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Hawk of May    by Gillian Bradshaw order for
Hawk of May
by Gillian Bradshaw
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Sourcebooks, 2010 (1980)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gillian Bradshaw has written over two dozen excellent historical novels, beginning with an Arthurian trilogy, filled with magic. The first episode is Hawk of May, and though I prefer Mary Stewart's brilliant Arthurian Saga (beginning with The Crystal Cave), this one is not far behind.

The lead character is Gwalchmai (whose name means Hawk of May and who has also been called Gawain in legend). Gwalchmai is the middle son of three (the elder being Agravain and the younger Medraut) of King Lot of the Orcades Islands and the infamous sorceress Morgawse, daughter of Uther Pendragon, High King of Britain. Gwalchmai grows up bullied by Agravain and disdained by his father, preferring dreaming in his secret place by the sea to warrior training.

After Uther dies, there are various claimants to the throne and battles erupt between clans (in which Lot is active with Morgawse directing his moves) before Uther's bastard son and war leader Arthur claims the rule of Britain. In Lot and Agravain's absence at war, Morgawse teaches Gwalchmai to read and begins training him in her sorcery. Worshipping his mother, he concurs until the night of his full initiation. His eyes opened to the dark evil that has taken over Morgawse (and has already laid claim to Medraut) Gwalchmai flees.

Calling on his ancestor Lugh the sun-lord and on the Light, he is led to the Isle of the Blessed. There he spends three years in what seems to Gwalchmai a single night. He leaves with a magical sword and finds himself back in Britain, in the path of Saxons. Captured, Gwalchmai poses as a thrall. He eventually escapes the Saxon camp on the back of Sidhe horse Ceincaled and wends his way to Camlann, hoping to enlist with Arthur's Family. But, though he's reunited - and forges a new friendship - with Agravain (a hostage there for Lot's good conduct), and is accepted by Bedwyr, Arthur rejects Gwalchmai.

Gwalchmai fears that there is still too much darkness in him, but persists in following Arthur, fighting alongside his warriors, and assisting his surgeons after the battles. He earns respect from all but the High King himself - why? By the end of this first episode, readers have their answer, as Arthur finally accepts that Gwalchmai does not share his mother's stain. Hawk of May makes an excellent start to an unusual Arthurian trilogy and includes a preview of the next book, Kingdom of Summer.

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