Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
In Winter's Shadow is the last novel in
the "Hawk of May" trilogy based on the legend of King Arthur. Narrated
by Arthur's wife, Gwynhwyfar, it covers the final years of his reign, when his
illegitimate son stirs up rival factions in the warband, leading to the final battle
which destroys Arthur, his son, and the empire.
the story opens, Gwynhwyfar is reading an insulting letter from a kinsman in
northern Britain who gives her an ultimatum: if she won't help him take over a
neighboring clan's territory, he will no longer consider her a member of the
family. His demand is a vivid example of the tension between the tradition of clan-against-clan
warfare and Arthur's new way of a united empire ruled by laws enforcing justice.
this new way can hold only as long as a strong emperor can make it hold, as
much through the strength of his moral example as through force of arms. And as
a young man, Arthur committed adultery and, unknowingly, incest with his half-sister.
The child they conceived is Medraut, whose very existence is a threat, and whose
poisonous resentment is now sowing discord.
In Winter's Shadow draws from the
earliest Arthurian traditions and solid historical research into fifth-century
British life. Grounded in realism, it avoids the fantastic while recognizing
the supernatural beliefs of the time. A recap in the opening chapter gives
readers all the background they need to understand the story that follows; if the
recap is less than compelling, the chapters to come make up for it. Gwynhwyfar
and Arthur are faced with a series of decisions with no good options. Political
leaders are human; one serious mistake can reverberate down the years, causing
the downfall of an outstanding but imperfect leader and enabling one whose single-minded
pursuit of revenge will destroy lives and blight a society for generations.
Originally written for teens, it has no explicit sex, with more than enough insight and psychological depth for adults. (1981, 410 pages)More about In Winter's Shadow at Amazon.com