Return of the Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

It should be admitted up front, before we get stuck into the third installment of my Star Wars rewatch, that I do not like this movie, and I will probably be crying. The final movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it brings us into a galaxy torn apart by war. The Republic is led by Chancellor Palpatine, the Separatists by Count Dooku. When the terrifying Separatist general Grievous manages to abduct Palpatine the very heart of the Republic, a ferocious battle is fought above Coruscant. This scene shows the viewer immediately what warfare in the Clone Wars looks like – the galaxy is on fire.

Among the combatants are Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Anakin, particularly, is in his element here – even R2-D2 has had a few lethal upgrades (behold a cute moment in this otherwise doom-laden movie when Obi-Wan and Anakin yell praise at R2-D2). Thanks to Anakin’s sharp-shooting, the two Jedi get aboard Grievous’ ship and fight their way up to the level where Palpatine is being guarded by Dooku himself.

Dooku is – just really excellent. Obi-Wan is knocked out early on, leaving Dooku and Anakin to battle it out. At last, Anakin gets revenge for his severed arm with a wicked blow that takes off both Dooku’s hands and then, on Palpatine’s order and against his own better judgement, Anakin cuts off Dooku’s head. Palpatine also tries to abandon the unconscious Obi-Wan, insisting there’s no time to help him, but Anakin won’t leave him behind. Not that the gesture really helps, as they are all swiftly recaptured by Grievous, a huge insectoid cyborg-type creature with a lightsaber fetish. Once more R2-D2 saves the day with a well-timed distraction, allowing the Jedi to slash their way out of there and land the badly damaged spacecraft safely on Coruscant. Though Grievous got away, it is still an important victory for the Republic, confirming Anakin’s war hero status.

But he has other things on his mind, like a reunion with his secret wife. In a really public location, behind a Very Discreet Pillar. Anakin feels Padme shaking and assumes the worst (this is a very bad habit of his), only to be told that she is pregnant with his child. Which is – not the best news, under the circumstances, what with her being a high profile, already controversial Senator and him a supposedly celibate Jedi, how is it that they can build advanced prosthetics and sentient droids in this society but have not mastered reliable contraception? Anakin tells her not to worry about the future. Spoiler alert, he will not take his own advice.

Grievous, now leader of the Separatist droid army, is instructed by Darth Sidious to move their base of operations to the Mustafar system. Sidious does not consider Dooku’s death to be any great loss, telling Grievous that another Sith Lord, younger and more powerful, is already waiting in the wings.

Meanwhile, Padme has not taken Anakin’s advice either, being her usual proactive self and planning where she’s going to have her baby (on Naboo, somewhere quiet and peaceful) while Anakin gazes at her with burning intensity. They argue over who loves who more. The happy interlude lasts until Anakin falls asleep, when he has traumatic dreams of Padme dying in childbirth. He is terrified they will come true. WHAT KIND OF FUTURISTIC SOCIETY DO YOU CALL THIS? You can have CLONE ARMIES but not safe childbirth? What the hell does that say?

(Sexism is the word you are looking for, sexism is what it says, and lazy plotting, and the unquestioned narrative expectation that childbirth is a medieval torture scenario. I am not crying, I am enraged. What’s more, Padme admits that her Queen will probably not allow her to continue serving as a Senator when news of the pregnancy spreads. Apparently maternity leave is not a thing. )

Padme is gentle with Anakin, since the last time he had dreams like that they heralded his mother’s death, and suggests bringing Obi-Wan in on the secret. Anakin dismisses that idea at once. He does go to Yoda, to ask as vaguely as he can about premonitions, but Yoda’s response is to tell him that death is a natural part of life and Anakin should rejoice for those who ‘transform into the Force’. He advises Anakin to focus on letting go of ‘everything you fear to lose’. Yoda, frankly, sucks at advice.

Anakin’s next difference of opinion is with Obi-Wan, who is troubled by the accumulation of new powers that wartime has given Palpatine. Anakin sees it as a necessary cutting of red tape; summoned to speak to the Chancellor in private, it is clear he doesn’t so much see Palpatine as a friend but as a mentor, like a morally questionable grandda. When Palpatine appoints him as his personal representative on the Jedi Council, the rest of the Council are just as outraged as you might expect and take it out on Anakin by refusing to make him a Jedi Master. Obi-Wan (also on the Council, as an actual Master) later confesses that the only reason Anakin’s appointment was accepted at all was in the hope he would turn spy against the Chancellor.

It is a terrible thing to ask of Anakin, who is fervently and unflinchingly loyal to those he considers worthy. Obi-Wan is also in a difficult position, defending his former Padawan against Yoda and Mace Windu’s suspicion and distrust. When Anakin shares his unhappiness with Padme, she offers an even more unpleasant view of events: that the Republic itself may have twisted out of all recognition, becoming its own true enemy. She asks Anakin to speak to the Chancellor, to persuade him to reopen diplomatic relations with the Separatists, but of course Anakin sees the request as another exploitation.

Palpatine offers a different way to end the war: Grievous has been found and Palpatine wants Anakin to be the one sent to deal with him. He tells Anakin of his fear that the Jedi Council want full control of the Republic, not just its armies; Anakin doesn’t know what to think. “Good is a point of view, Anakin,” Palpatine continues, and relates the legend of a Sith Lord so powerful he could keep loved ones from death. Instead of wondering just how the Chancellor of the Republic knows so much Sith history, Anakin’s attention zeroes in on the promise of miraculous power. It is a tantalising possibility.

With resources stretched thin, Yoda heads out to Kashyyyk to support the Wookiees, but joins the Council from afar as a hologram to discuss what to do about Grievous. Anakin unwisely announces Palpatine’s request that he should take this mission; predictably, the Council goes against him, choosing to send Obi-Wan. Yoda then turns to the battle at hand, and we get to see an army of Wookiee warriors tearing apart war machines WITH THEIR BARE CLAWS.

Obi-Wan tries to downplay the snub to Anakin, and gently counsels him to have patience. Anakin appears to take his words to heart. They separate on excellent terms and Obi-Wan heads out, bantering cheerfully with his clone lieutenants. Anakin, however, is in no such light temper. He feels Obi-Wan doesn’t trust him, knows the Council don’t, and has become so obsessed with the idea of ‘saving’ Padme that he doesn’t seem to understand she’s still very much alive and well.

