In Woven we have a retelling of the Arthurian legend beginning with Arthur’s courtship of Guinevere. Guinevere’s story is interwoven with that of Elaina who is imprisoned in the Tower of Shalott. Guinevere must fight against a powerful enchantment to save both her sanity and her marriage to Arthur. Elaina is also under a spell that keeps her weaving forever in the tower.
Both women must show courage and determination to save themselves and the ones they love.
Theme of the Book
This is a saga of magic, love, courage and sacrifice. Following the outlines of the story of Arthur and of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”, the author combines history, religion, magic, and romance to demonstrate the power of love and courage.
What I Liked About the Story
It is rare to find a retelling of such a typically manly story as that of Arthur centered on the women in his life. Having the story revolve around the women’s lives brings not only an added element of romance but underlines the essential conflict between Christianity and the old religion of the Goddess.
There are several well-developed women characters in Woven. The earliest to make an appearance is Elaina as she learns to her horror that she will never leave the tower. Condemned to spend eternity weaving a tapestry of life, she is never allowed to look upon or take part in real life. Elaina spends most of the book a prisoner and her fate at the end will certainly move readers. Like Elaina, Guinevere is also something of a prisoner though not in a cell or tower. When the reader first meets Guinevere, she is a prisoner of the social conventions of the time. The reader sees her with her maid and companion, Mary, doing fine embroidery and complaining that she is not able to take a real part in running her father’s kingdom.
Other women characters include Morgan, better known to fans of Arthurian lore as Morgan le Fay, sister of Elaina and another woman victim of both enchantment and social mores. The reader will also meet Winna, the long-suffering wife of Gereck, and Nimue/Niviane who is both a powerful sorcerer and a firm adherent of the old religion.
Together these women form the main plot arch of the story. For Morgan and Elaina, the past includes terrible abuse and violence. Guinevere suffers kidnapping and multiple rapes. Although these instances are crucial to the story, the author treats them with sensitivity and restraint.
Gereck, the squire who will sacrifice everything to be dubbed a knight, ignores his wife Winna and abandons his intentions to save Elaina. His story is one of the best parts of the book. It has character, it moves, it has action and magic. Too bad it doesn’t merge with the main plot line until nearly the end.
What I Didn’t Like About the Story
At about the mid-point of Woven I started to get discouraged and began to wish for a cast of characters. Half of the characters in the novel seem to have multiple personalities that are incredibly hard first to identify and second to keep straight. The explanation for this multiplicity of personalities comes much too late in the story to help the reader make sense of what is going on. This simply did not work for me.
Having women as the center of the novel was a good idea but these women are, for 90% of the book, victims. Guinevere faints and cries. Elaina fears any change in her condition. Even at the end of the novel we find Guinevere simply crying and moaning, “But I love you!” as if that will resolve the dangerous situation she is in. If an author is going to take such a well-known saga as King Arthur’s and make the women the main characters, the least the author can do is to give the reader characters who are strong and who engender sympathy. I simply wanted to slap both of them.
There is not much plot to the book. There are many, many scenes of the two main characters bemoaning their situations, fainting, hitting their heads, or wishing for rescue. The best story telling happens in the sections about Gereck which are more like interludes than part of the main plot, at least until the end.