It was far too distracting! The second thing and more frustrating is that Sebastian claims to be doing a bold feminist re-telling of the Lady of Shalott and Arthur. While the characters are different than in other books, it is still dependent on a love triangle, and the ending felt rushed in light of these things.
In the end, Sebastian never quite manages to overcome the original set up of the stories and as a reader, I already knew how the story was going to end. The adventure in between wasn't quite worth it for me. If you are die-hard Arthurian legend fan, then this book is worth the read when you feel the itch to immerse yourself in the world. If you aren't familiar with the characters, the choppy timelines may not make it worth the length of the book.
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