Landing in a remote settlement to refuel for his search, Obi-Wan is told that the people there are being held hostage by Grievous and his battle droids. Obi-Wan sends his fighter craft back to the main ship to fetch reinforcements while he remains behind; riding the most incredible lizard, he scales the sheer rock of the settlement’s walls to reach the level where Grievous is based and jumps out of hiding to face him and a circle of battle droids all on his own. The only reason he isn’t shot down straight away is that lightsaber fetish Grievous has – he wants to defeat Obi-Wan personally and claim his weapon as part of the super creepy collection he’s got going. Whirling a lightsaber from each of his four limbs, he turns into a glow-in-the-dark scything machine and Obi-Wan is doubting his life choices.

A few well-aimed strikes even the odds, though, bringing Grievous down to two lightsabers and distracting him while Obi-Wan’s clone forces move into place. They launch their attack; Obi-Wan uses the Force to throw Grievous into a wall. Grievous calls it a wash and makes an escape, with Obi-Wan in hot pursuit on his (really, really adorable) lizard. The clone leading the attack reports to the Jedi Council and Mace Windu orders Anakin to pass it on to the Chancellor personally, alert to any tells Palpatine may let slip. The Council is so concerned about Palpatine’s personal authority that they have begun talking about how to remove him…just as he told Anakin they would.

Anakin is very uneasy about Obi-Wan going into battle without him; I get the impression that they usually fight together (I haven’t watched the animated series The Clone Wars, so I can’t say for sure). Palpatine hones in on that anxiety, and on Anakin’s growing feeling of isolation from his fellow Jedi, assuring him that the Council are envious of his power. Palpatine reveals that he, too, has studied the Force, both the Light Side and the Dark, and offers – sounding deeply reasonable – to widen Anakin’s horizons. Anakin puts it together and draws his lightsaber. “You’re the Sith Lord,” he accuses, and Palpatine calmly asks if Anakin is going to kill him.

Anakin does not. He doesn’t know what to do. Palpatine may be a Sith Lord, but he offers a chance to save Padme…who is STILL NOT DEAD, for pity’s sake, Anakin, just research some decent medical care!

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is battling Grievous. He’s not doing too well. Hanging over the edge of a cliff, he manages to draw a gun to his hand and sets the flesh sections of Grievous on fire – the Separatist general falls to the ground, very dead. Mace Windu has just been informed of that when Anakin arrives to impart what he’s learned about Palpatine. Responding in true ‘I suck at basic human relations’ Jedi Councillor fashion, Windu first refuses to bring Anakin in on the arrest of Palpatine and then makes it clear that he’s only now coming to trust Anakin’s word (because Anakin has told him what he wanted to hear…). Left alone to brood on Palpatine’s promises, Anakin’s internal conflict reaches fever pitch. Hayden Christensen is a brilliant actor, conveying the internal breakdown without dialogue or action, just through the desolate look on his face. Anakin was the boy who could do anything. Now he is the man who might do anything.

Mace Windu brings a group of Jedi to apprehend Palpatine, who responds by drawing a red lightsaber and launching into a dizzyingly swift attack. Windu draws his own lightsaber (purple, the coolest lightsaber of them all, bar none) but Palpatine is unstoppable, taking out all three of Windu’s Jedi and pushing Windu’s own abilities to the limit. Anakin, having decided to disobey his orders, arrives in time to see Palpatine disarmed, to all appearances terrified under Mace Windu’s descending lightsaber – until lightning bolts shoot from Palpatine’s hands. Using this power drains the life out of Palpatine’s face, ageing him rapidly, but Mace Windu is being forced backwards. Each one is calling the other a traitor, looking to Anakin for help.

And Anakin tries. He wants Palpatine to stand trial; Mace Windu, pointing out Palpatine’s power in both the Courts and the Senate, wants to finish this now. When he brings down his lightsaber, Anakin cuts off his arm, and Palpatine kills him with a massive jolt of lightning. The loyalties that held Anakin to the Jedi Council have snapped. He is Palpatine’s creature now, a slave again, this time in his own head. The only thing he asks in return is to keep Padme alive. Palpatine takes him as his apprentice, and renames him Darth Vader.

It is a choice. Everything that happens afterwards, happens not because Anakin made that choice – it happens because he never once looks back, just wades deeper into bloody waters, and every step he takes is his own choice. I will be calling him Vader now.

Palpatine tells Vader that the Jedi will kill both of them once the truth of their actions is known (probably true) and kill all the Senators (definitely not true, though Vader swallows it down without effort). When Palpatine orders the destruction of the Jedi Order – including the death of Obi-Wan – Vader accepts that too. Leading a battalion of clone troopers, Vader walks through the doors of the Jedi Temple and commits a massacre. He kills everyone there, people who had trusted him, including the children. Across the galaxy, the clone armies receive a secret order from Palpatine and turn on their Jedi leaders. It is a betrayal monumental in scope, and I do not want to be watching it.

I really do not like this movie.

The shockwaves of so many deaths hit Yoda in an almost physical way. He is very small, and very old, and he is very, very hard to kill. When his clone troopers turn on him, he fights back and the Wookiees help him. Am I crying? Yes. Yes, I am.

It is at such times that you find out who is willing to stand up and take a risk. Bail Organa, an ally of Padme’s in the Senate, goes straight to the Temple to find out what is happening and sees a Jedi child gunned down in front of him. He gets away with the knowledge this wasn’t a rebellion, it was a slaughter.

But Obi-Wan has survived; he crashed into deep water, though that gorgeous lizard was not so lucky. The Wookiees help Yoda escape in a shuttle. One of those brave allies is Chewbacca – it’s not the last time he’ll have to make choices about which side to take in a battle over the Force, only unlike Anakin Skywalker, Chewbacca has EXCELLENT JUDGEMENT. Bail Organa, bless that man forever, reaches out to find any Jedi who may remain alive and gets through to Obi-Wan, warning him of what’s happening on Coruscant.

Padme, who only knows that there was an attack on the Jedi Temple, gratefully welcomes her husband’s return. He feeds her the propaganda about a Jedi rebellion and announces his intention to serve the Chancellor, overriding Padme’s concerns for Obi-Wan. This entire scene is desperately creepy. Telling her that he’s going to the Mustafar system to finish off the Separatist leaders (also on Palpatine’s orders), Vader leaves. Padme lets him. She trusts him.

