E. A Solinas
After slogging through the ghastly "Queen of the Summer Country" and the beautiful but rather whiny "Guinevere," I was beginning to wonder if anyone could actually manage a good story, containing a semi-intelligent Queen Guinevere with honor and integrity, a tight plot, and a good writing style. Then I got my hands on a copy of "Dawnflight." Kim Headlee delves into history and humanity to produce a realistic (but not painfully so) story, something that you can envision actually happening.
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!
Sit back and prepare yourself to be amazed as first time author Kim Headlee recreates an amazingly believable tale of Arthur and Guinevere in "Dawnflight". For centuries these lovers have created great controversy spawned countless theories and became amazing legends. Many authors have written their own interpretations of the Arthurian legend, but none so clever as Ms Headlee's. She takes this legend back to its roots, back before the mighty Great Britain was established, back to when Rome was Europe's super power and the Pope ruled man and country with a heavy hand. We see Arthur not as the knight in shining armor but a Roman warlord. Guinevere is not the demure wife of Arthur whose heart is tugged at from both sides but as Gyanhumara nic Hymar, chieftainess of Clan Argyll of Caledonia and a Pict warrior-queen.
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
Kelly (Fantasy Literature)
Kim Headlee puts a new spin on the Arthurian legends with this exciting book. Borrowing a few key concepts from Norma Lorre Goodrich's truly weird "biography" of Guinevere, Headlee presents us with a bold new imagining of that legendary figure. Gyanhumara is her name, and she is the intelligent, resourceful, and brave chieftainess of Clan Argyll, a Caledonian/Pictish tribe. Her wits are as sharp as her sword as she faces her destiny.
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.
Anyone familiar with the Arthur/Guinevere/Sir Lancelot story will enjoy Kim Headlee's new book, Dawnflight. Ms. Headlee offers a new retelling of the story, this time at Guinevere's point of view. This time without Sir Lancelot in the picture.
In Dawnflight, Guinevere is called Gyanhumara. She is a strong woman, bred to be a warrior. To keep their nations from war Gyan agrees to become betrothed to Urien map Dumarec, her countries rival. Immediately Gyan regrets her decision. Believing that women are only to be by their man's side and in their bed, Urien does not impress well upon Gyan. Yet she feels she must still go ahead with the union to keep their countries from war.
When Gyan travels to meet Urien she meets Arthur. Immediately she is drawn to Arthur and falls in love but she is promised to Urien, Arthur's rival. Arthur wants Gyan for himself, but must first convince Gyan of his intensions. What follows is an exciting story of war and betrayal.
Dawnflight is that is unlike any other you've read about the Arthur legend. You won't find heavy love scenes in this story. Gyan is too busy for that nonsense. What you will find is a wonderful story full of adventure. This book cries out for a sequel and I will be first in line to read it.
Midwest Book Review
In a war ravaged society, alliances are the key to survival. So when Chieftainess Gyanhumara (Guinevere) agrees to marry Urien map Dumarec to form a treaty, Gyan must put her feelings aside for the sake of her people. Never mind her intuition tells her that Urien is wrong for her. But destiny intervenes, in the form of the Pendragon of Brydein (Arthur). The result is an extraordinary tale that leaves the reader breathless with the unique retelling of the love between Gyan and Arthur. Even names have been restored to the writer's concept of history, time, and place. Kim Headlee carefully weaves this tale, moving slowly through the theological and cultural challenges faced by Gyan, who must not only confront and treat the enemy as allies but also marry one. An expert with the sword and Chieftainess of her people, Gyan must find a way to live in a world of Roman convention where women are in service of men, not leaders. This is not a traditional romance, but a tale much broader in scope. As the story builds, I found myself swept away, reveling in both Gyan's theological and religious battles, as well as her skill with the sword. As the pace of the novel quickened, this was one of those few books that I deliberately slowed down to savor for fear of having to leave the wonderfully created tale too soon. I wanted to remain within this world of mystery, miracles and lives of prophecy and violence. Cindy Penn, Reviewer.