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Gillian Bradshaw (1) (1956–)

Author of Hawk of May

For other authors named Gillian Bradshaw, see the disambiguation page.

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Works by Gillian Bradshaw

Hawk of May (1980) 687 copies
Kingdom of Summer (1981) 491 copies
Beacon at Alexandria (1986) 435 copies
In Winter's Shadow (1983) 419 copies
The Sand-Reckoner (2000) 296 copies
Island of Ghosts (1992) 276 copies
The Bearkeeper's Daughter (1987) 214 copies
The Wolf Hunt (2001) 199 copies
Cleopatra's Heir (2002) 170 copies
Horses of Heaven (1991) 158 copies
Render Unto Caesar (2003) 130 copies
Imperial Purple (1988) 120 copies
The Wrong Reflection (2000) 82 copies
London in Chains (2009) 70 copies
Down the Long Wind (1982) 67 copies
Dark North (2007) 50 copies
Alchemy of Fire (2004) 50 copies
The Sun's Bride (2008) 48 copies
The Dragon and the Thief (1991) 39 copies
The Land of Gold (1992) 29 copies
Beyond the North Wind (1993) 28 copies
A Corruptible Crown (2011) 28 copies
Dangerous Notes (2001) 15 copies
Magic's Poison (2011) 15 copies
Bloodwood (2007) 14 copies
The Elixir of Youth (2006) 12 copies
The Enchanted Archive (2011) 10 copies
The Duke's Murder (2011) 7 copies
The Iron Cage (2011) 7 copies
Somer's Treatment (2003) 5 copies
Aliens on Holiday (2016) 1 copy

Associated Works

The Mammoth Book of Egyptian Whodunnits (2002) — Contributor — 143 copies
The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits (2003) — Contributor — 127 copies


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Common Knowledge



This is the third and final volume in the Arthurian retelling by Gillian Bradshaw, which has a post Roman Britain setting. Unlike the earlier books, this switches focus away from Gwalchmai (Gawain) and is told in the first person point of view of Arthur's wife, Gwynhwyfar (Guinevere). Also, unlike the others especially the first, this story includes no overt magic: the only lingering traces are the acknowledgement near the end of the presence of Gwalchmai's 'magical' horse of the Sidhe and his unearthly sword, both introduced in book 1 but not playing a part in this volume.

As the story opens Gwynhwyfar is worried about the problems building up at Camlann (Camelot). The end of volume 2 saw the ominous situation when Medraut (Mordred), Gwalchmai's younger brother and a reputed sorceror, arrived at Camlann and began to undermine the unity that Arthur had established with such effort. Gradually, the fact that Medraut is the child of incest and that his father is Arthur (ignoring the fact that Arthur was tricked by the sorceress Morgawse, as he didn't know she was his half-sister), begins to come out through Medraut's whispering campaign, alienating the support of allied kings and some of Arthur's own followers.

Medraut's insinuations also target his older brother Gwalchmai, and armed conflict breaks out as Arthur's 'band of brothers' begin to split into factions and individuals from each side fight duels over Medraut's accusations. Gwynhwyfar only succeeds in driving a wedge between herself and Arthur when she resorts to drastic action by poisoning Medraut's wine at a banquet, unsuccessfully. Gwynhwyfar's role puts her under immense pressure: she is, in effect, head administrator of the camp with the responsiblity for making sure everyone is fed and clothed and that there are supplies of everything needed by several hundred people. This, together with the emotional angst from her estrangement with Arthur, drives her into the arms of his right-hand man, Bedwyr. (In this retelling, there is no Lancelot, presumably because his character was developed in Medieval French songs and literature, and therefore was not an original component of the Arthur legend.)

The rest of the story is more or less as per the Arthurian legends with all the tragic fallout. The story itself is so well known that the interest in reading an Arthurian novel is in the way the author develops the characters and makes the story understandable in human terms, despite its unlikely elements. For me, the hopeless affair of Gwynhwyfar and Bedwyr failed to convince. Their behaviour came across as a sort of lovelorn teenage angst. The fact that they both knew it would lead to the destruction of everything for which they had worked, as well as the terrible betrayal of someone they loved - Arthur - and had even been warned of such by Gwalchmai, made their behaviour unbelievable. As previously developed - Bedwyr features even in the first novel - both are noble, self sacrificing people. Yet to continue their affair when Bedwyr has already had to fight a duel to deny the rumours spread by Medraut only makes sense if both are selfish - which we're told they are not: they just can't help themselves. In younger people, this might have been believable but Gwynhwyfar is thirty-eight, well into middle age by the standards of the period, and Bedwyr, who must be about the same, has previously shown deeply held religious beliefs as well. They might have lapsed once, given Gwynhwyfar's low ebb at Arthur's rejection, but to keep on doing it when the situation is escalating into obvious danger - Medraut and his gang watching their every move - doesn't add up.