R2-D2 has doubts. Always the voice of reason, that droid.

Obi-Wan and Yoda meet up aboard Bail Organa’s spacecraft and the full scale of the disaster begins to sink in. Learning that a coded signal has gone out, calling all the Jedi back to the compromised Temple, Obi-Wan is determined to get to Coruscant and disable the signal in case it lures in any other survivors. Bail Organa receives a summons of his own to an emergency Senate meeting.

In the Mustafar system, Vader enacts another massacre, this time of the Separatist leaders. Among them is the Viceroy of the Trade Federation, who has been Palpatine’s pawn all along and now dies for it. It is notable that Vader leaves R2-D2 with the ship – his droid has more of a conscience than he does. And might tell Padme.

At the Temple, Yoda and Obi-Wan cut a path through the clone guards to get inside. They walk among their dead. When they find the bodies of children killed by a lightsaber, they know the betrayal came from among their own. In the Senate, Palpatine declares that the fractured Republic will be pulled back together as a Galactic Empire. “So this is how liberty dies,” Padme says bitterly to Bail, “with thunderous applause.”

Obi-Wan recalibrates the code to warn any survivors to stay away from Coruscant, then recovers footage from the attack. He is horrified to discover that the traitor is his own former student. He knows the Sith have to be stopped but begs Yoda to send him after Sidious instead – Yoda, however, knows he is not strong enough to take on the Master. Obi-Wan will have to kill the man he thought of as a brother. He goes to Padme, telling her what Vader has done; she frantically tries to deny it and when Obi-Wan has left, sets off for Mustafar to question her husband for herself, taking only C3-PO with her. Of course, Obi-Wan stows away on board her spacecraft.

Padme pleads with Vader to come away with her, to leave this hellscape behind. How she could still want that after he borderline confirms he killed the Jedi, I don’t know. Maybe it has not sunk in yet. When Vader eagerly expounds on his new abilities, however, Padme starts backing away, seeing what Obi-Wan has seen. This is not the man she loves. “Don’t you turn against me,” Vader threatens her, which says absolutely everything about the type of ‘love’ he is capable of. When he sees Obi-Wan emerging from the craft, he assumes she has betrayed him and chokes her unconscious with the Force – would have kept choking her, from the look of it, if not for Obi-Wan’s intervention. Predictably, Vader blames Obi-Wan for everything. He shouts about the lies of the Jedi while Obi-Wan checks that the woman he’s supposed to love above everything else is even still alive. That’s the real motto of the Dark Side: there is always somebody else to blame.

Vader attacks. There’s something terrible about seeing two blue lightsabers fighting against each other. It is savage, fought above the lava flow of a volcanic planet. On Coruscant, another duel explodes between Palpatine and Yoda, within the Senate building itself. Both sets of combatants are very well-matched. Palpatine has lightning; Yoda can contain it. Vader is an expertly-trained warrior; Obi-Wan trained him that way. But Palpatine has the stronger position, and Yoda is forced to flee with Bail Organa’s help. On Mustafar, Obi-Wan gains the upper hand, giving Vader near-fatal wounds, but can’t bring himself to strike the killing blow. The lava sets Vader on fire and Obi-Wan walks away, unwilling to help, unable to watch.

He returns to Padme. She is in a bad state of what looks like shock and they leave the planet at once. Palpatine, meanwhile, arrives on Mustafar and finds Vader horrifically burned, but living. Obi-Wan rejoins Yoda and Bail Organa, bringing Padme to a medical facility for treatment. It’s not enough. She has lost the will to live. While Palpatine rebuilds Vader with a new body of metal, the medical droids operate to save the twins Padme is carrying. Obi-Wan, a true friend to the end, stays with her. He is the first person in the world to meet her children, Luke and Leia. He is the last person in the world to see her alive. She insists to the end that there is good in Anakin; Vader’s only question on waking up is where Padme is, and is told that he killed her. Which is more or less true.

The people who really care about Padme take her body back to Naboo and decide how best to keep her children safe. Leia is taken in by Bail Organa. Obi-Wan agrees to take Luke to Shmi Skywalker’s family on Tatooine. Why they imagine Vader won’t look there, if he decides to start looking, I don’t know, it seems obvious to me. But Obi-Wan plans to stay and keep watch over Luke. Yoda tells him that in his self-imposed exile, Obi-Wan will be training with…Qui-Gon…dead Qui-Gon, who is a ghost now? Immortal, in that ‘one with the Force, can’t actually help anybody’ kind of a way? It’s really, really weird, but it makes Obi-Wan a tiny bit happy on the worst day imaginable, so let’s let that one go.

Vader is at Palpatine’s side aboard a Star Destroyer, overseeing the construction of the Empire’s ultimate weapon: the Death Star. Bail leaves C3-PO and R2-D2 with Antilles, one of his captains, with an order to wipe C3-PO’s memory, clearly not trusting in the droid’s discretion. On Naboo, a funeral procession is held for Padme, the escort including her old friends Jar-Jar Binks and Boss Nass. I’ll say it again: these are the people who loved her. And her babies are safe in other arms.

The original trilogy is a very simple story, really, running on fairy tale logic: heroes versus monsters, good versus evil. Our protagonists are comfortingly attractive while Darth Vader, the Emperor and Jabba the Hutt are suitably grotesque. The prequels, however, are a more complex myth. Yes, our hero is a beautiful man with a charming smile, but he is not to be trusted. The Jedi Order are stagnant in arrogance; the Republic is corrupt. The only thing that makes a person good is their choices, and Anakin Skywalker chose to destroy everything he ever loved. And the prophecy fulfilled itself, simply by existing, because prophecies are not to be trusted either. At the end of Revenge of the Sith, the Force is indeed in balance: two Sith, and two Jedi.

But that is all about to change.

