Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: "Dawnflight" by Kim Headlee

One of the first advance copies of a book that I ever received for review was the Pocket Books edition of Kim Headlee’s “Dawnflight” back in 1999. Nearly 15 years later, Headlee has revisited the book, making a few changes and relaunching the series that never happened back then.

The book tells a familiar tale – the love story between King Arthur and Guinevere – but approaches it in a different way. In place of the courtly Lady Guinevere of most tales, we have the Caledonian chieftaness Gyanhumara, a warrior through-and-through who takes heads as trophies. That alone is enough to set it apart from most Arthurian stories.

After the forces of Arthur the Pendragon defeat Gyan’s people, she finds herself bound to marry one of the former enemies of her tribe as part of the treaty. Urien map Dumarec seems the most obvious choice, and despite misgivings, she agrees for the good of her people.

As Gyan gets to know Urien, who expects her to play the simpering wife, those misgivings come more into focus. She’s troubled further when she meets Arthur, the man she should hate above all others, and finds an instant spark with him.

There have been a lot of years and a lot of books since I originally read “Dawnflight,” so I only remembered it in broad strokes. It was nice to get a chance to meet the characters all over again, though I admit that some of the changes in the book probably eluded me because of the time factor.

Headlee has changed the language significantly in this book and added some nice line drawings (also her own) which signal shifts in viewpoint. There have also been some changes made in the story, though the overarching storyline remains the same.

As I said in my original review of the first edition, “Dawnflight” is, at its heart, a love story, chronicling the meeting of Arthur and Gyanhumara and the struggles, both within themselves and with others, to be together. That said, I would by no means call it a romance. I’m also a little hesitant to call it fantasy, as there aren’t a lot of fantastic elements. It’s more of a historical piece.

“Dawnflight” dismantles the traditional, idyllic notions of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, instead offering a gritty and more realistic scenario that could have helped form the legends that we all know.

As Headlee intended, the book will also give you a different view of Guinevere, who the author feels has often gotten a bad rap from other Arthurian tales. Gyan presents a strong, independent and decisive picture of the heroine, and if betrayal lies in her future, as with the traditional Guinevere, I’m sure she’ll go into it with eyes wide open.

I’m just happy, after all these years, that there is a future for these characters. I was enamored of the tale when I first read it 15 years ago, and I still am today. This time, though, there’s more to look forward to with seven books planned and book two, “Morning’s Journey,” already available.


Kim Iverson Headlee said...

Fred!!! Thank you for your lovely revisiting of Dawnflight, 2nd Edition, on Goodreads & on your blog! I wish I had seen this sooner, but this summer has been crazy busy for me. Now that my head is above the waters again, I would be thrilled to send you copies of Morning's Journey and my newest (and only tangentially related) novel Snow in July if you would like to review those too. :)
All my very best wishes,
Kim Headlee
Stories make us greater.

Fred Phillips said...


It took me a little while to get to it, but I got there. ;) "Morning's Journey" is on my list, and I should have a review of it coming up some time in the near future. And please do send Snow in July my way. I'd love to read it. Thanks.