Gillian Bradshaw,
Kingdom of Summer
(Simon & Schuster, 1981
Bantam, 1992)

Gillian Bradshaw continues her take on the Arthurian saga in Kingdom of Summer, picking up several years after she left off with Hawk of May. While the first novel was quite capable of standing alone, this second volume relies more on an understanding of the events of the previous book -- particular the background and motivations of the warrior Gwalchmai.

Kingdom of Summer has a slower pace than its predecessor. Where Hawk of May focused on the development of the youth Gwalchmai into one of Arthur's finest fighters, Kingdom of Summer changes its point of view. Bradshaw writes this one from the perspective of Rhys ap Sion, a farmer and son of a man Gwalchmai befriended in the first book. But Rhys's reasons for abandoning his farm to serve Gwalchmai are much less defined than Gwalchmai's reasons were for fleeing his home to serve Arthur. Consequently, there's no tension and, for a good chunk of the book, no real plot.

There's some strong character development along the way, however, and the final portion of the book heats up as the sorceress Morgawse and the bastard child Medraut begin plotting against Gwalchmai and, ultimately, Arthur. (The presumption that even the barest trappings of Christianity are sufficient to defeat all dark magic is a weak point, however. If all it takes to render the villain powerless is the exclamation "Praise Jesus!" or a splash of water on the head, it's hard to take the danger very seriously.)

I wouldn't recommend Kingdom of Summer to anyone as a stand-alone novel, but it does fill the gap between the first and third books of the series. While weaker overall than the other two, it is still a fairly satisfying read.

[ by Tom Knapp ]