AUTHOR: Kim Headlee
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (e-book), Amazon (paperback), Audible (audiobook)
Romance - Historical
Dawnflight is a vivid re-imagining of the tale of King Arthur and Guinevere. In this version of the tale, which makes more historical sense given that King Arthur supposedly lived in the Dark Ages (and not the Renaissance, as most tellings depict), Guinevere is Gyanhumara (called "Gyan"), a Caledonian chieftainess, and Arthur is a Roman general who has recently become the Pendragon, supreme commander of all armies in the British territories.
Gyan is a spirited young woman trained as a warrior, though she has yet to see real battle. Her mother was the chieftainess before her, and she is looked up to by her people as a strong and capable leader. For the sake of peace, Gyan agrees to marry Urien, son of the leader of her clan's deadliest rival. However, though Urien is plenty strong and handsome, he proves to be a controlling brute who, unaccustomed to Gyan's more egalitarian culture, is appalled by her boldness and determined to put her "in her place."
Not long after the betrothal, Gyan meets Arthur, whose good looks, aura of authority, and intelligence steal her heart right away. What's more, he actually respects her strength, and he falls for her just as fast. But his own treaty with the British clans states that Gyan must marry a British nobleman, and he doesn't qualify. What's more, breaking the betrothal with Urien would mean civil war.
Lushly written and vividly described, Dawnflight brings Gyan and her world to life that had me believing every word. The language is beautiful, and each scene was visible in my head as I listened to the audiobook. Dorothy Dickson's narration is mesmerizing and perfectly captures the gorgeous descriptions and the internal monologues of each character.
The strengths of this book really lie in the setting and the characters. Each one is believable, and it's clear that Headlee did a lot of research to put this tale to paper. It reminded me of a combination between Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon and the 2004 King Arthur movie starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. Gyan is an intelligent and independent woman who is easy to sympathize with. My one issue with her is the sheer amount of time she spends agonizing over her Urien-or-Arthur dilemma.
Dawnflight is a romance at its core, with the bulk of the story focusing on the Gyan-Arthur-Urien love triangle. That there are political implications to Gyan's choice raises the stakes somewhat, although the fact that she has the right to marry whoever she wants and that Arthur, being the supreme commander, can rework any treaty he puts down, lowers the danger element. Still, Headlee is very good at describing emotion, and while I personally ran out of patience with Gyan a few times (being more of an action/adventure reader), lovers of romance will eat it up.
Arthur is portrayed as an upstanding yet open-minded leader. Charismatic and good-hearted, he is the ideal romantic lead for this story. His slight arrogance and unwillingness to express his true feelings make him human enough to be believable in this context. And his concern for the people he leads make him an admirable character.
Other notable characters are Gyan's fun-hearted half-brother Perador (or however you spell his name - audiobooks have that as a disadvantage), the young warrior Angus, who follows Gyan like a loyal puppy, Arthur's scheming sister Morge (again, apologies for misspelling), and the wise Merlin, who is a bishop in this story. Angus was my personal favorite - I found his genuine loyalty and desire to be the good guy absolutely adorable and was more distressed when he was in danger than when the bad guys attacked Gyan.
As for the plot - this is one of those slower-paced books that takes the time to really show each setting to its fullest. Toward the end, there is an attack by Scottish raiders on the island Gyan is staying at, which gives both her and Arthur the opportunity to show off their combat skills, but the bulk of the book is very calm when it comes to physical action (although plenty tumultuous in terms of emotional turmoil). The ending wraps things up nicely enough that this book could be read as a standalone, but definitely leaves room for more.
The historical setting of this book is what makes it stand apart from a lot of the other retellings of the King Arthur tale that exist. The book tells a "what if it really happened" kind of story, taking out all the fantastical and supernatural elements in favor of plausible "real world" explanations (such as Merlin being a bishop rather than a wizard).
All in all, Dawnflight was an enjoyable read, especially with Dorothy Dickson's narration bringing it to life (I credit her with saving me from road rage, as I was listening to this audiobook while stuck in rush hour traffic on the NJ Turnpike). This book will appeal to lovers of Arthurian retellings, fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley, and those hungry for romance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kim Headlee lives on a farm in southwestern Virginia with her family, cats, goats, and assorted wildlife. People & creatures come and go, but the cave and the 250-year-old house ruins -- the latter having been occupied as recently as the mid-20th century -- seem to be sticking around for a while yet.
Kim is a Seattle native (when she used to live in the Metro DC area, she loved telling people she was from "the other Washington") and a direct descendent of 20th century Russian nobility. Her grandmother was a childhood friend of the doomed Grand Duchess Anastasia, and the romantic yet tragic story of how Lydia escaped Communist Russia with the aid of her American husband will most certainly one day fuel one of Kim's novels. Another novel in the queue will involve her husband's ancestor, the 7th-century proto-Viking king of the Swedish colony in Russia.
For the time being, however, Kim has plenty of work to do in creating her projected 8-book Arthurian series, The Dragon's Dove Chronicles. She also writes other romantic historical fiction under the pseudonym "Kimberly Iverson."