The other problem with the book is its deadly dull pacing for the first three quarters. It dragged and was an effort to read, more or less from the outset. It only picks up when the two lovers are caught and even then, really only at the point where Gwynhwyfar escapes to Arthur's camp after her conscience drives her to accept the punishment she feels she deserved for her betrayal. The final 100 pages or so are much better paced and have some good confrontation scenes with Medraut and his followers, plus the unfolding of one tragedy after another. The short Epilogue has a tacked on feel, as it attempts to show there is still one ray of hope against the darkening which followed the loss of the dream of Camlann. The book was heading for a 1-star review, but its final quarter means that overall it has earned 2-stars.
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kitsune_reader | 7 other reviews | Nov 23, 2023 |
This is the second in Gillian Bradshaw's Arthurian trilogy set against a version of Dark Age Britain. In this, the focus is again on the career of Gwalchmai (Hawk of May, name taken from the Welsh version), known as Gawain in the legends, although this time from the POV of a young farmer, Rhys. Rhys is the son of Sion who helped Gwalchmai reach Arthur's camp in book 1. Nine years later, Gwalchmai is riding the countryside in winter, wounded and bedraggled, in search of Elidan a king's sister whom he wronged then realised he loved. Unfortunately, he killed her brother in battle after forgetting he had promised her he wouldn't, and she is from an unforgiving proud family. Sion and his family persuade Gwalchmai to stay with them and recover, and he eventually tells them about her. Rhys, who has always had the ambition to be a warrior, volunteers to become Gwalchmai's servant - at 21, he is far too old to train as a warrior, but as a Christian, he believes he can serve the Light in other ways. At present, an uneasy peace holds, following the defeat of the Saxons at a major battle some time before (in the gap between the two volumes), though Arthur's subject kings continue to cause problems.

The story shows how Rhys settles in at Camlann (Arthur's camp, known as Camelot in legend) and his impression of Gwalchmai's fellow warriors, some of whom, such as Gwalchmai's brother Agravain, abuse servants. Later, Arthur sends them on a mission, with another warrior called Rhuwan, to the court of a subject king whom he knows to be plotting, to find out who are his allies. To Gwalchmai's horror, his own father Lot, his mother Morgawse - the witch whose powers he escaped in book 1 - and his corrupted brother Medraut (Mordred) are present and it is obvious that mother and son are conspiring with the petty king against Arthur. Lot, on the other hand, is a shadow of the man we saw in book 1, and Gwalchmai decides that Morgawse has drained him with her evil sorcery. The situation becomes critical when Rhuwan starts falling under the spell of the smooth talking Medraut and Gwalchmai's reputation as someone who "goes mad" in battle is used against him.

This is a more successful story on the whole than book 1 as it is told through a down-to-earth farmer's viewpoint. We see Gwalchmai's unworldliness and the cynicism and bitterness which stem from his guilt and estrangement from Elidan. The company of Rhys is good for him, and the two men bond as time goes on, even when Medraut tries to prise them apart.

The only part of the story that drags is when they are first at the petty king's court and the situation stagnates for quite a while until Morgawse and Medraut show their hand. After that, it becomes fast paced with quite a lot of action. There is also another love story, apart from Gwalchmai's, wound through the later part of the narrative, when Rhys starts to fall for a young servant girl of Morgawse's - with the added twist of her appearing to be false. And, by the end of the novel, the story of Elidan comes to a conclusion and a young character is introduced whom it is obvious will eventually come to Camlann . More ominously, things begin to shape up for the traditional ending of the Arthurian story.

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kitsune_reader | 7 other reviews | Nov 23, 2023 |
This is the first in a trilogy by Gillian Bradshaw, retelling the Arthurian legends. As with some other retellings as far back as Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset, written in the late 1950s/early 1960s, the story is set against post Roman Britain where the (former Celts, now British) have splintered into rival kingdoms and are fighting off waves of invasion by the Saxons, who have taken large parts of the country and settled there. The Saxons are not content with their holdings but are continually raiding into British areas and taking more and more land.