Ladies of Legend: Guinevere

References: Women of Camelot: queens and enchantresses at the court of King Arthur (Orchard Australia, 2000) by Mary Hoffman, Le Morte d’Arthur in two volumes: volume one and volume two (J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1978, originally published in 1485) by Sir Thomas Malory, The Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions (Dover Publications, Inc., 1991, originally published in 1907) by Howard Pyle, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2005) by Howard Pyle, The Politics of Myth (Melbourne University Press, 2015) by Stephen Knight, England’s Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York (Amberley, 2015) by Elizabeth Norton,,, Bulfinch’s Mythology (Gramercy Books, 2003) by Thomas Bulfinch, Mythology: Myths, Legends, & Fantasies (Hodder, 2013) by Dr. Alice Mills

Trigger warning: references to rape and incest

Guinevere is the Yoko Ono of myth and legend – the girl who broke up the beloved band of knights, the Pandora of Camelot, the Eve who doomed a golden age through her sin. I can keep producing comparisons for some time, because sexism is not original. She was described by the 18th century writer Thomas Percy as ‘a bitch and a witch/ And a whore bold’ while some writers completely removed her from the narrative. Over the years, Guinevere’s story has overwhelmingly been told by people who do not like her.

According to The Politics of Myth, she was the leader to twenty beautiful maidens and daughter of the giant Gogryfan Gawr/Ogrfan Gawr of Castell y Cnwclas. A Germanic version makes her the daughter of King Garlin of Galore, while Geoffrey of Monmouth gives her Roman lineage. In Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, her father is King Leodegrance of Cameliard, Arthur’s political ally. In the Welsh legends she has a sister, Gwenhwyfach, who marries Arthur’s nemesis Mordred. This ties in to the French romances, in which a ‘false Guinevere’ (half-sister to the true queen) dupes Arthur and his court for two and a half years. The only one not fooled by her is, surprise surprise, Guinevere’s lover Lancelot.

And it can get weirder! One very old and incomplete story has Arthur marry three consecutive women sharing the same name (Gwenhwyfar daughter of Cywryd, Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr ap Greidiol and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Ogrfan Gawr, according to, which suggests that either Arthur had a creepy fixation or that Guinevere may have originally been a triple goddess, manifesting as the maiden, mother and crone. Her name even means ‘white spirit’.

Another ancient incarnation of the queen comes from the Welsh folk story ‘Culhwch and Olwen’, in which her name is Gwenhwyfar/Gwenhwyfar. She is married to the Arthur of that story and valuable enough to him that, when his cousin Culhwch comes to court asking for a favour, Gwenhwyfar is exempt from any arrangement he makes. A wise precaution, since another ancient Welsh legend has Gwenhywfar taken by Melwas, lord of the summer country (though it is unclear whether she left with him willingly or not). In that one, it takes a saint’s intercession to negotiate her return to Arthur.

So Guinevere, like Arthur’s mother Igraine, is a woman of enigmatic heritage – but who is she as a person? It depends heavily on which account you read. Most portray her as a stately but morally unreliable woman, her beauty being her most prominent characteristic. Thomas Bulfinch’s Guinevere watches on as Arthur fights to save her father’s castle, trembling and telling her friends how she hopes to marry him. Howard Pyle introduces her as a beautiful damsel in distress, meeting Arthur first while he’s lying injured then again when he’s disguised by Merlin’s magic and coming to rescue her from an unwanted marriage with Duke Mordaunt of North Umber. Later, Pyle sets her up in a tidy Madonna-Whore paradigm by contrasting the queen against Lancelot’s other lover Elaine (having conflated the two Elaines of Lancelot’s romantic history and conveniently erased all the flaws in both).

To my surprise, it’s Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur that treats Guinevere with the most respect. After their meeting in Cameliard, when Arthur went to support her father against the attacking King Ryence, Arthur describes the woman he means to marry as ‘the most valiant and fairest lady that I know living’. Which implies she did more than look on while her home was under attack. It would be very romantic if Arthur didn’t so badly want the Round Table Leodegrance has in his keeping – once the possession of Uther Pendragon, passed on to Arthur as a wedding gift. Love may be involved but this is a marriage of political symbolism, to better cement the young king’s reign.

In fact, the Guinevere (spelled Guenever) of Malory has a mixed bag of a wedding any way you look at it. Arthur’s nephew Gawain asks to be made a knight on that day, and since Arthur is in the kind of mood where he’s granting favours all round, his friend Pellinore’s illegitimate son Tor claims a knighthood at the same time. During the wedding feast, a white hart charges through the hall, pursued in succession by a whole pack of dogs, a shouting lady and an unknown knight, precipitating a quest right in the middle of Guinevere’s big day. It’s just rude. Gawain ends up making a terrible mess of his part in the quest and Guinevere lays an ordinance on him to atone for his mistakes by always serving the causes of women. She also passes judgement when Lancelot sends defeated opponents to her for sentencing, decisions in which Arthur plays no part. While this is obviously a gesture of loving fealty on Lancelot’s part, it emphasises Guinevere’s authority as a queen.

She’s also a good networker. Lancelot may be Guinevere’s favourite knight, but she’s fond of Arthur’s foster brother Kay and nobody makes her laugh like Sir Dinadan. She has a fellowship within the Round Table called the Queen’s Knights who bear white shields to show they are in her service. She even has a pen-friendship with the other famously tragic queen of Arthurian legend, Isolde. They write to support each other during difficult times and when an illness prevents them from attending the same tournament, Guinevere eagerly demands details about her friend from the knights who went.

Her relationship with Arthur is, overall, a secure, respectful and professional one, tending towards agreement on important issues – for instance, the two of them are passionately opposed to the Grail quest. When he goes to war shortly after their marriage, she goes with him and chooses to risk crossing dangerously turbulent waters rather than fall into his enemy’s hands. She shows her courage again when, later in her life, she is ambushed by the traitorous knight Meliagrance. “I had lever cut mine own throat in twain rather than thou shouldest dishonour me,” she tells him flatly, but chooses to surrender rather than allow her knights to be killed by Meliagrance’s greater numbers. She not only manages to get a messenger away to fetch help, she is so intimidating that she manages to keep her entire party within her sight at all times while they are held captive, despite it being in Meliagrance’s interests to separate her from them.

Of course, Lancelot comes to the rescue. His arrival frightens Meliagrance into an apology and Guinevere accepts it with the statement “better is peace than ever war”, but then Meliagrance – hoping to distract attention from his own crime – accuses her of unfaithfulness to Arthur and traps Lancelot in an oubliette to prevent him from fighting on the appointed day to clear her name. Lancelot nevertheless manages to escape (with the help of his rather lecherous female guard) and defeat him. When he looks to Guinevere for her orders, Lancelot reads the shake of her head for the death sentence that it is. Guinevere will not tolerate harm done to those she loves.

