The Winter Knight by Jes Battis
Arthurian legends are reborn in this upbeat queer urban fantasy with a mystery at its heart
The knights of the round table are alive in Vancouver, but when one winds up dead, it’s clear the familiar stories have taken a left turn. Hildie, a Valkyrie and the investigator assigned to the case, wants to find the killer — and maybe figure her life out while she’s at it. On her short list of suspects is Wayne, an autistic college student and the reincarnation of Sir Gawain, who these days is just trying to survive in a world that wasn’t made for him. After finding himself at the scene of the crime, Wayne is pulled deeper into his medieval family history while trying to navigate a new relationship with the dean’s charming assistant, Burt — who also happens to be a prime murder suspect. To figure out the truth, Wayne and Hildie have to connect with dangerous forces: fallen knights, tricky runesmiths, the Wyrd Sisters of Gastown. And a hungry beast that stalks Wayne’s dreams.
The Winter Knight is a propulsive urban fairy tale and detective story with queer and trans heroes that asks what it means to be a myth, who gets to star in these tales, and ultimately, how we make our stories our own.
CONTRIBUTOR(S): Gail Shalan (Narrator), Dylan Kiedman (Narrator), Nicky Endres (Narrator), Lee Osorio (Narrator), Gabra Zackman (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Penguin Audio
LENGTH: 368 pages (12 hours 57 minutes)
GENRE: Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Trans Main Character(s), Ace/Aro Main Character(s).
THE WINTER KNIGHT is an Arthurian murder mystery told through several narrators, primarily through a Valkyrie (Hildie) and the current incarnation of Sir Gawain (Wayne). One of my favorite things about Arthurian retellings is that due to the elasticity of their cannon, they absorb and except the existence of other entries in a way that retellings of other stories often would be harder pressed to do. One such case is Vera’s identity as a professor who discusses, among other things, Guinevere's place in the Arthurian cannon, all whilst her students are unaware that she is the current incarnation of that queen.
I enjoyed this, and had an excellent time. It’s very queer, with canonically neurodivergent characters in a way that is specific to their individual identities. Some parts of this felt very online, but generally in a good way. There are a lot of pop culture references in a way that I think will pin it very precisely to the early 2020's before much more time passes. I tend to read either high fantasy or urban fantasy which only tangentially deals with modern concerns, so this was a bit more contemporary than I generally like. There's a character who felt exactly like a certain someone from the movie KNIVES OUT (2019) so I was able to correctly guess how things would turn out for them.
I like the plot, I like the ending, and I love many of the characters. The first part of the mystery was really good, but how easy it was to guess the trajectory meant towards the end it felt a bit like it was playing cleanup. Then it got to the very end and became excellent, so I'm pleased overall.
If you like very modern queer/neurodivergent Arthurian retellings, don't miss this one!
Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, sexual content, violence.
Moderate CW for grief, stalking, alcohol, alcoholism, murder, death.
Minor CW for bullying, homophobia, fatphobia, toxic relationship, cancer, panic attacks/disorders, mental illness, ableism, parental death.