I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway by Ashley Schumacher. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway tells the story of Maddie, who has grown up moving around the country with her parents on the Renaissance faire circuit. Now, though, it’s been a year since her mother passed away, and she doesn’t like the idea of change anymore. So when she arrives at Stormsworth, her mother’s favorite faire location, to find it entirely remodeled by its new owners, she’s displeased. Even more so when she meets Arthur, the owners’ son, who seems determined to get under her skin with his flirting and lute songs. But when Arthur and his parents ask her to be the princess of the faire, she has to evaluate things, and decide if she can really open herself up to caring again.
I can’t wait for spring now, so I can go to the local medieval fair, and it’s all thanks to reading this book.
I liked Maddie well enough—she’s a sweet girl, and her struggles with grief and body image make her sympathetic and layered. I think the conversations she has with Arthur about being fat, and the way she views herself due to societal pressure, were very well written. The themes of being open to change and working each day to be kind were also nice.
As for the other main character, I have somewhat more mixed feelings about Arthur. Something about his characterization struck me as a little inconsistent. He’s both flirtatious and self-conscious, both cocky and meek. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; people can be multifaceted, of course, but the way it was portrayed with Arthur just kind of felt disjointed sometimes. It was almost like Maddie’s perception of him didn’t always line up with how I saw his actions. He’s not a bad person (I say, as if he’s real), but I just never felt like I got a handle on what he was like.
Another—kind of minor—thing that I didn’t love was Arthur’s strange insistence on referring to Maddie as Gwen about ninety percent of the time. I understand that it’s a reference to the Arthurian legends, but Maddie reminds him multiple times of what her real name is, and he ignores her. It is part of his flirting, but considering he’s generally pretty sweet and mindful of her comfort in many other ways, it seemed really strange. I mean, personally, if someone continued to call me by something else after I’d requested more than once for them to stop, I’d wonder how much they really respected me. But here, it’s not framed as a big deal (even if Maddie never seems to fully own her “Gwen” persona), so maybe I should let it go.
Lastly, I have a problem with the plot structure of this book. The first half of the book has decent pacing and some fun interactions between Maddie and Arthur as they become closer. The second half, however, feels pretty different. There are some rushed arguments that didn’t feel as organic as they should have, and in the last fifty pages, two characters who had only been vaguely referenced show up to create a bit more drama. They weren’t around for nearly long enough to get much of their personalities, and it really didn’t work for me. Even when things were resolved at the end, it didn’t feel earned to me.
All that said, there are still positives. The setting is delightful, unless for some reason you hate Renaissance faires. I liked Maddie’s character arc, going from being self-conscious and closed off to keep her heart safe to opening herself to new experiences, new romance, and a better relationship with her own body. I liked Arthur a little less, though he’s far from a bad or toxic love interest, and was genuinely fun to read about. Several of the side characters, especially Arthur’s dads Martin and Tim, were lovely. And it’s a cute enough romance in general, though I really think the plot structure could have been way improved. But if you like books like Well Met, you would probably have a decent time reading this.
The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway will be published on March 14th, 2023!