Among the misty lochs and glens of ancient Scotland, duty wages war against love on the battlefield of opposing cultures, religions, and political agendas.
After Caledonia's devastating loss in the battle of Aber-Glein against Arthur map Uther, Pendragon of Brydein, Chieftainess Gyanhumara ("Gyan") nic Hymar is obligated by treaty to marry a Brytoni nobleman. She chooses as her betrothed Urien map Dumarec, son of her clan's worst enemy, in hopes of bringing in lasting peace to her people. Arthur must honor this arrangement, even though he knows that Urien, his arch rival, will gain greater power from it.
When Arthur and Gyan meet, the love that develops between them escalates to legendary proportions. But with her clan's future in her hands, Gyan would forsake her heart's bidding and go through with her obviously ill-fated marriage to Urien. For unless she and Arthur can avert the civil war that is sure to erupt, their love will be doomed to remain unfulfilled -- forever.
The story centers around Pictish chieftainess Gyanhumara. When Roman forces defeat the armies of Caledonia (Scotland), Chieftain Ogryvan heads a general signing of a treaty with the Brydain lords - and among the conditions is that Gyanhumara must marry a Brydain noble.
The chief seeker of Gyanhumara's hand is Urien, who finds her attractive and is attractive somewhat himself. However, he is annoyed by the relatively emancipated manner of Gyanhumara, who is as comfy on the battlefield as in a hall full of ladies (more so, I thought). Gyanhumara is disgusted by his plans to tame her down, but in the interest of peace for her people, she agrees.
Then she meets Arthur, the Pendragon. With his questionable background, Arthur is not really acceptable as a potential husband for Gyanhumara, under the treaty. But the moment they meet, they love each other and, importantly, Arthur does not want to change Gyanhumara in any way. He intends to marry his beloved even if it causes conflicts -- but can she choose between her love and spirit, and the uncertain fate of her people?
Perhaps it's the author's excellent outlook toward Arthurian legend -- passing by religion, nationality, status, mythic background -- that causes her to do such a stellar job creating Gyanhumara as a strong, intelligent heroine. Her portrayals of the characters and politics of the time are excellent (as far as I can tell, I know virtually nothing about the clashes of the time) and the descriptions of fighting are easily-envisioned.
Too many supposedly strong heroines in Arthurian literature fail, becoming preachy and irritable. Gyanhumara thankfully doesn't fall into that trap, remaining a believable young woman who has simply been raised as an equal and excellent counterbalance to the strong men around her. I like the idea of Merlin's relationship to Arthur in this book, as I like Arthur himself. Too often, as Guinevere is seen as a slut, Arthur is seen as a wimp; fortunately, he's the young warlord he's expected to be.
Headlee's descriptions are more filled with metaphors than usual; "No nectar was as sweet as the joy of winning" is my personal favorite. The descriptiveness is slightly lower than I am used to in an Arthurian novel, but nevertheless it gets the images across.
Overall, this gains the label of "classic," simply for being the one Guinevere novel that portrays her as a real person. Bravo, Ms. Headlee!
The battle of Aber-Glein sees Gyan's country of Caledonia fall into the hands of Roman warlord Arthur map Uther, Pendragon of Brydein. In the treaty that has been drawn up, Gyan is obliged to marry a Brytoni noble in order to keep peace in Caledonia. Barely given a choice she finds herself betrothed to Brytoni nobleman Urien map Dumarec, the son of her clan's worst enemy, Clan Moray of Dalriada. She must honor this treaty or suffer the Pendragon's wrath. When she consults with the clan priests she's told of a grave prophesy and battles within herself how to change the its ultimate end. But when her gods refuse to listen to her cries for help Gyan finds herself looking for answers in other religions, which could ultimately cause her fall from power and be branded as a heretic.
