by Kim Headlee, historical (1999)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-671-02041-2

Ms Headlee's debut is a splendid tour de force of epic proportions. Really. I just couldn't put down this book even when hubby and common sense screamed that I had to wake up and embark on a gruelling 14 hour lab work in two hours time. This book is simply superb!

This is a take on the Arthur-Guinevere love story, but don't expect ladies in pristine dresses drinking from golden chalices while knights in shiny, clinky armor go down on their knees to vow fealty. Oh no, Gyanhumara nic Hymar (our Guinevere) is a kick-ass warrior chieftain who can give Xena a run for her money. She is betrothed to a buffoon who expects her to hang up her leather costume and tend to the babies. All in the name of duty - her Clan Argyll is recently defeated by Arthur map Uther (gee, where have I heard that name before?), and Arthur seeks to make them allies by forging a marriage between Gyan and a tribal lord of Arthur's Brytoni tribes. Only that when Gyan and Arthur meet, it's love at first sight. But it won't be an easy ride: too much political power and stability rest on Gyan's marriage to her betrothed Urien.

This story is devoid of magic spells and Holy Grails - Merlin here is just an archbishop - but what the author did was magical in itself - she managed to weave a complex, rich, and utterly fabulous tale of love and courage amidst history. Gyan is a clear-headed woman never lacking in courage. She knows what is at stake should she break her betrothal, but day after day she finds it harder to deny her attraction to Arthur. Arthur too is a man whose duty and wisdom make him seem almost superhuman, but his love and kindness make him vulnerable and delightfully human. Watching them two fall in love is simply a joy to behold.

This book sounds like the start of a series, as by the end, many loose ends abound - Arthur's sister Morghe is not yet finished with her descend into treachery, then there's the ambitious and possibly treacherous Urien, and there's Angusel (Lancelot) and his increasing infatuation with Gyan, and...

Frankly, I can't wait. Ms Headlee, I demand you write faster. At once!

Rating: 88

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