Cover Image: The Cleaving

The Cleaving

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC!

Love the chance to read Arthurian retellings especially from the Women’s point of view (with an unproblematic author).

This was well researched and detailed which was great, though the characters could have used a little something more. They fell flat which made this read not as good as it could have been.

Was this review helpful?

"The Cleaving" was such a treat! I was jumping up and down because I was so excited that I was selected to have an advanced reading copy of this book through NetGalley. Arthurian folklore but from the point of view of Nimue and focusing on the women’s stories of Camelot.

"The Cleaving" by Juliet E. McKenna is a feminist Arthurian retelling, that narrates the tangled stories of four famous mythological women: Nimue, Ygraine, Morgana, and Guinevere, as they fight to survive against the patriarchal, war torn Britain and determine their future, and the destiny of their land.

How I loved reading this book! Such a treat to get the early copy! I loved the characters, the pacing, the elements that were explored through the narrative. It had probably been nearly 10 years since I last read an Arthurian retelling, but this one re awakened in me the fascination I once held for that magical, mythical Camelot and the future it promised

I was especially drawn to two characters reading the novel. Ygraine, Arthur’s mother, and Guinevere, his wife and the Queen of Camelot. Their storylines mirrored each other even though I don’t think in the book the two women ever met. And yet, their stories were depicted differently. Ygraine was a major character in the first half of the book, which was dark and gruesome but had a sub element of fairytales amid all the injustices that happened to the Queen. In contrast, Guinevere suffered similarly to Ygraine in the second half, but the tone of her story had lost the magical fairytale element that dominated the first half. So, every injustice she experienced was more rooted in reality, as if the book slowly travelled from Britain’s mythological past to a more historical one.

I would absolutely recommend picking up The Cleaving. A great fit for those who love mythology or fairytale retellings. The writing is beautiful,and the story takes you floating in this world, made of both myth and history.

Again,I had written this review months ago ,but my diagnosis and my overall health just didn't let me do a Tiktok video. I am still very uncomfortable with my speech skills, so I can't bring myself to do a video now either, but I hope this is ok.

Was this review helpful?

Unfortunately this book was not a match for me and I haven’t finished reading it. I struggled to connect with the writing style and the characters. I do think that if you’re into strong FMC, Arthurian legends and click better with the writing style than I did, it’s gonna be an amazing read!

Thank you netgalley for providing and arc in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I've been a huge Arthurian legends fan ever since I was a wee kid, so this take on it focussing mostly on Nimue interested me. Sadly and while I appreciated how much the novel focusses on Morgana, Nimue, Guinevere, the women in general, I did not really get into the story for a long long time. I found them unconvincing as characters and while I enjoy retellings, this one bored me most of the time? I like how Arthur as this über-King is deconstructed but the novel didn't manage to keep me interested. So 3 stars max

Was this review helpful?

What's that you say?
A feminist retelling of the well-loved Arthurian legends, told from Nimue's perspective? *Gobble-gobble*

I practically inhaled this book. It starts with Uther becoming King of all Britain and follows the usual stories through, whilst offering a fresh take on the characters and giving greater insight into the women of the Pendragon court. Nimue isn't typically well represented in Arthurian retellings, but in this version she is a member of Ygraine's courtly women, so that was an added bonus.

Because they're both feminist retellings, I expect this book will always be compared to The Mists of Avalon, though I must say I preferred The Cleaving because the characters were unexpected: Merlin is a 'baddie' and this is the first Arthurian book I've read that didn't make me hate Guinevere.

I'm not a stickler for historical accuracy, but I can tell you this was a good story. I'll be reading more from this author asap.

Was this review helpful?

This was a DNF because it's a case of "it's not the book, it's me" - I'm a bit over Arthurian retellings right now. However, there are still plenty of people I'd recommend this to, and the cover is lovely!

Was this review helpful?

I really loved this book and the strong women that were written! I will def be ordering a copy of this!

Was this review helpful?

The Cleaving is a feminist retelling of the Arthurian legend told from the perspective of Nimue, one of the traditional villains. I love a good folklore retelling and have enjoyed Arthurian stories since my love of the show Merlin in the 2010s. I hadn't seen any retellings with Nimue's point of view and looked forward to reading this book!

