Kingdom of Summer: Sir Gawain’s story continues

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsKingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw historical fantasy book reviewsKingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw

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.

Down the Long Wind — (1980-1982) Arthurian fantasy. Publisher: On The Path Toward Greatness, Every Hero Makes a Choice. Legends sing of Sir Gawain, one of the most respected warriors of King Arthur’s reign and one of the greatest champions of all time. But this is not that story. This is the story of Gwalchmai, middle son of the beautiful, infinitely evil sorceress Morgawse, and gifted student of her dark magical arts. A story of an uncertain man, doubting his ability to follow his elder brother’s warrior prowess and seeking to find his own identity by bonding with his frightening and powerful mother. Disappointed in himself and despised by his father, Gwalchmai sets out on a journey that will lead him to the brink of darkness… A tale of loss, redemption, and adventure, Hawk of May brings new depth and understanding to Sir Gawain, the legend of King Arthur, and the impact of choices made — and the consequences that follow.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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