On the path toward greatness, even a hero makes mistakes. Armed with his magical sword and otherworldly horse, Gwalchmai proves himself the most feared and faithful warrior of Arthur's noble followers. But while defending the kingdom, he commits a grave offense against the woman he loves, leading her to disappear from his life and haunt his memories. With his trusted servant, Rhys, a commonsense peasant, Gwalchmai tries to find her in the Kingdom of Summer, where Arthur has sent him. But an unexpected and most malevolent force of evil and darkness is loose - that of his mother, the witch-queen Morgawse - and Gwalchmai finds that the secrets of his past may deny him peace... In the second book of Gillian Bradshaw's critically acclaimed trilogy, Sir Gawain comes to life as Gwalchmai, startlingly human yet fantastically heroic.
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Everyone is somewhat familiar with the Arthurian legends and the story of the King and the Knights of the Round Table. Far from a very familiar feel, although presenting many of the characters in a new and different way, Gillian Bradshaw has retold the familiar story with several new twists, all unique and refreshing, that make for a wonderful story.
In the start of this story we are told of Gwalchmai’s (Sir Gawain) is starting a quest to find a long lost love that he wronged, Elidan. Used to set up the story Gwalchmai’s distraction and rather dry retelling of the history leave us with only his perspective, and while his regret is evident I most certainly would have appreciated seeing the events in real time, rather than in this retelling.
Gwalchmai’s travels bring him to stay with Rhys’ family, where dazzled with the knight and the possibility of more, he asks to sign on as his servant. From here, the story starts to gain traction with Rhys gaining in confidence and knowledge as the story unfolds. Particularly apt is Rhys’ ability in narrating the story, presenting information with his own observations, often spot on.
Unlike any other Arthurian Tale that I have read, this story manages to present a twist to the story that makes it feel very plausible and real. The world of Arthurian Britain is described with great detail and beautiful prose – sure to please history fans. There are two love stories here, that conceivably be stretched to three if the early infatuation and fascination that Rhys had with Arthur’s warband could be counted. A brief love soon cleared of its shine as Rhys is quickly learning the consequences of all actions.
Narration is provided by Nicole Quinn who aptly manages the often twisted pronunciation of names and places, many carrying the feel of the often-unpronounceable Welsh. Her own accent, and lack of great pretention in presenting the various characters, her smooth transitions and seamless transition from prose to poetic are easy to listen to and present the story with flair.
Layered with description, imagined history, danger, sorcery and the classic good versus evil conflict that fuels the story of Arthur, this is a wonderful twist on the familiar story. Best read after Hawk of May to have the full understanding, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale.
I received an AudioBook copy of the title via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
In Kingdom of Summer, Gillian Bradshaw’s second novel in her DOWN THE LONG WIND trilogy, Gwalchmai (the Welsh version of Sir Gawain) is traveling Britain in search of Elidan, a noblewoman he fell in love with off screen. He wronged her eight years previously and hasn’t seen her since. (We didn’t see any of this happen in the previous novel, Hawk of May, but he tells us the story near the beginning of Kingdom of Summer.)
During his travels, Gwalchmai stays with the family of the farmer who helped him in the last book. Rhys, one of the farmer’s sons, is fascinated by King Arthur and his band of warriors, so he asks Gwalchmai if he can be his servant. Gwalchmai accepts him and takes Rhys to Camelot before they set out again to be King Arthur’s ambassador to King Maelgwn, who Arthur distrusts.
When they get to Maelgwn’s court they discover that Gwalchmai’s parents, King Lot and the evil Queen Morgawse, and Gwalchmai’s brother Medraut are there trying to stir up dissent against Arthur. Gwalchmai and Rhys try to foil their plans, but Morgawse, full of hate and power, is a formidable and dangerous opponent. Together Gwalchmai and Rhys must use all their wits, and the help of others, just to survive. Gwalchmai learns a lot about himself and his family and, in the end, gets some answers about the woman he loves.
Like Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer is a well told and often beautiful recreation of part of the Arthurian legend. The pace is nice, the prose is lovely, and there are some gorgeous descriptions of Britain (especially the wild uncanny regions of Powys) along with some pretty poetry. The good guys (e.g., Arthur, Gwalchmai, Rhys) are easy to root for and it’s nice to see that Gwalchmai isn’t the perfect servant of “The Light” that he wants to be. He makes big mistakes and, because he does, he’s easier to love. It’s also nice to see Rhys, who was so enamored with Arthur’s warband, realize that there are consequences to killing. He grows up quickly when he has to face some ethical dilemmas. Morgawse is still too-evil-to-believe, but that’s a fairly common interpretation of Arthur’s half-sister.
I can’t understand Bradshaw’s choice to have Gwalchmai tell us the story of his love affair with Elidan. This would have made an emotional and exciting story if we had witnessed it rather than heard about it. As it is, the story is told succinctly and dryly and it seems like so much potential lost. Gwalchmai’s life story should have been stretched to four books instead of three and this love story should have been book two. (Never before have I advocated for lengthening a trilogy!)
Readers who enjoyed Hawk of May are sure to like Kingdom of Summer, too. I’m looking forward to the third book, In Winter’s Shadow. I’m listening to Nicole Quinn’s narration of Sourcebooks’ recent audio version of Bradshaw’s trilogy. I would have preferred a male narrator for these first two books, since they’re written from men’s perspectives, but Quinn has a charming British accent that suits the story well.