I feel like this book had a good premise to focus on the women in the story, including Nimue, Ygraine, Morgana, and Guinevere. I liked the way that the male characters are also reimagined and viewed from the perspective of the women. I thought Nimue was a good choice as well as I feel like Morgana is usually the magical lady focus of the story.

My problem with this book is that it was as boring as tar. I had a very hard time paying attention past about 20%. I'm not sure if it was the time skips, the generally uncompelling men that women had to keep dealing with throughout the story, or the writing in general, but I just couldn't get into it.

I recommend reading this if you're super into Arthurian legend and love historical fantasy. I'm usually in both of these camps, but this book just didn't work for me. 2.15 stars rounded down to 2 from me. Thank you to Angry Robot and NetGalley for the electronic advanced reader's copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!

Was this review helpful?

I realized that by the end of reading this I should have more thoughts than I do. It was passable, and I think for young adults who are new to arthurian retellings, it would be a good start, however, I recognize that this title isn't really for me. Firstly, I don't really care much for arthurian retellings, and can't really say that this was a feminist take on it. It saddens me to say that because all in all it was a promising premise.

Was this review helpful?

Unfortunately, this book was a miss for me. I was so excited when I saw it - I'm a huge retellings nerd, and have been working my way through more Arthuriana content in the past year. But while Mckenna has clearly done a lot of research, her narrative falls flat. There is little to no emotional drive in the book; her characters feel like cardboard cut outs, and the plot thuds along at the rate of a very slow but methodical train. Nimue is something of a self-insert OC rather than anything similar to her historical figure - which, while certainly in the spirit of Arthuriana as a tradition, creates the ultimate Mary Sue (a problematic term but unfortunately fitting) who is simultaneously better than everyone but does nothing in the narrative except observe. She could have been replaced by an omniscient narrator and little would have changed. I think this book falls into the trap that a lot of retellings do recently - in that it retells the story beat for beat, without really doing anything with the story except relay it in slightly more accessible terms for a modern audience. There is certainly a space and a necessity for things such as this, but not reshaping the narrative in any way fundamentally misses the point of retellings for a modern age.

This book also really needed content warnings. While I know Angry Robot rectified this after early reviews, and I am glad to see them learning, this is a clear example of why they are necessary.


Was this review helpful?

It’s hard to say I liked or disliked this as true to the myths and medieval nature of these legends,the women are playthings of men, simply puppets to pull along and any strong women well they must be witches and evil. Independence must be overthrown and made to submit, women who are abused are whores. This book gives a voice to them. This book is thoroughly researched and gives a voice to these women, but we don’t get anything except this, they are still controlled, manipulated, tortured and it’s sad because it’s truth. So it’s hard to say I enjoyed this, I couldn’t do anything but take my time with it, however it is very interesting, well written but it’s not so something I will read again , for my own well being. It’s definitely a realistic feminist retelling of Arthurian legend, but don’t expect happy endings

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Was this review helpful?

I am always excited to read a retelling, and this female-centric Arthurian story sounded right up my alley.
The tale is told by Nimue, a Fair Folk hiding in Queen Ygraine's household. She protects the women of the house - Ygraine, Morgana and Guinevere from the scheming of the men, namely Merlin and Uther Pendragon.
McKenna's writing was a particular highlight of the tale for me. Her writing is so vivid that it was easy to picture the scenes and the characters. She bought battles to life and even made me hungry with the descriptions of food!
I loved how McKenna gave the women of the story their voices, and showed the impact they had on the events and people. It is not an easy read, but it is empowering. Highly recommend.

Was this review helpful?

Rating: 3 - 3.5 ⭐

First of all, thank you to Angry Robot Books and NetGalley for this ARC! This review was written by me voluntarily.

It is a challenge for me to finish this book and to write a review of it because I have to take quite a number of things into consideration. In my opinion, this book is geared toward readers that are not really familiar with the legend of King Arthur (including myself) because for me, the plot is quite detailed. I do know some of the characters beforehand but I don’t really know their background stories. At first, I thought the story will be told in four POVs which are by each woman but it is told by Nimue so I think that she is the true main character of this retelling. However, the way the story is told is more into the female characters’ perspective or side which is for me interesting. For me, the challenge of reading this maybe lies with me because it is tough for me to finish this book, like most of the time, I have to take a break after reading a chapter but I don’t really grasp the exact reason for that. Lastly, if you are interested in reading a retelling or reimagined books based on legends and fairy tales, especially from the perspectives of side characters, this book is maybe for you.