Which is not to say that her love affair with Lancelot remains a secret, because pretty much everyone except Arthur knows. Lancelot can’t go on a quest without random women bringing it up and trying to change his mind – one even accuses Guinevere of witchcraft, which is an incredibly low blow – and Morgan le Fay tries time and again to wave broad hints under Arthur’s nose, from sending an infidelity-detecting horn (that does not reach its intended target) to a shield that depicts a knight standing upon the heads of a king and queen, lord of them both. This is the only attempt Morgan le Fay makes at interacting with Guinevere in Le Morte d’Arthur.

The truth is, I never cared much either way about Lancelot or about the Arthurian love triangle until I read Malory. Guess what? I became FIERCELY INVESTED.

When Lancelot travels to the Grail Castle, where his presence has been foretold, the sorceress Dame Brisen tricks him into believing Guinevere is in his bed when it is really King Pelles’ daughter Elaine. Upon his return to Camelot, Elaine rapes him a second time. Guinevere walks in on them and believes herself betrayed; Lancelot, unable to accept her subsequent rejection, suffers a breakdown and disappears into the wilderness. Guinevere confides her grief to Isolde and spends a fortune to send out a fellowship of knights out to search for Lancelot, whose sense of self-worth is so broken he ends up sheltering with Elaine. Even there, he commissions a black shield bearing the emblem of a silver queen. Later  on, Guinevere turns him away again after Lancelot breaks the habit of a lifetime and wears Elaine of Astolat’s token during a tournament. Guinevere refuses to believe it was worn solely as a disguise.

But nothing can keep them apart for long. It is arguable that Arthur and Guinevere’s marriage only functions because Lancelot is there. When she is accused of murdering a knight with a poisoned apple, Arthur doesn’t believe for a moment that she is guilty, but it is Lancelot who fights for her (and his foster mother, the sorceress Nimue, who eventually clears her name). What’s more, Arthur fully expects Lancelot to take the role of queen’s champion. When Guinevere is abducted by Meliagrance, the messenger she sends goes straight to Lancelot and he throws aside courtly pride, riding in a lowly woodcutter’s cart after his horse is killed, doing whatever he can to reach her faster.

Then there’s all the little details. Lancelot talks about her in his sleep. He recognises her cough. They would rather be with each other (or with Arthur) than anyone else, and it’s just really, really adorable. And yes, for the record, it is a bad thing that Guinevere cheats on Arthur. But Arthur is hardly an angel in this regard himself – while there’s no evidence he ever cheated on Guinevere, he did sleep with the very married Morgause as a young man, a decision he only regretted when he found out she was his sister. Of course, by then it was too late, because Morgause gave birth to Mordred and Mordred is a truly terrible person.

He recruits his half-brother Agravaine to help expose Guinevere’s infidelity. Lancelot fights his way out of the trap they set – killing thirteen of the fourteen knights sent to capture him, including Agravaine, and injuring Mordred – but Guinevere believes it will make the situation worse if she escapes with her lover and chooses to remain behind. Enraged, Arthur betrays her in turn and sentences her to be burned at the stake. It may be the traditional law of the land, but it is nevertheless a choice; his eldest nephew Gawain tries to talk him out of it, and though Gawain’s younger brothers Gareth and Gaheris are forced to attend the execution, they go unarmed as a protest.

Lancelot swore to Guinevere that ‘while I am living I shall rescue you’. He keeps his word. Slashing his way through former friends to reach her before the pyre is lit, he unknowingly kills Gaheris and Gareth. Overwhelmed by grief and rage, Gawain demands Arthur go to war against Lancelot. Even after the Pope intercedes, ordering that Arthur take Guinevere back and make peace with Lancelot, Gawain continues his war-mongering – because it was never about Guinevere. He holds no grudge against her whatsoever.

Which doesn’t mean she’s not dealing with plenty of the consequences. Left behind in England while Arthur and Gawain take their war to Lancelot’s ancestral lands across the Channel, she’s in a crushingly vulnerable position and the terrifyingly ambitious Mordred knows it. He claims to the country that their king is dead and takes the crown for himself, then tries to take Guinevere as well. She responds with such skilful diplomacy that he lets her travel to London to make ‘wedding preparations’ – whereupon she seizes the Tower of London and nothing Mordred throws at the siege can get her out. She once again declares she would rather die than live under the control of a man she despises.

Getting word of Mordred’s takeover, Arthur immediately returns. Gawain is killed in the first battle; though word is sent to Lancelot, the war is over by the time he arrives. Arthur and Mordred have died at each other’s hands and Guinevere, overcome by grief, has retreated into the abbey at Almesbury. She blames herself and Lancelot for what happened to the realm and though it breaks her heart to do it, she sends him away. Her life becomes one of religious contemplation. Of course, she rises to the position of abbess pretty much straight away.

Less than a decade later, Lancelot has a vision that she is dying and hurries to the abbey. She prays to die before he reaches her – she never could resist him, after all – and gets her wish. Respecting her wishes, as he always has, Lancelot buries her beside Arthur at Glastonbury (or at least, the corpse believed to be Arthur’s) and grieves so desperately over the two of them that he dies himself only six weeks later.

People generally agree that Guinevere brought about the fall of Camelot through her affair with Lancelot. People are generally wrong.

You can blame Mordred, who pretended to love Arthur then stole everything from him out of an insatiable drive for power. You can blame Gawain, who became so fixated on vengeance that he would not see reason. You can blame Arthur himself, who would have stood by and watched his wife burn. You could – and I do – blame Merlin and Uther Pendragon, for their deceit, laying cracks in Camelot’s very foundations.

But the truth is? Golden ages do not last. That’s what makes them golden, the sepia tint of hindsight, and there’s always blame enough to go around when something good is lost, however inevitable it may be. Guinevere made her mistakes. She paid for them. And she is so, so much bigger than them. She was a courageous and capable queen; hot-tempered, generous and loyal. And, as Malory said, “while she lived she was a true lover, and therefore she had a good end.”

These stories vary wildly depending on time and teller – I work with the sources I have to hand but if you know an alternative version I would love to hear it!

