4.0 out of 5 stars
A refreshingly different, well-researched Arthurian romance., Oct 19 1999
After awhile, even the most ardent Arthurianist gets jaded with the endless retakes on the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot story. After all, we know how it ends...
That's why Kim Headlee's "Dawnflight: The Legend of Guinevere" is such a refreshing entry into the Arthurian legend genre. You won't find a weepy, lovelorn Guinevere in this historical romance: Headlee's "Gyanhumara" is a sword-wielding, butt-kicking Pictish chieftainess who could give Xena a run for the money. Gyan's "Simple Joys of Maidenhood" include sword-bouts and collecting battle trophies of a specifically Pictish nature (hint: You wouldn't want Gyan as an interior decorator).
Dawnflight unfolds from Gyan's perspective, as the young warrior "princess" accepts a betrothal to rival neighbor Urien map Dumarec. It's obvious from the start that Urien is a no-good ambitious wife-beater, and the reader may wonder why Gyan doesn't see this sooner -- but we forgive her as we follow her journey into the midst of the battles and politics of Arthur's emerging nation.
Naturally, passions are kindled the moment Arthur and Gyan set eyes upon one another, but (thankfully) this is not a novel of moans and gasps and euphemisms for various body parts. Instead, the reader is treated to an historically vivid tale of intrigue, battle, and betrayal as Arthur attempts to defend his new alliance from invaders, and Gyan gets caught in the middle.
And where is Lancelot, you may be asking? By focusing on historical accuracy, Headlee deftly avoids the famous triangle (which wasn't introduced until nearly 1000 years after Arthur's alleged existence). Instead, she offers us Angusel -- an adolescent Pictish warrior whose puppyish devotion to Gyan gets him into all kinds of trouble. Indeed, in this reader's opinion, Angusel steals the show; he's a delightful character, and one has no doubt that he'll be singing the Pictish version of "C'est Moi" in a later book. As for Merlin, the venerable mage casts not a single thunderbolt, but emerges as Arthur's spiritual and political mentor (and later as Gyan's as well).
I'm a stickler for historical accuracy and detail, and "Dawnflight" gave me exactly what I craved. I haven't enjoyed an Arthurian novel this much since Mary Stewart's "Merlin" series, and I highly recommend it to lovers of romance and Arthurian aficionados alike.