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This is the second volume in Bradshaw's trilogy, continuing the story of Gwalchmai (Gawain) and Bradshaw’s delivers a riveting story, which is enhanced by a nuanced and heartfelt reading by Nicole Quinn, who imbues the tale with an Irish tone that adds to the pleasure of this story (if you decide to also pursue the audio version). Bradshaw does not repeat her formula of telling the story from Gwalchmai’s point of view, but rather spins the narrative angle to his aspiring servant, an endearing farmer’s son called Rhys, who comes across as a bit of Sancho Panza. Although there are description of battles and magic, Bradshaw wisely keeps these to a minimum and the novel hovers close to the classic status of a Mary Stewart retelling.
Bradshaw is at her best when she tells a love story and here we have two woven together, each with their own outcomes. The backdrop of a tragic romance between Gwalchmai and Elidan serves as a remarkable contrast against the simpler warmth of Rhys and Eivlin. At the heart of this novel, in the truest Arthurian fashion, is a quest. Gwalchmai’s grail is a lost love whom he has wronged and for which he hopes to regain. There is something nobly solitary and even distant in the depiction of Gwalchmai seeking our Elidan. Bradshaw’s depiction of Elidan as someone who is not necessarily beautiful in the physical sense will remind lovers of Arthurian lore a nod to Ragnelle from the story of Gawain’s marriage. “She it was that made herself beautiful, not the beauty given by nature.” By the end of the novel, I found myself in love with this character. Gwalchmai will also have elements of Malory’s violent Gawain, but Bradshaw maintains the heroic aspect of the earlier legends. This is still the echo of a hero who is the Gawain of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
While, along with other readers, I liked this novel better than the first one, I was still left a bit wanting as the novel is a shorter one with the promise of much more story to tell. I will eagerly read the last novel of this trilogy, but am a bit apprehensive as the narrator changes once more and I really want to know more about how Gwalchmai’s story unfolds, but after having read the first two, I feel the contemporary Arthurian canon is the richer for having Bradshaw’s novels in it.
Stars Overall: 4 Narration: 4 Story: 5
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.