NetGalley Review: The Cleaving by Juliet E. McKenna

Hey all, Sam here.

David made it home safely very very early this morning, which meant that we slept in quite a bit later than normal today…which threw off the whole day when it came to trying to plan things or get things done. But I think we had a pretty darn good day overall.

Normally I would take some time to do a nice big intro, but we’ve picked up some new tabletop games, and I think we’re going to spend our evening playing some of them…so I don’t want to ignore my husband any longer. Thank you all for stopping by, and let’s go ahead and jump into today’s NetGalley book review.

Four women, four destinies – the future of King Arthur’s court…

A new, feminist retelling of the Arthurian legends

The Cleaving is an Arthurian retelling that follows the tangled stories of four women: Nimue, Ygraine, Morgana, and Guinevere, as they fight to control their own destinies amid the wars and rivalries that will determine the destiny of Britain.

The legendary epics of King Arthur and Camelot don’t tell the whole story. Chroniclers say Arthur’s mother Ygraine married the man that killed her husband. They say that Arthur’s half-sister Morgana turned to dark magic to defy him and Merlin. They say that the enchantress Nimue challenged Merlin and used her magic to outwit him. And that Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere ended in adultery, rebellion and bloodshed. So why did these women chose such dangerous paths?

As warfare and rivalries constantly challenge the king, Arthur and Merlin believe these women are destined to serve Camelot by doing as they are told. But men forget that women talk. Ygraine, Nimue, Morgana and Guinevere become friends and allies while the decisions that shape their lives are taken out of their hands. This is their untold story. Now these women have a voice.

Juliet McKenna is an expert on medieval history and warfare and brings this expertise as well as her skills as a fantasy writer to this epic standalone novel.

My Thoughts

Rating: 4 stars

I generally love a good Arthurian legend retelling or reimagining. I’ve been a fan of them since my childhood, and I think a part of me will always enjoy them. When I saw the summary for The Cleaving, I was excited to see a take on the story that focused on a few of the women from the legends.

This book was good, but it wasn’t exactly one that I disappeared into or rushed through because I was so enraptured by the writing and the characters and the pacing. This is definitely more of a slower read, at times feeling just a couple steps away from reading a history book. There was a lot of detail and description, and sometimes it felt like scenes were there to establish sort of a day-to-day feel for the lives of these women.

Sometimes they did not have it easy. They are often the victim to the machinations and desires and whims of the male characters. And sometimes what happens to them is brutal. Uther is disgustingly rough about his pursuit of Ygraine…and when he sleeps with her while magically disguised as her husband…well, it is still rape. And when she learns out the truth, we experience that shock and trauma with her.

And Merlin was honestly not like most portrayals of the character. He bends rules to suit his own purposes and uses his magic to manipulate things to reach the future he has seen, no matter what consequences come from it, or who he has to harm or destroy to do so.

I liked seeing the relationships form between Nimue and Ygraine and Morgana and Guinevere, but everything just felt so slow, to where at times it felt like a slog to get through the story. I wanted more of the magic and mysticism that often seems to accompany Arthurian tales.

This was a good read, but I wanted more depth and development of these women. Sure, they had voices, but they often seemed to be talked over, so their voices were still minimized. I want to see the women truly speak up and tell their tale. But that is not what I got from this tale. Honestly it has made me debate if the 4 star rating I’m giving this should stand, or if a 3.5 star rating is more appropriate.

The Cleaving was released April 11th here in the U.S., so you can pick up your own copy now.

Well, that is all from me for today. Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’ll be back soon with more geeky content.


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