The British are nominally ruled by a High King, Uther Pendragon. One of his illegitimate sons, Arthur, is a superb leader and has honed Uther’s war band into a fighting unit greater than any other, but no one expects him to become High King when Uther dies, and the rival kings are prepared to fight each other for the honour.

Gwalchmai (Hawk of May, his original Welsh name, later known as Gawain in the legends) is a young boy growing up in the Orkneys when the story opens. He is not much of a warrior and is therefore a disappointment to his father Lot and his elder brother, Agravain. His consolation is the admiration of his younger brother Medraut (Mordred), and his horsemanship. He starts to teach himself the fundamentals of a cavalry combat style that Lot and Agravain disdain. Then he is steered towards a scholarly path when their mother, Morgawse (Morgause) begins to teach him Latin. However, this turns out to be her way of inducting him into the ways of Dark sorcery.

Morgawse hates her father Uther Pendragon and half-brother Arthur and will stop at nothing to kill them, even if it means destroying the last chance for Celtic Britain to resist the Saxon invaders. When Gwalchmai discovers that she resorts to human sacrifice, he rebels, but is too late to save Medraut whom she has also secretly indoctrinated. Far from being repulsed, Medraut revels in the dark magic so Gwalchmai has to escape alone. His mother sends a demon in pursuit, but the powers of Light come to his aid and whisk him off to the Celtic Blessed Isles where he meets Lugh, the sun god, in the Hall of the Sidhe. Lugh tells him that he isn’t in fact a god, although something more than a man, but is an incarnation of the Light. His time is nearly over as another is taking his place. Although not overtly stated, it is obvious that Christ is meant.

He gives Gwalchmai a magic sword, known in the legends as Excalibur – so in this version, it is Gawain who has the sword rather than Arthur – and sends him back. Three years have passed in a single night and Gwalchmai is now a fully grown seventeen year old warrior, who has developed great fighting skills. His goal is to join Arthur’s war band, as Arthur is the leader of the Light's faction, but he must face many obstacles before he can do so, not least Arthur’s utter rejection of him.

A lot of the book deals with the conflict between Dark and Light with capital letters. Although the Dark seems exclusively associated with pagans - Morgawse and a Saxon sorcerer whom Gwalchmai encounters - the Light is associated with Celtic religion also, in the shape of Lugh and the Sidhe. Taliesin, the legendary poet of Welsh legend, features, and there are references to the Irish stories of Cuchulainn, the mighty hero. Also, not all the Christians in the story are 'good guys' - the monks at Ynys Winris (Glastonbury) are greedy and they overcharge travellers for meagre lodgings, so the situation is not as simplistic as it might appear.

Although in this story it is Morgawse who is the sorceress who has tricked her half-brother Arthur into sleeping with her, and gives birth to his nemesis, this is not against canon as there are versions where Morgause as she is usually known takes this role rather than Morgan le Fay/Morgaine.

My main problem with the story is that it suffers from pacing problems. In the beginning, Gwalchmai is young and is confined to his home island so we learn about the events in mainland Britain as a retelling of facts he has learned. The pace picks up once he escapes, and some of the characters are quite well defined such as the leading ones in Arthur’s war band, but quite a lot of the action is skipped over in summary. A few battle sequences are evoked to some extent, but because Gwalchmai becomes a beserker – someone who operates without thought under battle rage – a lot of this is fairly sketchy also. Basically, I found the story plodding and rather dull so that it was a chore to finish it.

I think also that it falls between two stools. A lot of the book is pseudo historical - the Dark Ages is not a period with a lot of documentation - but there is also the strong supernatural/religious/allegorical element of the Light versus Dark conflict. That doesn't really fit with a story that tries to be grounded in the possible experience of what it was like to fight against the Saxons - who include real historical characters such as Cerdic. For me, the writer doesn't quite pull off the mix of these two elements.

Finally, the book wasn't helped by some major misprints - not just the odd missing word or letter, but there was a whole paragraph scrambled. This in a traditionally published book in 1981 is quite odd.
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kitsune_reader | 15 other reviews | Nov 23, 2023 |



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