Was this review helpful?

I really enjoyed The Cleaving. The setting and the characters were absolutely enchanting. It took me a while to warm up to Nimue as a point of view character, but once I did, I found I absolutely loved seeing this story through her eyes.

(Also, I know, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover is gorgeous!)

Was this review helpful?

I am not big in Arthurian Myths and I think this book did a wonderful job of introducing me to it.
Before I started reading the publisher sent out an email disclosing trigger warnings and I hesitated to pick it up but ultimately I did. I was very thankful to the publisher for doing so.
I did struggle a little with the reading due to the heavy topics mentioned but not with the writing itself.
Overall it was a good story and I would recommend reading it if you're okay with the triggers mentioned.

Was this review helpful?

3⭐️— The idea of the story from Nimue’s perspective in this book captured my curious heart immediately. I do expect that it would be some sort of sisterhood and woman empowerment in the historical and fantasy sense. Even though it was not as good as I thought but the political movement in this book deserves applause!

The story began a long way before Arthur is a King. The beginning of this story starts with Ygraine and her husband (I already forgot the name) having a regular marriage as King and Queen, however, when it comes to making the Uther itself, some political sense comes to mind, and threatened each other. Merlin, the greatest sorcerer at that time who also can see the future, holds dear the plan of making that certain man “The Great King”. However, Nimue knew about that and tried her best to help Ygraine and stop Arthur. The interesting story began when Nimue comes back from the exiled and showed up on Arthur’s doorstep knowing that Morgana has a magical sense in her blood.

The Issues:
①Clothes and appearance as symbols, mostly clothes known as fashion symbols as well as the status of wealth. In this book, the clothes also define as the emotion and the status of people but not as a fashion. For example, as pointed out mainly in this book; showing up your hair without anything covering your head, will label you as a whore.
②Male or Men always feel inferior, not a surprise or shocking event because male always has their own pride to behold. And in this book, the egoism and pride they had have its own cruel way to the world. Simultaneously known as a man’s word was law. Therefore, even though when the ruler itself is a woman, they are still seen as a lower standard-the woman. Even then, when the negotiation comes, the woman cannot have their own voices.
③Don’t send a man to do a woman’s job.
④The Motherhood, whether likes it or not, motherhood feeling on a woman always comes up when it comes to their own child. In this case, even though Ygraine holds a grudge about how she got Arthur as her son in the first place, she still wanted to keep Arthur safe at all cost.
⑤Fame vs the Unknown, well, I know this was a shocking event when it comes to Merlin and Nimue. As I know so far, Nimue is much more powerful than Merlin, but I have no idea she is that powerful. Even Merlin can be beaten up by Nimue itself when Nimue barely uses her own magic threads. However, it was indeed odd because Merlin, the greatest sorcerer of all time can even be defeated by some mere sorcerer.
⑥The Opposite Ruler, Uther known as “The Dictator” to my liking, Arthur has his own way to rule the Kingdom, he would like to make the other person in the round table he had as equal. It is also proof that sometimes, the apples fall a bit far from the trees.
⑦The Different ways of Death, hanged or burned. When it comes to someone who had magic and is a woman, it must be sure to be burned. Because in this book clearly mentioned that if a woman hanged, a male could see something under the skirt. It was also proof of which point of view this book wanted to be. Because it showed up that male is a perverted human but it doesn’t mean that female is not either.
⑧Brothers different treatment and Jealousy. Every parent will always have their own favorite child even though they always denied upfront but deep down, they would know which one is their favorite. It makes the siblings feeling of jealousy towards each other and makes the crumble of household sometimes.

