Spear by Nicola Griffith is a gorgeous queer Arthurian novella out from Tor.com in April 2022. And if it sounds even the slightest bit like something you’d enjoy, this is a book to preorder now. It blew my mind as I read it on the day I received it. This slim volume manages to capture its reader and tell a complete story in just under two hundred pages, something which many longer books don’t achieve. This is accompanied by a beautiful cover and a series of interior illustrations by Rovina Cai, who is one of the best fantasy illustrators working right now. I could go on and on about how much I love seeing illustrations in books aimed at an adult audience, but that’s not what this review is about, so let’s just leave it at “they are beautiful and add to the story.”
Griffith manages to expertly craft a rich medieval world without overloading the reader and evoking the comforting familiarity of the Arthurian stories her audience will have grown up with, while at the same time subtly weaving in references to a more diverse Early Medieval world, one that is often overlooked. As a medieval historian in a past life, this is the book of my heart. It presents the queer and diverse world I see the middle ages as, and reading this has brought me so much joy. I spent most of 2020 reading every Arthurian retelling I could get my hands on, and believe me when I say that Spear is truly one of the best.
Peretur, the main character, is based on the many legends and versions of Parcival, one of the more well-known figures of the Arthurian corpus. Except, this Peretur is a woman. Because of how she interacts with the court, she is perceived as a man, which opens up an interesting dialogue about gender roles, perceptions – and whether heroes and heroines are really the same thing. Griffith makes it clear that to her, the two are entirely different, not least in the tropes that are employed to write about them – and Peretur, while female, is a hero.
In addition to that, the writing is both poetic and accessible, managing to tread that balance between craft and commercial appeal. While the story itself is well-rounded and perfectly contained at the length it is, I would have loved for Spear to be far longer, just so I could spend more time in the world and reading Griffith’s writing. And that’s the highest compliment I can give a book.