This book was provided by the author’s publisher via my lady Blodeuedd’s excellent blog in return for an honest review. I haven’t been compensated for writing the said review in any way and the fact that the book came free of charge didn’t influence me either.
Format: e-book, Kindle
Genre: historical fantasy
Target audience: older YA and adults
The novel is set in northern Wales during the 5th century CE and its narration follows the coming of age of a young Ordovici princess of Dinas Emrys, Gwenhwyfar. It is the first person narration – elderly Gwen tells the story of her life to a serving girl. Yes, she is the future wife of Arthur and Merlin/Emrys is actually her uncle but she is also a small, unruly, stubborn girl, much loved and surrounded by her family. She grows up in very uncertain times so soon enough must face harsh reality of war, plunder, murders, rape and betrayal. Will she find her inner strength to fight for her integrity and for those she loves? Will she dare to develop her unusual gifts to oppose dark, greedy druids and witches? Will Merlin, forever busy abroad, allegedly tutoring an important young princeling in the South, finally find time to help her?
What I liked:
Firstly and foremostly I loved the fact that the author really, truly did her homework concerning the period she wrote about. Mind you she did it with passion and it was felt. The narration rang true, the life of little Gwenhwyfar seemed as historically correct as it was only possible – I couldn’t help smiling e.g. when I stumbled on the Chi Ro symbol early Christians used most likely instead of a crucifix or a cross. 5th century Wales is presented as a real place, without idealizing the living conditions or problems its inhabitants faced. I am a sucker for good historical fiction, firmly based on the remnants and relicts from the appropriate era and here it was clear Ms Pruitt is a real history junkie who digs deep and is creative with her findings! It was a pleasure!
I liked the red dragon, called Cymry (guess why such name was given to it ;p) which I suppose is a nice symbol of the magical aspect of the book. It wasn’t overdone but impressive enough, more like a natural magic than something flashy and loud. Bad druids and good druids seemed a very sensible idea –after all nobody said Julius Caesar, who gave them a very bad opinion in bulk writing his memoirs, was the most objective source of knowledge. They were his enemies and he was clearly afraid of them.
I liked how Celtic women were made almost as powerful as their husbands if not actually more dangerous than any warrior. Gwen, just a child and then a teen, is presented as a kick-ass princess, not some whimpering bimbo or a shallow twit whose flirtatious was led to the destruction of Camelot.; her Grandma, Rhiannon, is actually even better! Also Sari, a slave girl from an Arabic country turned seer, and Hrwych, Gwen’s nurse and friend, were a very nice addition!
Now something about the baddies: they were really good as well, both men and women who, in the end, happened to be one big ‘loving’ family! The main villain, Maelgwyn, Gwen’s other uncle, is handsome and rotten to the core – what a bliss!! – but his daughter is actually even better (or rather worse) a piece of art, nothing less, and of course as cute as a button! I am looking forward to meeting them again! Mind you it is a novel written clearly with a more mature audience in mind – not a fairy tale for children. There is one especially disturbing scene of an attempted rape (the victim being a minor) and then the would-be rapist is punished in a really ugly, brutal way – consider yourself warned.
Finally the cover art is lovely! Those red curls and this dagger!
What I didn’t like:
At first I couldn’t relate to Gwen. Not really. Only later, when she stopped behaving like a spoiled brat I warmed to her a bit. I think Lleu, her father’s ward and her main squeeze in this part, was a far more interesting, although secondary character. Well, it might change. I started reading this novel not being aware that it is a beginning of a series – there will be four more books or so I found out! Now I want more! Is there any justice? None!
A charming story, very unlike any novel based on Arthurian cycle I’ve read so far. I only hope the whole series will be as original and entertaining till the very end. Writing all five parts on the same high level – that’s a real challenge! I recommend it to readers who like Arthurian cycle stories but told in a more contemporary and historical way, without completely inadequate knights in shining armours and damsels in distress and a heavy dress (thus the distress I suppose).