The Characters, I do not have any favorite or some well-known character that piqued my interest. They have their own unique way of certain storylines but they were not out of place or some sort. Then the shocking part is some character has an eye-opener on me while reading it and gave me the vibes of “Holy, I had no idea that he/ she is that disgraceful” or something. The writing is not quite making me bored even though some part does confuse me because of the words chosen. However, for the historical genre, this book is quite relaxing to read. Also, since it was picked from Nimue's point of view, many things I had no knowledge of because mostly, the book or the story about Arthur and the Great Table or whatever the title is, always has Arthur and Merlin's point of view. Then, this book has its own plus point from me. The Storyline, is damn well written because it just goes with the flow and the claimed feminist retelling did a great job of delivering in its own way! Also, the magic in this book is well known as everything comes with a price which not many authors can deliver this well. GOOD JOB! The main moral of the story and the main meaning of Excalibur. It has me hooked on the last story in this book. It was a great and laughing matter to me because I did not expect these at all. The reason behind it, was those three women or I could say four of them

To conclude, I like this book even though it took me long enough to read it because I have a few times a day when my work wasn’t on the way. This book has delivered in its own style about feminism Arthur retelling as well as from different points of view that we knew. It is refreshing and relaxing despite some unfamiliar words, too many characters' names to be remembered, and the political sense that has my brain wrecked sometimes. However, this book if it was compared to the other historical about Arthur and Excalibur, I like this one better because it hits differently and it got varian of emotional feelings on the surface.

Thank you Netgalley for providing me e-arc of this book and giving me the privilege to read it before the publication date. Also, I would like to apologize to give the full review one month after the publication.

Was this review helpful?

I’ve been loving the Greek myth retellings by the likes of Pat Barker and Madelaine Miller – so when this offering caught my eye, I was really excited at the prospect of this one. After all, one of my favourite childhood books was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – I had a beautiful copy, complete with stunning pictures. But, as ever, the women in this story were simply there as ornamentation. Or those, like Morgana, were derided as evil and unnatural for taking a hand in their own destiny.

This version of Arthur’s story is told by Nimue, one of the Fair Folk, or fae. Unlike most of her kind, she has somehow ended up as part of Ygraine’s household, living alongside mortals and keeping her magical powers as small as she can. Where she encounters another of her kind, who isn’t remotely discrete – Merlin. Counsellor to the violent and ambitious Uther Pendragon, Merlin uses his powers to manoeuvre Pendragon into the position of High King, claiming that otherwise the country will be overwhelmed by wild magic of the worst sort. He’s seen it in a vision…

However, as Nimue already knows, actions have consequences – and Merlin’s meddling has a horrible outcome for poor Ygraine, who ends up bearing Uther a son. Nimue does the best she can to protect Ygraine and her youngest daughter, Morgana, from the fallout of Uther’s bid for power – and the beginnings of the legend of Arthur comes into being. What struck me this time around was the violence pervading the whole story. And just how much the women in it are utterly disregarded. McKenna’s vivid descriptions of the clothing, food and daily routine of high-born women of the time brings this medieval setting to life. I also loved her description of the battles. Her expertise in medieval weaponry shows in the brutal hand to hand fighting – and the terrible injuries sustained despite armour, and sometimes because of it.

I tore through this one, finding it difficult to put down. And if you enjoyed The Silence of the Girls or Circe – then grab a copy of this one. You’ll thank me if you do. While I obtained an arc of The Cleaving from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

Was this review helpful?

Nimue is one of the hidden folk, hiding in plain sight as the attendant of Queen Ygraine of Cornwall, using her magic in secret to protect her mistress. Although the sorcerer Merlin is also one of the hidden people,he does not respect their ways, using his magic to serve his own ambitions for power through the figure of King Uther Pendragon. Nimue and Merlin use their magic to further to aims of their mortal wards: Nimue seeks to protect Ygraine, Morgana and Guinevere while Merlin seeks to control Uther and Arthur for his own ends.

The Cleaving is a well researched retelling of Arthurian legend told from the point of view of the sorceress Nimue. The Cleaving centres the women of Camelot and shows how the kingdom of Camelot was not so idyllic for the women of legend as it was for the men.

Was this review helpful?

This is a solid Arthurian retelling. The publisher's description is a little misleading. The book is told entirely through Nimue's perspective. Nimue protects Ygraine, Morgana and Guinevere from the machinations of the men around them. The men in this book are at best incompetent and at worst megalomaniacs.

Overall I very much enjoyed this book. It's well paced and the characters and plot are very interesting. It's not Mists of Avalon, but what is?

Was this review helpful?

Painful stories that offer more voice are not always the reading escapes that one might have hoped for. I can appreciate these stories and why they need to be told, but I struggled to make it through. I hope this book connects with the more classic fantasy audience that I know would love it. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity with the title.

Was this review helpful?