Review – Kid Dark Against the Machine

Kid Dark Against the Machine – Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Book Smugglers, 2016

You just can’t get away from superheroes these days. Every six months a new name is called up by the mysterious machine that gives ordinary humans extraordinary powers, but the detail people tend to overlook is what happens when those powers get taken away. It’s a detail Griff doesn’t want people to think about too deeply, or something he wants to think about himself for that matter. That’s what the ‘secret’ in ‘secret identity’ is for. Between helping out at the Boys Home where he grew up and figuring out what to do next with his life, he’s got enough to worry about. But then one of the boys under his care starts having dreams about a second machine, a machine that makes supervillains and from the sound of it, is calling up its next candidate. And it looks like this is Griff’s problem after all.

This new novella is set in the same universe as Tansy Rayner Roberts’ story Cookie Cutter Superhero, first published in the anthology Kaleidoscope, but you don’t need to have read it to understand Kid Dark Against the Machine. Both stories evoke, critique and generally mess about with all sorts of superhero tropes – in this case, what happens to the kid sidekicks? It’s bright and sharp and sarcastic, and I would happily read a series of novels set in this universe. You can read the story for free or buy the e-book on the Book Smugglers website, and Roberts has also written an essay on her inspiration and influences.

Review – The Good, the Bad and the Undead

The Good, the Bad and the Undead (The Hollows No.2) – Kim Harrison

HarperVoyager, 2006

Originally published in 2005

Everyone likes the idea of an independent ‘runner’ taking down Inderlanders who break the law, but paying one is another matter. Having barely survived the exit from her last job, Rachel Morgan is struggling to make a living from her new one. When she’s brought in as a consultant on the notorious ‘witch hunter’ murder case, it’s exactly the break she needs, particularly since she has a strong theory in mind. But there are a few things she’s failed to take into account. Her messy history with councilman Trent Kalamack. Her moody partner and housemate Ivy’s connections to the city’s vampire underworld. And how Rachel fits the murderer’s profile to a T…

I had a few minor reservations about the first Hollows novel, Dead Witch Walking, but overall enjoyed it very much and was looking forward to reading this one. Unfortunately, it disappointed me badly. There were multiple gaping plot holes that made Rachel look anything but competent, and her relationship with Ivy – integral to my enjoyment of the first book – suffered so much damage that, while Harrison could clearly move past it, I certainly could not. I’ll explain that in more detail under the spoilers tag. The world Harrison created is an interesting one and there’s a lot to like about the central characters, but this was much too frustrating for me to continue with the series.

Spoilers: (Trigger warning for references to rape) The scene in which Ivy pressures Rachel to become her ‘scion’ (a position somewhere between servant and lover, there to provide their vampire master with blood) is written as a sexual assault – Ivy taking advantage of her superior physical strength to manhandle Rachel, using the scar from a demonic injury to further distort Rachel’s ability to give informed consent, ignoring all of Rachel’s boundaries and pleas for her to stop – but nobody within the narrative treats the incident as a serious violation and Rachel consistently blames herself for it happening at all. This is classic victim-blaming, which makes it all the more bizarre when Ivy later suffers a similar experience and Rachel calls it rape – because while that’s undoubtedly what it is, how is it possible for the two events to receive such different treatment? Just because Ivy’s attacker got what he wanted from the encounter and Ivy did not get what she wanted from Rachel does not make the attempt any more acceptable. And neither incident is acceptable in the slightest.

Ladies of Legend: Circe and Medea

References: The Greek Myths Volumes I and II (The Folio Society, 2003) by Robert Graves, Mythology: Myths, Legends, & Fantasies (Hodder, 2013) by Dr. Alice Mills, The Complete Book of Witches and Wizards (Carlton Books Ltd, 2007) by Tim Dedopulos

Circe is a sorceress from ancient Greek myth, the daughter of the sun god Helios and either his wife, the Oceanid Perse, or the goddess of dark magic, Hecate, depending on which version you believe. Given her life choices, I’m betting on Hecate.

 Circe’s name means ‘falcon’ and she was very beautiful, but with a destructive streak a mile long and a disastrous love life. When an Italian prince called Picus rebuffed her, she turned him into a woodpecker; when the sea god Glaucus preferred her half-sister Scylla to herself, Circe turned the poor girl into a terrifying sea-monster with twelve dog legs and six fanged heads. Though that particular curse is also attributed to the sea-nymph Amphitrite, it’s well within Circe’s abilities.

Another, less vicious example of her skills is the invention of a prophylactic draught using magical roots, allowing the drinker to be unaffected by disease. An Athenian princess called Procris made use of it to have a fling with Minos of Crete, since his wife Pasiphaë had cursed his sperm to become snakes, scorpions and millipedes when he took any lover but herself. The draught worked beautifully. Procris later died a violent yet completely unconnected death, because myths.

Circe ruled Aeaea, Island of the Dawn, a place rich with alder trees and oaks. Her palace at the centre was encircled by wolves and lions, but not for protection – the animals actually welcomed guests, because they were once humans themselves before she transformed them with her magic. Non-consensual transfiguration was one of Circe’s favourite hobbies, the other main ones being working at her loom and singing.

Her life intersected with that of Odysseus, the notorious adventuring king, when he came across her island after the fall of Troy. He sent a group of men to scout the land and Circe turned on the charm for them, spreading out a feast of cheese, barley, honey and wine. Only one man, Eurylochus, lingered outside, distrusting her motives. Sure enough, as soon as his friends started eating, Circe hit them with a wand and turned them all into pigs.

Odysseus was, naturally, livid. On his way to confront Circe he was intercepted by the messenger god Hermes and given a white flower called moly that would make him resistant to Circe’s magic. When her wand bounced uselessly off his shoulder, he drew his sword but she broke into dramatic tears and offered him a life of luxury on her island (plus a place in her bed) if he would let her live. Odysseus, I should point out, was en route at the time to his home of Ithaca, where his beautiful and very competent wife Penelope was patiently awaiting his return. Being a terrible husband, he agreed to Circe’s offer on the condition that she restored his men and did not plot against him again. They lived amicably enough for some time – long enough for her to bear three sons, Agrius, Latinus and Telegonus.

Eventually, however, Odysseus wanted to return home. Either she was already tiring of him too or had matured in her attitude toward relationships since the woodpecker incident, because Circe took the break-up exceptionally well. She sent him to see the seer Teiresias in Persephone’s Grove first, to predict what would await him in Ithaca – and yes, I mean that Persephone, this is the land of the dead – not only offering very precise advice on how to get there and what to do when he did, but also a sacrifical ram and ewe, and a favourable breeze to carry his ship. Odysseus was counselled by numerous spectres in the Grove, including his own dead mother Anticleia (who interestingly did not mention her daughter-in-law’s suitor infestation, possibly aware of how badly her hypocritical son would take that information).

