Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley

From the back cover:

Child of the Northern Spring: Book One of the Guinevere Trilogy
Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms.  Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king.  But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best—filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.

*          *          *

Every Arthurian retelling has its own flavor and perspective on the characters of this historical/legendary tale.  In particular, the character of Guinevere has been portrayed in many ways, from demure seductress to vivacious tomboy, as in Persia Woolley’s Child of the Northern Spring.  Guinevere (or Gwen as she is also called) is the daughter of a king, destined to be married to another royal, much to her consternation. She is not one for the trappings of her station, preferring to gallivant about in breeches and spend her time in the stables rather than to be dressed to the nines and holding court.  However, as she grows she comes to understand the importance of her position. She eventually relents and marries the ambitious Arthur Pendragon.

Child of the Northern Spring is mostly told from the perspective of Guinevere, who is preparing to marry Arthur, whom she has only met once years before.  She recalls her childhood, her struggles to accept her duties, first love and youthful adventures.  Likewise, one of Arthur’s men, Bedivere, recounts to her the King’s story, how he grew from young fosterling to the auspicious leader she would later marry.  After many chapters of reminiscence, the narrative eventually catches up with Gwen’s present day and the events leading up to and just after the royal wedding.

Persia Woolley’s vision of Guinevere and the world of King Arthur is rich, full of adventure and thorough character development.  It’s interesting to see how Gwen grows from a sometimes-defiant young girl to a confident and worthy High Queen of England.

While I found Persia’s writing to be very good, there were times when I felt like the story would become bogged down with too many details.  The amount of particulars did enable me to feel immersed in the story, but I could have done with a bit less.  The majority of the novel is couched in the anticipation of Gwen and Arthur’s wedding, and there were moments when I wished the story would move along and just get to that moment. 

There is also quite a bit of mysticism woven throughout the book.  Pagan and magical elements have always been a part of the Arthurian legend, so this wasn’t completely unexpected.  Readers who care about such things should be aware that the Christian elements of the story (which have also been a part of the legend) are given more of a backseat and are frequently seen in a negative, judgmental light.  As a Christian I didn’t find this offensive, I just wish both sides had been given equal treatment.  The story seems to bill itself as “tolerant” of all religious beliefs, but in truth the Goddess reigns in the hearts of Guinevere and most of the major characters.

Child of the Northern Spring
is the first book in the Guinevere Trilogy, followed by Queen of the Summer Stars and Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn. This initial volume concludes just after the royal wedding, with no mention of the knight Lancelot as of yet.  As Arthur proves to be a somewhat distant lover for Gwen, I’m sure the arrival of Lancelot in the upcoming volume will prove to be interesting to say the least. 

Part of me wants to see how Woolley’s view of the tale continues, but I don’t relish the effort that it will take to complete the journey.  While this trilogy is a deserving entry into the annals of Arthurian legend, I don’t quite feel compelled to invest my time in wading through the whole of it.  A condensed version would be nice, but one could contend that the richness and authenticity of the story would be lost in a shorter retelling.  Most fans of this genre would probably enjoy Woolley’s novels, but in my case I think my time with her trilogy is at an end.

This title was provided by Sourcebooks Landmark.
Only an honest review was required.


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