Natania Barron is joining us today to talk about her novel, Queen of None. Here’s the publisher’s description:
When Anna Pendragon was born, Merlin prophesied: “Through all the ages, and in the hearts of men, you will be forgotten.”
Married at twelve, and a mother soon after, Anna – the famed King Arthur’s sister – did not live a young life full of promise, myth, and legend. She bore three strong sons and delivered the kingdom of Orkney to her brother by way of her marriage. She did as she was asked, invisible and useful for her name, her status, her dowry, and her womb.
Twenty years after she left her home, Anna returns to Carelon at Arthur’s bidding, carrying the crown of her now-dead husband, Lot of Orkney. Past her prime and confined to the castle itself, she finds herself yet again a pawn in greater machinations and seemingly helpless to do anything about it. Anna must once again face the demons of her childhood: her sister Morgen, Elaine, and Morgause; Merlin and his scheming Avillion priests; and Bedevere, the man she once loved. To say nothing of new court visitors, like Lanceloch, or the trouble concerning her own sons.
Carelon, and all of Braetan, is changing, though, and Anna must change along with it. New threats, inside and out, lurk in the shadows, and a strange power begins to awaken in her. As she learns to reconcile her dark gift, and struggles to keep the power to herself, she must bargain her own strength, and family, against her ambition and thirst for revenge.
What’s Natania’s favorite bit?
I began writing Queen of None with every intention of destroying Sir Lancelot’s character. I’d laid the groundwork in graduate school, after all and was fully prepared to rake this beautiful, annoyingly pure self through the coals in my own Arthurian retelling. That annoying French knight would have his due!
But then, Lanceloch went fishing.
In Queen of None, Anna Pendragon, full-blooded sister to King Arthur, daughter of Uther and Igraine, and mother to Gawain, Gaheris, and Gareth, returns to Carelon after her husband Lot’s death. She has every intention of laying low and avoiding court intrigue.
Of course, Arthur has other ideas. When he falls in love with Lanceloch, recently arrived at court, Arthur marries Anna off to the young du Lac in hopes of keeping them both nearby and in check. Anna is absolutely aware of what has happened and has no illusions of love, fidelity, or even friendship.
Yet slowly, Anna finds herself warming to Lanceloch. She sees his strength, his genuine nature, and desire to strive for purity and goodness, but she also knows that’s a weakness, too. Still, she must use him to her own devices. After helping out her sister Morgen, Anna is given leave to visit her imprisoned aunt Vyvian, the Lady of the Lake, on the condition that she bring Lanceloch along. It’s particularly good for both of them since Lanceloch was raised on the Vyvian’s island as a foster-child.
It was supposed to be an uncomfortable visit. But instead, Lanceloch transforms, and even Anna can’t help but start to fall a little in love with him. Away from the stress of court, Lanceloch becomes childlike in his wonder, narrating stories of his adventures in the woods, and connecting with Anna as he never has before.
When they arrive, Anna anxious at his presence due to the nature of her discussions with her aunt Vyvian, Lanceloch asks… if he can be excused to go fishing.
And so, as Anna and Vyvian discuss their family’s dark secrets and plans to overturn the broken rule of Carelon, Lanceloch swims and fishes and delights in the simplicity of the lake, of nature, and of his momentary freedom. As an avid nature lover, myself, and an angler, I, too, found a surprising kindship with Lanceloch in that moment.
This scene, and Vyvian’s news about who and what Lanceloch really is (I can’t share that because it’s a bit of a spoiler), is a hinge point in the narrative. It’s a happy moment in a book that is very much rooted in the Arthurian concept that the world is progressing and being destroyed at the same time. There is a cost for everything, and some pay more than others. Both Anna and Lanceloch have a lot more in common, and though they never are the romantic heroes the fairy stories would have us believe, they do still connect, and experience joy, and become more than the sum of themselves together through this experience.
Writing a heroine like Anna, who is very much driven by her own desires, it was important that she still connects with people around her. And it was important for me, as a writer, to write through this scene and take a moment to bask in the sun along with Lanceloch, to show the many facets of his personality. Characters must change through a narrative, it’s true, but the changes aren’t always linear. Sometimes having glimpses of what could have been, or what was truly lost, propel the reader forward and make for a far more emotional experience. Lanceloch is not a hero, but he is also not a villain. He is a man of extremes, of passion, and of honor. As Anna says:
How was it possible for such a man to exist in this broken, hollow world? I hoped that Vyvian would help enlighten me in the short time we were together. For if this was going to be the shape of the rest of my life, I was certain I could not bear it.
Surely, Lanceloch had a flaw, at least one, I could use to my advantage. I only saw a man too honorable, too good, too dedicated. Perhaps there lay the answer; perhaps he was a man unable to find the center of the pendulum—all was in extremes.
When he rose, he soared; but I feared what would happen if he should fall.
Natania Barron believes in monsters and hopes you do, too. She’s the author of dozens of short stories, a fistful of novellas, and a growing nest of novels. All of these works contain monsters of one variety of another, but not all of them wear monstrous skins.
Her work has appeared in Weird Tales, EscapePod, Steampunk Tales, Crossed Genres, Bull Spec, and various anthologies. Her third novel, Queen of None, a re-telling of the Arthurian legends through eyes of Arthur’s sister Anna, was hailed by Kirkus Reviews “a captivating look at the intriguing figures in King Arthur’s golden realm.”
When not traveling through imagined worlds, she lives in North Carolina with her family, where she traipses through the forest on a regular basis, bakes incessantly, drinks an inordinate amount of tea, and dreams of someday owning a haunted house of her own.