Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: The Dragon Queen by Alice Borchardt

Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Transworld, 2002

It is that time known as the Dark Ages. The Romans have abandoned Britain's shores, leaving behind a country riven by terrible strife, warfare, superstition and wild magic. Born into this cruel world, Guinevere, daughter of a mighty pagan queen, is both a threat to her people and a prize to the power-crazed sorcerer Merlin.

Sent into hiding, Guinevere grows up under the protection of a shape-shifting man-wolf and a cantankerous druid, watched over by dragons. Through his dark arts, the malign, all-seeing Merlin will stop at nothing to track her down for he knows her extraordinary destiny. He knows that should Guinevere become queen and Arthur king, they will bring a peace to this ravaged land that will leave him powerless.

 Alice Borchardt has taken the legendary tale of Arthur and Guinevere and put her own vividly imaginative spin to it, creating a fantasy grounded by a strong historical background and characters I can relate to even if they are presented in a very different light than usual. An evil Merlin in cohorts with Igraine takes some getting used to!
This Guinevere is no mere mortal. She has inherited powers of her own that will rival Merlin's once she learns to control them and so as she grows up she is faced with a number of trials to test her strength and magical skills. One of the things I liked most in this book was the the portrayal of women as intelligent and resourceful - I find the warrior women of Early Britain more acceptable than those depicted in a medieval Camelot.

I don't read a great deal of fantasy but when I do this is how I like it. The author writes lyrical and beautiful descriptive prose and her fantasy worlds are breathtaking at times. Dragons, shapeshifters and strange monsters contrast with raiding Saxon war parties and Uther Pendragon's court at Tintagel and all woven together with Celtic myth and legend. There was a lot to enjoy but towards the end I began to lose interest. I became confused with the continuous changes in time and place and to tire of Guinevere's endless challenges, many of which added nothing to the storyline. I'd also discovered that this book is the first in a trilogy which I hadn't realised when I started reading. The later stages of Guinevere's life are so well known I can see no incentive to read any further.

I'd recommend The Dragon Queen to fantasy lovers and to those who like to explore the different interpretations of the Arthurian legend.


  1. If it ends well then i can read it, cos the Arthur books, so depressing

  2. Hmm, I don't know if I could stomach an evil Merlin and an immortal-esque Guinevere. Merlin is one of my favorite characters and Guinevere is by far my least favorite, generally. But this sounds like a really interesting feminist-like retelling!

  3. Sounds like a very different version. I'm not sure if I could handle this re-imagining or not.

  4. Blodeuedd - this one ends very well but I don't know the last of the trilogy will.

    Aarti/Carol - I think being a fantasy it was easier to accept a different version without wanting to let go of your perceptions. I did like the warrior women though.