When both Urian and Gyan are summoned to Cael Lugubalion to join Arthur's legions it's there that Gyan learns of Urien's true crueler nature. And it's here that she meets the man she's vowed to loathe until her dying breath, Arthur himself. But there's "something" about him that she finds alluring and she can't help herself as she falls deeply in love with him. She must now find a way to break her betrothal to Urien without her clan suffering the retaliation Urien's is sure to exact. He wants her and she knows just how badly. Gyan's choice is made though. She must marry a Brytoni noble of her choice by Arthur's own treaty, and Arthur is that choice. And it's Arthur who has the final word on the treaty, and it's Arthur who must approve of Gyan's choice, regardless of who she chooses.
Arthur the Pendragon is a mighty Roman hero of legendary proportions. Though still young he's a man to be reckoned with as his position carries much power. Add to that his mighty sword, Caleberyllus, with its mystical powers and it would be a fool's journey to cross Arthur's path. Bastard son of Uther the Pendragon, Arthur has been denied his rightful heritage and has been forced to carve a life for himself. This he has done, and very well. It's a brave and noble Pict chieftainess who will be his undoing though. He's watched her in battle training, engaged her in intelligent conversation and has been bested by her in a sparing match, and his heart has been pierced by her cupid's arrows. Thoughts of her fill his mind to distraction, which could be his gravest mistake should Urien have his way. It's no secret how Arthur feels for Gyan. She is the bravest and most noble woman he's ever met and he's vowed to have her for his own, and Urien is none too pleased about it. How to get Urien to break the betrothal agreement peacefully while trying to convince Gyan that he loves her will be one of the most difficult battles Arthur has ever had to face. He doesn't know that Gyan is thinking the same thing as he.
"Dawnflight" is as seamless a story as they come. Historical and legendary facts blend as one with the creative use of Celtic terms to give this story a richness rarely seen in a recreation. This story takes us back to a time nearly forgotten 1400 years in our past. Back to when the Celts ruled the lands we know as Great Britain and Ireland. The Roman's brought the word of the One God. And lands were overtaken by warlords on a whim. Brilliantly this telling enfolds all of the characters that we've come to love, as well as hate, in the more common legends of Arthur and Guinevere. Merlin is Arthur's cantankerous advisor and Bishop who goes by the name of Merlinus Dubricius Ambrosius. Morghe is a disguised Morgana, half sister to Arthur and rival of Gyan's. And Lancelot is a wee lad by the name of Angusel, a member of Gyan's clan and her greatest admirer, only second to Arthur. First time readers of Arthurian legend will find "Dawnflight" packed full of action and adventure with a generous dollop of romance. Well read readers of this legend will find themselves enthralled, sitting back to contemplate the validity of the this new theory on Guinevere's legend, as well as Arthur's. "Dawnflight" has been compared to "Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley; no truer a compliment. All I can say is "Wow! "
~ Kemberlee Lugo, CompuServe Romance Reviews
Gyan promises to marry the neighboring lord, Urien, to fulfill the terms of a treaty, but her clan's High Priest warns that a Brytonic chieftain will be her death. Gyan fears her marriage now, but resolves to go through with it. She also seeks the aid of her clan's gods, but when she receives no response, she begins to turn to the Christian god worshipped by her family's Brytonic slaves. (In other words, if you can't stand novels where Christians are allowed to be "good guys", read no further.)
Gyan still keeps her resolution regarding the betrothal even when Urien reveals himself to be a chauvinistic jerk, bent on taming Gyan and breaking her to his will. But her heart is shaken when she meets Arthur Pendragon. Their chemistry is fierce from the start; moreover, he loves her wild courage and has no intention of trying to change her. The two fall in love.
But Gyan knows breaking her betrothal will provoke war with Urien's clan, so she tries to forget Arthur when she goes away to her schooling on the Isle of Maun, after which she plans to marry Urien. There, she meets Arthur's haughty sister Morghe, and also the 12-year-old Angusel, who adores her with a little brother's admiration. When the island is attacked by the Irish, Gyan, Arthur, Urien, Morghe, and Angusel will all be thrown together in the fight to save it. Legend will be born, and history made. And much swashbuckling adventure will occur along the way.
I hope Headlee plans a sequel, since this book is great fun. Morghe, Urien, and Cuchullain still have trouble up their sleeves, so the story ain't over yet. I can't wait to find out how the feisty Gyan faces the challenges of the Arthurian era.