Monday, April 18, 2011

Goddess of Legend by P.C. Cast

Isabel Cantelli is a photojournalist who is used to covering war and its effects. But when she found herself developing feelings for one of the soldiers she was following for the paper, his bloody death in battle was the capper to a life that seemed to be getting more and more out of balance. Unable to return to the war, she went home to Oklahoma to de-stress, unwind, and hopefully find that internal balance that made her such a great success in the first place. Taking pictures of a lake near her home, she playfully imagines that she is talking to a water goddess, but when an accident sends her car careening off a bridge and straight back into the water, she finds herself fighting for her life.

Coventina, the water goddess also known as Vivianne, is looking for a woman to intervene in the history of Camelot. She is the lover of Merlin, and he wants to withdraw from everything, including her, because he knows that Arthur, and his entire court and Round Table, is doomed by the force of myth and history. Nothing he can do will prevent it, and already Guinevere and Lancelot are attracted to each other unbearably. Merlin can't stand to see what will happen, and he plans to sleep so he will not have to see it happen. Coventina would do anything to prevent his grief and anguish and keep him awake and by her side, so she makes a magic to find the perfect woman to intervene and seduce Lancelot away from Queen Guinevere.

When Isabel has her accident, she comes to the attention of the Goddess as the perfect woman to accomplish this task. Coventina saves Isabel and gives her the task she wishes her to accomplish. She sets Isabel up as the ruler of one of the small Kingdoms that dot the isle of Britain, come to possibly ally with Arthur. She also gives her all the clothes, jewels and guards that one would expect of such a ruler and sends Isabel to Camelot, for which she promises that she will save Isabel's life in the modern day. But Isabel couldn't possibly suspect that on her arrival at Camelot, it is not Sir Lancelot who attracts her at all, although he is certainly strong and handsome- it is Arthur, and only Arthur, whose wise, sad eyes tug at her heart.

Isabel knows she is there to do a job, but she cannot help her attraction, which quickly develops into much, much stronger feelings. But it is a similar inability to keep from introducing modern ideas to Camelot, like days off from work for the servants, or the idea of exercise and games for women, like baseball, that really set Camelot on its ear. As she and Arthur come closer and closer to a physical relationship, Arthur must deal with Lance and Guinevere's actions, and a new idea that Isabel has floated to him, the idea of a divorce to allow Lance and Guin to follow their feelings and allow her to truly be with Arthur.

But when Arthur's bastard son Mordred arrives to torment his father and those close to him, can Isabel use her modern ideas, not to mention her knowledge of martial arts, to beat some sense into Mordred's thick head and get him to see reason and mend his clearly broken relationship with his father? And what effect will her ideas and actions have on the state and future of Camelot, and how can Isabel stay in the past for a happy ending with Arthur when her entire life is in the future? is there any way for them to truly end up together?

I'll say it right now. I love the Goddess Summoning series by P.C. Cast, as well as her Partholon novels which are kind of sort of related. They are really excellent, mixing modern women with myth, magic and times long past. I have loved every one of those novels so far, but this one... eesh, where do I even start? I loved the idea of sending a modern woman back to Camelot and having her save it by changing history and the course of myth, but the way it was executed really set my teeth on edge.

I happen to be a writer, too, and one of my personal writings has a modern woman sent back 40+ years to the late 60's, where she is considered deeply, deeply weird for what she says, the modern cultural references and in-jokes that she uses, and is pretty much considered to be an unnatural woman who is possibly a hippy or on drugs a lot of the time. And this is just with a mere 40 years of difference. Imagine the cultural divide facing a modern woman in the 3rd or 4th century in a world where woman are expected to shut up and go along and where Christianity is so deeply believed by its adherents. In short, I'd expect Isabel to get burned at the stake for being a witch, possessed or a madwoman, not lionized by Arthur, or someone whose ideas fall from her lips like pearls, precious and right.

My suspension of disbelief was not only not engaged, it was blasted right off to somewhere in the outer solar system, where it slowly froze and broke into tiny bits the size of individual atoms. At every turn in the book, I found Arthur, the man who was supposed to be honorable and loyal, to be considering a liaison with this strange woman, and changing his attitudes and expectations of what was right and normal simply because Isabel assured him that it could work and be so. Arthur was so open-minded it seemed that his brain was in danger of falling out as he swallowed Isabel's ideas wholesale. And while I found her beating of Mordred to be at least amusing, you have to remember that Mordred is a total shit and would likely have done something permanently fatal to Isabel, if not by him, than by his men, no matter that his father warned him off trying something like that.

In short, this book sort of sank my interest with such blatantly out of character and anachronistic attitudes from all the characters involved. The ending was nice, but it just killed my suspension of disbelief once again, and I was wondering what happened to the actual Arthur in history when the Queen who had given him all this advice and help suddenly died or disappeared. It's also unclear if the people she meets at the end were reincarnations of the people she had known, given that Arthur the Paramedic had been dreaming of Isabel all her life. We're just left hanging as to what happened to the people in Camelot after Isabel disappeared, and it would have been nice to know the details.

In short, I can't recommend this book. I wish I could, but it has too many flaws to make it viable reading to someone who likes some kind of consistency in characterization, even in a fantasy romance. It twinged on the worst parts of my suspension of disbelief, to the point where i was expecting the heroine to die or be killed for what she said, not to mention dismissed and her ideas pooh-poohed.In short, not recommended, but the rest of the series is not that bad, and should definitely be read. I hope that any further books in the series can go back to the original qualities that made me so love the series.

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