|Title: Kingdom of Summer|
Author: Gillian Bradshaw
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) 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. .
Continuing on with my habit of reading Gawain stories...for some reason I am uninspired to read For Camelot's Honor. I'll get to it eventually. Maybe it's because what I really want to know is how Agravain and Laurel get together. I already know them from Camelot's Banner and Camelot's Shadow and they seem an unlikely couple, but of Sarah Zettel's Paths to Camelot quartet, Camelot's Blood is the one book I don't own and can't seem to get my hands on. To make it up to you, here instead is the second book in Gillian Bradshaw's Down the Long Wind trilogy. I reviewed the first book, Hawk of May, several months ago. Whether I will get around to reading the third book, In Winter's Shadow, is a difficult question because it's the tale of Camelot's downfall told from Guinevere's perspective rather than anyone connected with Gawain, and from what I understand doesn't really focus on him. In short, I seem to be unable to complete the reviews of a series...for now. Stay tuned!
Warning for Spoilers
Gillian Bradshaw took a risk in introducing an original character to tell this story of Gwalchmai’s lost love and eventual defeat of his mother. It works, and it doesn’t. It necessitates spending a lot of time introducing the new character and catching him up on the events of Hawk of May, which slows the pacing, especially in the beginning. However, Gwalchmai would not have been a good narrator for this story—he’s too down on himself and having him constantly telling the reader everything bad is his fault would probably get tedious. The narrator needs to be someone a little more grounded and sensible. So it’s a bit of a quandary, and Bradshaw made the best of it. Also, this is a story about Gawain’s love life that is not the Loathly Lady, which for this version works well.
Rhys, the son of a Christian man Gwalchmai met briefly in Hawk of May, meets Gwalchmai out looking for a woman he had wronged years previously. Rhys convinces Gwalchmai to take him to Camlann as a servant. They go to Camlann where Rhys gets to meet several characters from the previous book. Arthur sends them on a peace mission to Dumnonia, where they discover that Morgawse, Lot and Medraut have gotten there first. Gwalchmai understandably freaks out and spends the next few weeks avoiding his mother and brother. Agravain arrives to greet his parents, who he hasn’t seen in over a decade, and Lot promptly dies thanks to Morgawse’s magic. Medraut devotes his time trying to divide the loyalties of Rhys and the other knight accompanying Gwalchmai away from Gwalchmai. He mostly does this by convincing them that because Gwalchmai gets “battle fever” and can’t remember what happens during his fights, he’s actually crazy. The companion knight falls for it; Rhys does not. So Medraut plots with Morgawse’s servant girl Eivlin to kidnap Rhys.
Rhys wakes up in a tiny hut where Morgawse tries to use her magic to break his will. However, through his loyalty to Gwalchmai and his Christian faith she is unable to do so. Rhys and Eivlin—whom Rhys is rapidly beginning to have feelings for—escape, but Morgawse’s magic catches up with them and curses Eivlin. Rhys conducts an impromptu baptism for her and then rushes her to the nearest shelter, which turns out to conveniently be the convent where Gwalchmai’s former love (the one he spent the whole first part of the book looking for) is hiding with his son. Medraut turns up and hauls Rhys back into captivity. They arrive just in time to find Gwalchmai confronting Morgawse about Rhys’s whereabouts. A magical battle between Light and Dark ensues, which Gwalchmai wins. Morgawse is rendered insensate and Gwalchmai and Rhys rush back to the convent to save Eivlin. Gwalchmai confronts his former love, Lady Elidan, but she in her stubborn pride refuses to forgive him or to tell him they have a son together. However, Gwalchmai still finds some peace knowing that she is alive and as happy as she can be. They return to Dumnonia only to find Agravain has gone crazy and killed Morgawse when he found out she was responsible for Lot’s death. Medraut in his own grief has twisted what happened in his mind so Gwalchmai killed Morgawse. He runs off, leaving Gwalchmai, Agravain, Rhys and Eivlin to head back to Camlann. Rhys and Eivlin decide to marry and both will join Gwalchmai on his adventures.
