Today’s review is about GWEN & ART ARE NOT IN LOVE by Lex Croucher. It’s a queer, medieval, YA rom com set hundreds of years after King Arthur. Gwen and Arthur have been betrothed since they were just kids. But not only do they despise each other, they each harbor a secret. This coming-of-age and coming-out story features witty dialogue, lovable characters, and self discovery.
Author: Lex Croucher
Age Category: Young Adult
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publish Date: November 28, 2023
Print Length: 416
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Heartstopper meets A Knight’s Tale in this queer medieval rom com YA debut about love, friendship, and being brave enough to change the course of history.
It’s been hundreds of years since King Arthur’s reign. His descendant, Arthur, a future Lord and general gadabout, has been betrothed to Gwendoline, the quick-witted, short-tempered princess of England, since birth. The only thing they can agree on is that they despise each other.
They’re forced to spend the summer together at Camelot in the run up to their nuptials, and within 24 hours, Gwen has discovered Arthur kissing a boy and Arthur has gone digging for Gwen’s childhood diary and found confessions about her crush on the kingdom’s only lady knight, Bridget Leclair.
Realizing they might make better allies than enemies, they make a reluctant pact to cover for each other, and as things heat up at the annual royal tournament, Gwen is swept off her feet by her knight and Arthur takes an interest in Gwen’s royal brother. Lex Croucher’s Gwen & Art Are Not in Love is chock full of sword-fighting, found family, and romantic shenanigans destined to make readers fall in love.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
GWEN & ART ARE NOT IN LOVE is a snarky, queer, medieval rom com about self discovery and bucking traditional expectations. Set in post-Arthurian England, Gwen and Arthur were betrothed at birth. This alliance is a show of solidarity between the cultists–those who believe in Arthurian magic and legend–and the Catholics. However, Gwen and Arthur despise each other and don’t appreciate their parents thrusting them together during the kingdom’s annual summer tournament. The stakes change, however, when Gwen sees Arthur kissing a boy and Arthur digs up knowledge of Gwen’s crush on Bridget Leclair, a lady knight. They blackmail each other into a begrudging pact while trying to figure out how to break the engagement.
This was an absolute delight to read in more ways than one. First, all of the main characters are fantastic and well characterized. Gwen is stubborn, protective, and more or less knows what she wants, but lacks the confidence to vocalize it. This latter trait is undoubtedly a product of the times in which she lives where women are more obeyers than doers. Arthur, whose mother was Muslim, is quick-witted with a dry and sometime self-deprecating sense of humor. (I really enjoyed Arthur’s dialogue.) His bodyguard, Sidney, misses no beats with Arthur’s attitude and banters effortlessly with him. Gabriel, Gwen’s brother, is the quiet academic type, burdened by the royal expectation of his succession to the throne. And Bridget, who is a Tai descendant of the Sukhothai Kingdom, is resolute in her goals and comfortably confident in going against the grain.
Additionally, the author weaves in important messages that feel organic rather than like a lecture. The overall tone of GWEN & ART ARE NOT IN LOVE is light. However, it also incorporates discussion on tradition vs. change, the power of knowledge, and coming out to family and the importance of support when someone shares an intimate part of who they are. There is perhaps even a little bit of fanatacism commentary. All of these topics are incredibly important and suit this coming-of-age story.
While this Arthurian-inspired tale focuses mostly on the characters coming into their own, there is a background plot. It remains a character-driven story, but late in the game the adults get up to no good. This is the trial or catalyst that invokes resolute confidence in these lovable main characters. It also serves to widen the scope of the story rather than to only focus on Gwen’s and Arthur’s dilemma. This is a welcome change of pace because, while it reads as a mature and well-rounded YA story, it also shows that there is more happening in the world than one’s immediate problems.
I have only a few quibbles with this otherwise superb YA rom com. The first is that it is difficult to pinpoint when this story takes place. Although set hundreds of years after King Arthur, but there are several anachronisms, depending on when GWEN & ART ARE NOT IN LOVE occurs. The first is the mention of Chaucer. Because the reader doesn’t know the specific century targeted by the book, mentioning Chaucer seemed odd. There is also a reference to a quote attributed, and potentially debunked, to a 20th century anthropologist. And, contemporary dialogue aside, which is fine with me, there are a few words whose etymological origin is not medieval, like “maraca.” There is also heavy semicolon use, which is minorly distracting. In most instances a period also would suffice. However, I read an ARC and perhaps the final version employs less of that punctuation type.
GWEN & ART ARE NOT IN LOVE is a must read for fans of Arthurian-inspired tales who appreciate a more progressive and inclusive perspective. It would also be of interest to those who want to read about characters who are coming-of-age and coming out.
Content warnings: blood, violence, death, misogyny
Reading format: Kindle e-book