Monday, March 12, 2012

The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay Book Review

Author: Alex Epstein. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Tradewind Books. ISBN: 9781896580637.
Annotation: After her father is betrayed and murdered by Uter Pendragon, Morgan is exiled to the savage wilderness of Ireland. There, she struggles to survive, hoping to eventually be able to avenge her father’s death and reclaim her place in Brittania.
Personal thoughts: I have always been intrigued by the character of Morgan le Fay, so I was excited to read The Circle Cast. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the novel! Sometimes historical fiction, no matter how interesting, can be a little dry. That was far from the case with this novel. Alex Epstein is clearly a gifted writer in terms of pacing and keeping the plot moving forward. I also found the characters and setting to be very well developed, particularly in Epstein’s portrayal of Morgan as a strong and intelligent warrior. I think this novel has a strong place in the classroom, especially in demonstrating how one female character can be portrayed in so many different lights.
Plot summary: The daughter of a Roman governor, Gorlois, and his beautiful wife, Ygraine, Anna has spent her life in her parents’ British stronghold Din Tagell, reading the classics, learning about the culture of Rome, and being educated by her father in the ways of war. When Anna is eleven-years-old, however, her life changes forever when her father’s friend and ally, powerful warrior Uter Pendragon, betrays and murders Gorlois in order to claim Ygraine as his wife. Fearing for her daughter’s life, Ygraine sends Anna to live in Ireland, telling her adopt the name Morgan and let no one know her true identity lest Uter find out where she is hiding. Morgan soon finds herself living with Ciarnat, her mother’s relative, and chief of the Déisi tribe. The Irish are strange and barbaric to Morgan, who is used to the learning and discipline of the Romans. After Ciarnat’s village is attacked and plundered by a neighboring tribe, Morgan is captured and becomes a slave to Buanann, a wise woman and sorceress living in a lakeside village. Although Buanann is far from warm, she begins to teach Morgan her magic: spells to deceive and gain power. The more Morgan learns, the more she realizes that Buanann’s teachings may hold the key to her returning to Brittania and seeking the revenge she longs for against Uter.
Review:  Written by veteran screenwriter Alex Epstein, The Circle Cast is an intriguing and original take on a character that has appeared in legends and lore for centuries: Morgan le Fay. Although she is traditionally thought of as a seductress and antagonist in Arthurian legend, Epstein goes for another, more uncommon portrayal, turning Morgan into a fierce warrior seeking to avenge her father’s death. Almost from the start of the novel, it is clear that Morgan is a very strong character. Throughout the story, readers will find a lot to be respect about Epstein’s version of Morgan, including her intelligence, bravery, and tenacity. Although she knows to use her beauty as a weapon if necessary, this Morgan is not the temptress she appears to be in more contemporary versions of the tale. Her romance with Irish warrior, Conall, adds a nice element to the story, softening Morgan’s edges a bit, though not diminishing her skills as a strategist and sorceress. There is also a fair amount of history thrown into the novel that would make it an interesting read for the classroom. Overall, The Circle Cast is a thoroughly enjoyable story that can be easily enjoyed by teen and adult readers alike. Fans of Arthurian legend should definitely give this novel a try, as well as those who like strong female characters.  
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: I Am Morgan le Fay by Nancy Springer, Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie, Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter.
Themes:  Morgan le Fay, King Arthur, Arthurian legend, Ireland, England, war, revenge, exile.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from The School Librarian and Historical Novels Review.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions: 
-     Had you heard of Morgan le Fay before reading The Circle Cast? What did you know about her? 
-      Do you think it’s common for strong women in history to be portrayed as temptresses? Why? What other characters in history or legend have been portrayed this way?
-     Why do you think Luan wanted to stay with the Christians? Do you think what she did was right?
-      Do you think Morgan loved Conall? Why or why not?
-       Do you think Morgan got the revenge she wanted? Why or why not?


  1. Never heard of this book before, but it sounds intruiging. I'm watchting the televisionshow 'Camelot' and before this, I never really knew much about her.

    1. I love reading books that haven't received a lot of press because, oftentimes, they are some of my favorites! I love anything related to Camelot and King Arthur, and if you're a fan of it too I think you will like this book! She's definitely a character that has been portrayed in a negative light, but this novel takes a different approach. Enjoy!