Desert Isle Keeper
Knights of the Round Table: Lancelot
Elaine of Corbenic has a crumbling castle, an insane father, a crippled brother, and a slew of poor villagers who all depend on her. (Making her, thus far, your pretty typical romance novel heroine.) Lancelot du Lac is the greatest knight in the world, gifted by the magical Lady of the Lake with inhuman, invincible fighting abilities.
Elaine and Lancelot’s paths cross when King Arthur hosts a tournament and Queen Guinevere concocts a blatantly obvious lie intended to keep Lancelot at her side while her husband is away. Lancelot knows that Arthur is suspicious of his relationship with Guinevere, so he decides to attend the tournament in disguise with the excuse that he was afraid no one would challenge him if he went as himself, thereby allaying Arthur’s fears.
On the way to the tournament, Lancelot gets lost and, while still in disguise, finds himself in Corbenic, seeking shelter from the family who lives there. He and Elaine are attracted to each other, but more than that, they become friends. Lancelot is dismayed to learn that the knight Elaine dreams about is Gawain, and that she despises “Lancelot” because he is the one who crippled her brother. Lancelot and Elaine fall in love, but he dreads the day she’ll find out who he really is.
Elaine, being a smart girl, deduces who Lancelot is long before he tells her, and she loves him anyway. When Lancelot is mortally wounded in battle, Elaine nurses him back to health and it’s only through her efforts that Lancelot survives. The Lady of the Lake abandoned Lancelot during the battle because he broke his vows to her, and as a result she has withdrawn her magical protection. The Lady of the Lake still has plans for Lancelot though, and they do not include Elaine; the Lady separates the lovers.
Elaine and Lancelot have a long and winding path on the way to finding true love, with a lot of roadblocks in the way — including many characters familiar to lovers of Arthurian myths, such as Morgause, Gawain, the Green Knight, Galahad, and many more. Though these characters and this story is familiar, I was delighted by Rowley’s unique take on the characters of Guinevere, Lancelot, and Elaine; the author is a gifted storyteller who made a widely known oft retold story her own. One of the difficult things to reconcile in the classic story of Lancelot and Elaine are the many different characters called “Elaine” who cross Lancelot’s path, and yet are seemingly unrelated. In Rowley’s version, the multiple threads of those different stories are deftly woven together to create one cohesive and brilliant retelling.
From what I can tell, this is Rowley’s first book, as well as the first in a trilogy. If that is the case, I incredibly impressed; she writes like a seasoned professional who’s hit the bestseller list before. I am impatient to read the next books in this series, and I hope that Rowley will include a book for Galahad (apparently Geraint’s story is next, in February), and I wouldn’t mind seeing Arthur and Guinevere get their own HEA.