A truly funny and heartfelt queer YA rom-com inspired by Arthurian legend.
Feature image credit: Bloomsbury Publishing
As you might have guessed from the title (and the cover), Gwen and Art Are Not in Love is inspired by Arthurian legend. This YA rom-com by English author Lex Croucher is not a retelling, however; it takes place in a Camelot different from the one most of us know, several centuries after the time of the original King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.
Croucher’s Arthur is said to be a descendant of the legendary Arthur Pendragon, while this Gwen is of no relation to Queen Guinevere. They are betrothed by their families because of the political gains their union would bring, but their hate for each other goes way back to childhood. When Arthur comes to Camelot during the summer tournament (which offers a backdrop of medieval jousting — perfect for readers looking for an escape from modern life), he and Gwen decide to pretend to fall in love so they can hide their true feelings from the court: namely, that he would rather be kissing individuals among the king’s men, and she is in love with the female knight Lady Bridget Leclair.
Romance and sexuality are key themes, and as we’d expect in YA, so is identity. The central plot focuses on the progression of the relationships between Gwen and Bridget, and eventually, Arthur and Gwen’s brother Gabriel, who is heir to the English throne. War and politics take a back seat for most of the story, though there are hints to the unrest occurring throughout the kingdom. But it all comes to a head at the end with an action-packed high-stakes climax where you’ll genuinely worry for all of the main characters. I was left wanting more at the end, though. Without giving away spoilers, I was dying to see the impact of Gabriel’s next steps.
The characterisation is one of the strongest points of this novel, with the two protagonists (Arthur and Gwen) and the two secondary characters (Gabriel and Bridget) all having their distinct voices and character arcs. There is never a point where they all start to sound the same and you have to double-check who is talking. This is particularly true in the case of Arthur, who delivers a never-ending stream of witty banter.
This book introduces queerness to the Arthurian universe — both in the new characters that we meet, but also as previously hidden qualities in some of the more iconic players. Croucher does a great job with this representation because the theme of accepting your sexuality and identity is very central to the story, and yet being gay is still the least interesting thing about the protagonists and their love interests. Arthur hides deep vulnerability and the trauma of losing his mother behind his roguish charm, while Bridget strives to prove that she can be taken seriously in a world created by and for men. They are all fully fleshed people, reinforcing to readers in the community that they can see themselves in more than just tired stereotypes. The way that each character deals with embracing their true selves was also done with a lot of care and thought, from Gabriel’s denial to Bridget’s ownership of her identity.
Light and uplifting but still containing a few serious moments, the novel reads more like a modern rom-com with medieval scenery than it does your average YA historical fiction, or even YA historical fantasy, especially when it comes to the dialogue used by the characters. Overall, it’s a truly funny exploration of the fake dating trope that pokes fun at Arthurian legend in a good-natured way, with several nods to the traditional lore throughout.
Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.
Distributed by: Bloomsbury Publishing
Released: May 2023