Afterwards he returned to Aeaea for more of Circe’s excellent advice. Knowing his journey would take him past the Sirens, whose singing was even more perilous to hear than Circe’s own, she suggested the sailors plug their ears with beeswax and if Odysseus absolutely had to listen – she knew him pretty well by that point – she advised he be tied securely to the mast so he couldn’t do anything reckless. He eventually reunited with Penelope and his son Telemachus in Ithaca, but in Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths, even this homecoming is not a happy ending, because Circe’s youngest boy Telegonus later mistakenly launched an attack on Ithaca, killed his father and married poor Penelope. In the same version of the story, Telemachus goes on to marry Circe. EW.

Circe was not Helios’s only child. Pasiphaë of Crete was actually her sister. The sun god also had a son called Aeetes, the king of Colchis, who in turn had a daughter called Medea. There is an argument to be made that much of what happened in Medea’s life was the result of divine argument. The very powerful goddess Hera developed a deep grudge against King Pelias when he had a woman killed in Hera’s temple, and recruited Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to her cause; Medea was their weapon of choice. I think we can credit the princess with some agency, however. She’s too ingeniously murderous to be anyone’s pawn.

And for another thing, Pelias was the kind of person to make enemies everywhere. Dethroning his half-brother, he claimed the throne of Iolcus and tried to rid himself of his nephew Jason too, promising to relinquish the throne if Jason brought home the legendary Golden Fleece. Jason pulled together an ancient Greek version of the Avengers, including big names of the day such as Orpheus and Heracles. They set off on a ship called the Argo to fetch the Fleece, encountering characters along the way such as the genocidal Queen Hypsipyle of Lemnos (with whom Jason had a lengthy affair) and King Amycus, who challenged any male visitor to a boxing match to the death. Though they lost a few friends on the way, the Argonauts eventually reached the palace of Aeetes.

The king was not at all inclined to give up the Fleece. Jason could only take the treasure if he first completed three tasks: matching Aeetes’ fire-breathing bulls in plowing a field, taking the Fleece away from its guardian serpent and lastly, sowing a dragon’s teeth and defeating the warriors that grow from them. Jason did not have a hope. Medea, however, was a sorceress like her aunts and had fallen head over heels for Jason. To survive the bulls, she gave him a magical ointment that protected his skin from their heat. For the next task, she met him at midnight in a grove sacred to Ares, the god of war, where Jason swore to marry her, be faithful to her and take her away to Greece in exchange for the Fleece. Her engagement gift to him was to sing the fearsome guardian serpent to sleep, allowing Jason to claim his prize.

Remember how Circe was reputed to be Hecate’s daughter? Medea was Hecate’s priestess. In Mythology: Myths, Legends, & Fantasies, the goddess of dark magic manifested triplefold in the tradition of maiden, mother and crone: Persephone, goddess of spring and queen of the Underworld, being the maiden, the harvest goddess Demeter as the mother, and Hecate herself as the crone. The concept of this triptych certainly adds an interesting depth to Circe’s familiarity with Persephone’s Grove.

Jason managed to defeat the warriors of the dragon’s teeth with his own trickery and ruthlessness. With Medea aboard, the Argo ses sail for home, pursued by the warships of Colchis. Medea was prepared. According to one version of the story, the pursuit was led by her half-brother Apsyrtus, who tried to make a deal with Jason to keep the Fleece if he left Medea behind, and was killed by the lovers instead. In an uglier version, Apsyrtus was a baby snatched from his cradle by the fleeing Medea, who butchered him and threw the pieces into the sea so that her father would leave off the chase to collect the remains of his son.

The Greek gods might be capricious and brutal, but the only one willing to forgive such an act was Hecate; all the others turned against Jason and Medea after that. Medea took her lover to Aeaea for a ritual cleansing from her rather unwilling aunt. Though Circe wouldn’t allow them in her house, she performed the purification.

The return journey to Ioclus was just as demanding and eventful as the way to Colchis, and Medea’s magic proved a decided asset. Upon arriving home, Jason found his father Aeson deathly ill and Medea once again showed her skills by ordering the old man dismembered and boiling him…back to life…in her magic cauldron. Improbable as this sounds, it worked. Even his youth wasrestored. Hoping to receive a similar treatment, Pelias submitted to the same ritual, but she did not perform the same magic and he was left very dead. That she had his daughters do the dismembering is a particularly nasty touch.

As a result, she and Jason were both exiled to Corinth by Pelias’s son Acastus. For a decade their love remained strong and Jason was faithful, as he promised. Then, unfortunately, he got it into his head to marry Princess Glauce of Corinth instead, putting aside Medea by claiming their marriage was invalid. All Medea’s passionate arguments meant nothing to him. So, being Medea, she sent Glauce a poisoned dress that burned the bride, her father and their entire castle to the ground. She then stabbed her own sons to death. Devastated, Jason either committed suicide, or – in one even more morbid version – lingered on as a broken and forsaken man until a piece of his own mighty and now decaying ship fell on his head, killing him. Talk about heavy-handed metaphors.

And still Hecate stood by her priestess. Medea escaped the scene of carnage in a chariot pulled by dragons and went to Athens, where she married King Aegeus and had a son named Medus with him. Unfortunately for her, Aegeus already had an heir, though he didn’t know it until Theseus – he of the Minotaur episode – turned on the doorstep. Medea tried to have Theseus killed, but his influence won the day and Medea was exiled with her son. Aegeus, surprisingly, survived the break up. Well, Medea didn’t kill him, anyway. Theseus managed to bungle up that one all by himself.

Having sort of run out of banishment locations, Medea went home to Colchis. In her absence Aeetes had been dethroned by his brother Perses, whom Medea promptly murdered so her father could take back the kingdom. Medus went on to be a king as well. As for Medea, she claimed a place called Aria and called everyone ‘Medes’ in her own honour. There is no reference to her death in these stories.

