Gwen and Art Are Not In Love (Lex Croucher) – Book Review

Gwen and Arthur are a match made in… mutual loathing?

This forms the premise of Lex Croucher’s Gwen and Art Are Not in Love, a modernist YA take on queer relationships that centres two nobles, withdrawn princess Gwendoline and aimless profligate Arthur, as they try to navigate a political marriage, court politics, and a possible uprising. Think underrated classic The Swan Princess and make it queer, effectively.

Glibness aside, the setting is a little trickier to explain as it takes place in a version of Britain where the legends of King Arthur and his cohort are historical precedent and also legend of centuries past. Arthuriana steeps the novel, with Gwen and Art both lamenting how they’ve been pushed together since birth, despite despising one another (thanks to nostalgia) and despite them both being incredibly gay (thanks to, well, homophobia).

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First things first, the rife Heartstopper comparisons that abound are unfair to both Gwen and Art and Nick and Charlie. Both are largely wholesome stories about queer identity, love, and coming-of-age narratives, but Gwen and Art is easily more mature and serious, blending together troubling family dynamics, painful character growth, and serious peril within its larger narrative of candy-coated romance (Gwen pines for the only female knight at the local tournament, while Arthur begins to fall for Gwen’s studious brother and heir to the throne).

Gwen and Art is full to the brim with queer joy, its biggest and truest selling point, but it is a solid historical YA piece too. There is war and bloodshed and death, sometimes graphically so, so the more discerning reader should take a peek at content warnings beforehand. Fortunately, however, it tonally gels, and any seasoned young-adult reader will find plenty to appreciate, including the neat touches of historical accuracy that help excuse some of the more fanciful elements of the story.

Best of all is Gwen and Art‘s sense of humour, with Croucher finding places for razor-sharp barbs and broad laughs in plenty of situations as Gwen and Arthur alternately fight, bicker, commiserate, and befriend one another. There’s even some greater modern-day pop culture references hidden within, and more importantly, pop culture references that work within the logic of the novel (there is a Riverdale joke, several layers deep in online pop culture literacy, that made me laugh so loudly it startled a flock of birds outside my apartment).

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The best comparison I can come up with are the books by the Lady Janies (a triumvirate of stalwart YA authors Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows), who seek to rewrite the fates of famous historical women (such as Lady Jane Grey, Calamity Jane, and Mary Queen of Scots) with more upbeat, empowered endings. Gwen and Art is equally frivolous with history, and pleasingly so; it aims to tell a story worthy of stirring the heart, not for citing as part of a history paper (there is one anachronous use of the word ‘psychopath’, for example, which is a giggle), and succeeds enormously.

Good-natured and good-hearted in equal measure, Gwen and Art manages to balance a lot of spinning plates, managing to pull off a screwball comedy, several romances, a thrilling battle or two, and meaningful character development for all of its major protagonists. Hugely entertaining and heartwarming, Gwen and Art is a triumphant debut for Croucher as a young adult writer, and one they should be more than proud of.

Gwen and Art Are Not In Love is out on 11th May from Bloomsbury YA.

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