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M. T. Anderson – Yvain: The Knight of the Lion

June 15, 2017

LibraryThing Early Reviewers28. Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M. T. Anderson; illustrated by Andrea Offermann (2017)

Length: 144 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction; Graphic Novel

Started/Finished: 29 May 2017

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? A graphic novel interpretation of Arthurian legend sounded interesting, and M.T. Anderson knows his way around historical fiction.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 07 March 2017.

Kill a knight, wed his
wife, then slay a dragon to
make her not hate you.

Summary: Based on Chrétien de Troyes’s 1170 poem Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion (and using text almost exclusively from that poem), Yvain is a Knight of the Round Table who travels out to a magical pool to avenge the defeat of one of his compatriots. Yvain slays the knight who defends the pool, only to find out that he was the lord of the nearby castle. With the aid of the sorceress Lunette, Yvain escapes, but not before he falls for Lady Laudine, the grieving widow. Laudine marries Yvain in exchange for his defense of the pool, but he must first prove himself worthy through feats of valor. However, Yvain gets so caught up in his knightly deeds that he forgets to return home in the allotted time, losing his wife’s favor, and forcing him to find a way to retain his honor and regain his wife’s affection.

Review: Although the story of Yvain has been around for almost as long as the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, I was unfamiliar with it prior to reading this book. On one level, this is a pretty straighYtforward story of knightly adventures – Yvain faces masked knights and dragons and monsters and evil and cunning lords that he must defeat by strength of arms and by the strength of his virtue (symbolized by the lion that he rescues and thereafter becomes his steadfast companion. Because lions clearly only befriend the virtuous.) Judging from the author’s note and the back cover copy, Anderson is trying to weave a separate layer throughout the tales of Yvain’s quest, looking at how these kinds of knightly acts affected the lives of the people around them, in particular the two women, Lunette and Laudine. It’s an interesting perspective, although it’s hard to judge how successful it is, largely because it’s not quite clear how much of Lunette and Laudine’s story is direct from the source material, and how much (if any) has been added by Anderson. They certainly have more distinct personalities, and are allowed more emotional range and more control over events than I would have expected of a story from a purely medieval perspective.

The art in this volume was somewhat of a mixed bag for me. It varies between very detailed in some panels and very rough and sketchy in others, and the inconsistency bothered me. I think the art serves the story best during action scenes, and for setting the tone and the atmosphere of the medieval world. I found it less effective during dialogue, and in terms of showing emotion in tight shots on people’s faces. Which ultimately may be why I enjoyed the “knightly adventures” parts of the book much more than the “courtly love” parts. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I like Arthurian legend, but hadn’t heard this story, and hadn’t really approached those legends in graphic novel form before, so it was worth reading for that. I enjoyed reading it, but ultimately I’m not sure who exactly I’d recommend it to — those who like Mouse Guard, maybe?

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First Line: I shall speak of love… and of hate.

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