I have a particular aversion to the phrase ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. It makes it sound like female anger is a baseless hysteria, almost a joke. Revenge is unisex. Circe knows precisely how to get what she wants. Medea is a woman with no priority higher than her own survival; she’d wade through any amount of blood to get where she wanted to be. To quote Moriarty from the TV show Elementary, “As if men had a monopoly on murder.”

These stories vary wildly depending on time and teller – I work with the sources I have to hand but if you know an alternative version I would love to hear it!

Feminism in Fairy Tales Part 1: The Princess and the Flamethrower

With the sad news of SF Signal’s closure, I am reposting the first article in my Feminism in Fairy Tales series here on my own blog. It was originally posted on the SF Signal website on 13/06/13.

Tales are not lies, nor are they truths, but something in between. They can be as true or as false as the listener chooses to make them, or the teller wants him to believe.

– Juliet Marillier, Son of the Shadows

I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I’m pretty sure 2012 was the Year of the Fairy Tale. There wasn’t an official announcement or anything, but the nod was clearly given in secret circles and the retellings spread outwards like ripples on the waters of speculative fiction. Novels such as Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, Sophie Masson’s Moonlight and Ashes and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder were released, there were big movie adaptations Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, there was even a TV series. Hell, there were two TV series! I’m a fiend for fairy tales; I was in paradise. And I was seriously impressed by the ingenuity of all these storytellers for finding something new to say about stories that have been retold over so many years.

But there was also a bitter aftertaste that’s been bothering me for some time. It was so subtle, and so pervasive, that it is difficult to pin down when exactly I first noticed it – in the reviews? The promotional interviews? The posts I read afterwards? What I noticed was this: that when people spoke about a fairy tale adaptation, the assumption was that it would be better than the original. Specifically, that the women would be better.

Because everybody knows women in fairy tales are weak. They are at the mercy of wicked stepmothers and nefarious kings! They always need princes to ride to their rescue! And that’s really pathetic, right? We of modern times are better than that. We know that what every princess really needs is to ditch the frocks and get herself a flamethrower. (Admittedly, I have not yet seen a fairy tale adaptation in which the princess literally has a flamethrower. It is the new dream of my existence that one exists.)

The popular impression of a fairy tale princess is a Disney beauty in a ball gown. The thing is that, like a lot of the other things that ‘everybody’ knows, it’s wrong.

I grew up on the fairy tales retold by Ruth Manning Sanders: a handful of loved-to-death ’80s reprints with missing pages and cracked spines. Manning Sanders covered classics like ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Aladdin’, but she didn’t stop there. Through her, I discovered stories from Jamaica and Iceland, Sicily and Russia, Switzerland, Denmark and Italy. I read about girls who bribed themselves a better destiny, who freed slaves, who met and married wizards or witch’s sons as well as princes. I learned, not by anyone telling me but from my own insatiable reading, that women in fairy tales are not weak. They are not necessarily strong either. They are something more than either.

They are people.

And I kept reading. I found myself heroines like Tatterhood, the hideous elder daughter of a queen, who goes forth to fight witches and rescue her sister; Princess Blue-Eyes, the gorgeous ruler of her own kingdom who beats a Czar and all his three sons in battle; Tokoyo, daughter of an exiled samurai, who saves a sacrificial maiden by jumping off a cliff and fighting a sea monster. Where are their retellings? Why aren’t there movie adaptations of their stories, or an introduction to the Disney canon? If readers of the 21st century are so dissatisfied with the way women are written in fairy tales, why not look beyond the standard Grimm brothers selection pool?

But let’s take a look into that pool, since it is rather irresistible with its sparkling shallows and murky depths. The women in Grimm favourites tend to get the worst kicking, so stuck with labels you’d think they’d been mistaken for a corkboard. Passive! Submissive! Weepy, soppy, weak.

Why? Because they don’t get into swordfights with their evil stepmothers? Because they don’t take on all comers with a metaphorical flamethrower? Modern retellings often put an emphasis on their heroines physically or verbally defending themselves, which can be excellent and deeply satisfactory, but there are other ways of being strong. Surviving in an atmosphere of hatred without letting yourself get infected by it, like Cinderella does – that takes strength. Making a new life among strangers, like Snow White, takes courage. Being imprisoned with no resources for an escape, like Rapunzel, and keeping on hoping for something better anyway, takes fortitude. It’s a quiet bravery, easy to ignore, and so people do ignore it. They pretend that women in fairy tales don’t ‘do’ anything. But they are wrong.

It isn’t about the stories. It is all about the telling. There are very few fairy tales out there that can’t have excellent female characters if they are told by someone who wants them to be that way, and you don’t have to change the stories at all – all you have to do is understand and respect the characters in them. Women in fairy tales can be villains, they can be heroines, they can be ordinary and in between, but they all have individuality until a storyteller chooses to take it away.

Or gives it back.

As Aladdin could tell you, something new is not automatically better than something old. We need them all, the fairy tales that have been transmuted into shining unfamiliar shapes standing beside the ones that are as old as the path in the dark woods. There’s magic, and strength, enough to be shared without belittling either one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write a fairy tale about flamethrowers.

Feminism in Fairy Tales Part 2: The Demon’s In the Double Standard

Feminism in Fairy Tales Part 3: In Dire Need of Dynamite

Review – The Lake House

The Lake House – Kate Morton

Allen&Unwin, 2015

Detective Sadie Sparrow is far from a sentimental woman, certainly not nostalgic. When she goes to stay with her grandfather, troubled by the aftermath of an unsettling case, she intends to return to work as soon as she can. But then she stumbles on Loeanneth, the hidden lake house. Seventy years ago, during a glittering garden party, a baby boy disappeared from his bed and was never seen again. His older sister Alice became the famous A.C. Edevane, the prolific and extremely private crime writer. She is haunted by the night of her brother’s disappearance, guarding a secret that Sadie’s sudden fascination threatens to uncover. Loeanneth may have been abandoned, but the lies of a lifetime are coming home to roost.

The Lake House is an enormous book and it does not give up its twists easily – the plot moves slowly, but it’s written so well that didn’t bother me at all, Morton’s attention to detail conjuring rich imagery for the characters and for the Lake House, which is almost a character in its own right. While the criss-crossing of familial secret-keeping was at times confusing, and the ending was a bit too convenient for my liking, the story was overall very satisfying and a pleasure to sink my teeth into. Morton’s other novels include The Shifting Fog/ The House at Riverton and The Secret Keeper.