Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me a copy of Gwen and Art Are Not In Love in exchange for an honest review.

Gwen, the sharp-witted Princess of England, and Arthur, a future duke and known rake, have been betrothed from childhood despite their mutual disdain. Their strained relationship takes a turn when Gwen catches Art kissing a boy, and Art discovers Gwen’s feelings for Bridget, the kingdom’s only female knight. To protect each other’s secrets, they must convince the world they’re in love.

Their plan gets complicated, however, as Gwen grows closer to Bridget and Art falls for Gabriel, Gwen’s studious brother. Will they be brave enough to change the course of history forever?

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My reaction to Gwen and Art Are Not In Love is complicated. On the one hand, it’s a fun, character-driven alternate history with sweet, queer romance. On the other, it attempts to tackle some pretty dark themes without going much deeper than surface level. So, does author Lex Croucher tie it all together?

Full of fun, quippy dialogue and natural conversations, the comparisons to Heartstopper and Red, White and Royal Blue are accurate. Teen shenanigans are always fun, especially in such a unique setting. As their relationships developed, I found myself rooting for this unlikely group of friends. The romances were a bit surface-level but still sweet and heartwarming.

As for comparisons to A Knight’s Tale, Croucher successfully puts a modern spin on historical England. Taking place over 100 years after King Arthur, England is still medieval, but royals rule from Camelot, and cultists believe that King Arthur — and magic — will return to the world. Every interaction between Arthur and his bodyguard/best friend reminded me of William (Heath Ledger) and Wat (Alan Tudyk).

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Integrating real-world elements, however, is where Gwen and Art Are Not In Love begins falling apart. Arthur is Iranian, and Bridget is Thai, and there are references to other countries and cultures, but this almost seems like an afterthought. Any deeper elements, like Arthur’s abusive father and his resulting drinking problem, are mentioned and passed over quickly.

The political tensions in Camelot seem tacked on as well, leading to a massive shift in tone three-quarters of the way through. Suddenly, this sweet, character-driven teen rom-com turns into a battlefield bloodbath. The battle gore and injuries are detailed and heavy, and it’s a jarring change after the rest of the book.

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Gwen and Art Are Not In Love is full of fun, likable characters and queer romance with royal flair. While the pacing and tone are a little uneven, it’s overall an enjoyable read. Just don’t go into it expecting only fluff.

Gwen and Art Are Not In Love comes out on November 28 and is available for preorder from your local independent bookstore or Bookshop.org.

TW: abuse, blood, alcohol/addiction, death, grief, homophobia, injury/injury detail, medical trauma, panic attacks/disorders, religious bigotry, sexism/misogyny, suicidal thoughts, violence, war

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