Parke Godwin,
Beloved Exile
(Bantam, 1984)

In Firelord, we watched as Arthur united Britain against its foes and won for his people an era of peace. In Beloved Exile, which begins immediately following Arthur's death, we witness Britain's decay and inevitable collapse.

Guinevere, Arthur's formidable queen, is his equal in many ways. But as his widow, with only a handful of his loyal companions by her side, she is unable to hold the disparate tribes together against the forces of greed and ruthless personal ambition. Constantine, a young Cornish prince, in particular acts to divide the country and seize the pieces for himself. Through deceit, treachery and murder, as well as pitched battles throughout the land, Constantine leaves Guinevere alone and without resources.

But Godwin's Guinevere is no shrinking violet, nor is she inclined to retire to a life of religious devotion (as so many Guineveres are prone to do). She seeks to reclaim her throne, oust the usurper and rule in Arthur's name -- but those are no longer realistic goals. And the Saxons, hearing of Arthur's death and the turmoil in its wake, are eager once again to claim British farmland as their own.

Godwin handily captures the rich flavor of the time, as well as the domino-effect desperation that dogs Guinevere's heels as she tries to retain her power and watches it crumble around her. She is every inch regal, strong, intelligent and resourceful, proud and ambitious in her own right, never afraid to bully those around her at need -- or even to cause the deaths of those who have wronged her. The author also provides unusual depth of character for the Saxons, whom so many writers portray as two-dimensional barbarian villains, while allowing that Arthur's people might have a few villainous attributes all their own.

Based solely in the realms of fiction -- with no foundation in Arthurian lore -- Beloved Exile is still a fascinating read that adds a new layer to the possibilities and adds a nice coda to the lives of Guinevere and others central to Arthur's tale.

by Tom Knapp
29 October 2005

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