If you’ve read Lex Croucher, you know what to expect from her work. Gwen and Art Are Not In Love is ahistorical but fun, a free-spirited take on post-Arthurian England and the medieval world – but if a degree of historical accuracy is a must for you, then you might want to give it a miss. That said, the lack of historical accuracy isn’t why I’ve given this one a middling grade; I did that because Gwen is painfully immature. And because of the Riverdale references. In 2023. Normally, Croucher’s anachronistic charm works for me but not this time.
Art is not That Arthur, but is in fact one of King Arthur’s descendants (we are told he’s ‘on vacation’ as the story progresses). Art is expected to marry and produce heirs for the good of the kingdom, but since he’s gay he’s gonna have to hold his nose while he Lies Back and Thinks of England.
He’s been betrothed to Gwendoline, a tough and quick-witted maiden whom he cannot stand. Gwen can’t stand him back, even though she, too, is gay. They have been destined to marry since birth, but that doesn’t mean they have to be happy about it.
Within twenty-four hours of their landing in Camelot - where they’ve been planted in the hope that they’ll get to know each other better and perhaps like each other more - Gwen finds out Arthur is gay and Arthur finds out that Gwen is pining for Bridget Leclair, the only female knight of the realm.
Realizing that they need to put on a civil face, they agree to do just that – but when Art falls for Gwen’s brother, Gabriel, all bets are off. It takes a lot of conflict to get these two on the same page.
This is typical Croucher; to wit, everyone easily accepts every character’s homosexuality, so all of the tension arises from whether or not Gwen and Art can Say Those Magical Words to their crushes. At the very end, the kingdom is threatened and there is some surprisingly blunt bloodshed, which finally forces Art and Gwen to act as one.
While the characters read as a little flat (Gwen is Peppy! And Angry! Art is a smooth lothario type with wit! Bridget sure is a character!), the romances are - well, halfway there. Gwen’s crush on Bridget reads like a beautifully plausible teenage crush, with all of the awe and longing that inspires, but I didn’t feel as though they are soulmates who will do anything for one another, or that Gwen comes to appreciate Bridget as anything more than an idol she is attracted to.
Art and Gabe, meanwhile, actually get to know each other on a personal basis, so their romance makes a lot more sense, and I enjoyed watching it develop. Art and Gwen’s journey toward friendship is also decently handled.
I still don’t know what kind of audience Croucher is writing for; her work has too many mature themes for younger teens and isn’t sophisticated enough for adults. I suppose sixteen-year-olds and younger adult who aren’t quite ready to broaden their reading bases into more adult fare will enjoy it. For them, Gwen and Art are Not In Love might be the bee’s knees, but for me it felt like a step down for the author.
Note: This book contains an on-page amputation and intense battle scenes.
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