Gillian Bradshaw,
In Winter's Shadow
(Simon & Schuster, 1983;
Bantam, 1993)

The final book in Gillian Bradshaw's Arthurian trilogy, In Winter's Shadow, is almost painful to read.

That's not a bad thing, and that's not a slight on Bradshaw's writing. Indeed, it's excellent -- the final portion of the heroic legend forces us to watch as Arthur's dream and his kingdom collapse around him. As events proceed as we know they must, we can't help but wish maybe, just this once, things might turn out differently.

Bradshaw again changes perspectives for this volume. After telling the first portion from the point of view of the warrior Gwalchmai (called Gawain in most stories) and the second through the eyes of his servant Rhys ap Sion, Bradshaw chooses the queen Gwynhwyfar as her voice for the last. And it's a good choice, giving readers an excellent vantage point as the story unfolds.

This version of the legend does without the Lancelot character, falling back to earlier versions which attribute Lancelot's various traits and plotlines to the warriors Gwalchmai and Bedwyr. And, of course, the bastard son Medraut is there to do his worst. Treacheries and betrayals tear the kingdom apart, characters we know and love are ruined and killed, and it's impossible to stop reading because the tale is so intense.

It's a heartbreaking story but, even knowing its inevitable end, you'll find yourself glued to the pages. In Winter's Shadow is by far the most powerful of the three novels and, as Arthurian sagas go, it gives extremely plausible explanations for the sudden turn of events.

This is a novel no Arthur fan can do without.

[ by Tom Knapp ]