Gwalchmai (Gawain): Several years have passed since Hawk of May and Gwalchmai is now a proven warrior of Arthur’s house. He has everything he dreamed of in the previous book. However, he still has a tendency to focus on his personal flaws rather than the fact that his heart is in the right place—he is still convinced that he is inwardly bad despite being a warrior of the Light for years. He blames himself for just about everything that goes wrong, except he has the good sense to refuse to take the blame for Morgawse’s death no matter what Medraut says. He is a gentle person and a good diplomat; if he could, he would avoid hurting anyone but because of the violent world he lives in his skills as a warrior are the thing most people admire about him. He often makes decisions based on feelings rather than taking the time to think; levelheaded, practical Rhys balances him out in this story.
Morgawse: Still the Queen of Air and Darkness, a human body inhabited by an evil demon of some kind. Rhys is able to resist her due to his Christian faith and eventually helps Gwalchmai bring about her defeat. Completely evil and treacherous, she is able to turn on anyone at a moment’s notice. She fights Arthur and Gwalchmai because she is an agent of the Dark, not particularly because she resents Arthur for his parentage (though that is her excuse since Arthur is one of Uther’s bastards who happened to be a brilliant general and took the Pendragon title by force rather than inheriting it).
Medraut (Mordred): Now a grown man (the last time we saw him, he was still a child), he is completely corrupted by Morgawse. He has learned much of her dark magical arts and is her assistant in all things. His devotion to his mother is so complete that he is utterly lost when she dies—after accusing Gwalchmai of murdering her despite Agravain actually committing the deed, he vanishes, presumably to go to Camlann. Pushing him over the brink is the discovery that he is Arthur’s son and Morgawse never told him until just before her death. Arthur had told Gwalchmai at the end of the previous book, but faithful Gwalchmai has kept the secret closely guarded in all the years since.
Arthur: Now settled comfortably as the High King, though there are still some who would challenge his reign. His “family” (the Round Table) has replaced Gwalchmai’s birth family as the people Gwalchmai looks to for acceptance and respect. He is now married to Gwynhwyfar, mentioned briefly in the previous book.
Agravain: Still hotheaded and impulsive, and still a bully of those beneath him. He is not very pleasant to Rhys in the times the young servant encounters him. It is obvious he still idolizes his father Lot despite not having seen him since he was fourteen; when he discovers Morgawse had a hand in Lot’s death he kills her despite the fact that she is comatose after her magical encounter with Gwalchmai. Horrified at himself afterward, he is also teetering on the brink of sanity at the end of the book.
Lot: He doesn’t appear much, though his reunion with Gwalchmai is interesting since Gwalchmai left the Orcades the disgraced middle son who was more bard than warrior, and ever since has built a reputation as an unbeatable fighter. To Morgawse, Lot is disposable despite their thirty or so years of marriage, since she easily kills him when the offer of an alliance with another kingdom through her marriage comes along.
Bedwyr (Bedivere): Arthur’s war leader, a gentle and quiet man who is now Arthur’s closest counselor when in the previous book he was the cavalry commander. Not Lancelot in disguise, but the actual Bedivere, and like Gwalchmai he serves the Light.
Cei (Kay): Arthur’s infantry leader. Rhys likes him for his sense of humor despite his temper. He, Gwalchmai and Agravain share living quarters at Camlann.
Gwyn (Guinglain): Gwalchmai’s young son with his former love Elidan. Gwyn longs to be a warrior despite his mother’s disapproval and her attempts to raise him to be a scholar. The boy also doesn’t know he is the son of a noble lord and lady. Rhys finds out Gwyn’s parentage but is sworn to secrecy by Elidan; Gwalchmai has no idea he has a son, though he briefly meets the boy at the end of the book and encourages his warrior dreams.
Suffers from a slow beginning but otherwise a fairly enjoyable read. It was nice to see all our favorite characters from Hawk of May several years later and to see what Gwalchmai has been able to accomplish. It is good to see Morgawse defeated since she has hung over Gwalchmai’s life so much, but we can see the downfall of Arthur beginning in Medraut heading to Camlann, likely to cause chaos when he arrives.