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Gillian [Marucha] Bradshaw (1956 - )

Hawk of May
Simon and Schuster, 1980


Hawk of May, the first book of Bradshaw's Gawain trilogy, sets the story of Gwalchmai (Gawain) in sub-Roman Britain. Bradshaw did an adequate amount of historical research for the piece, but scholarly opinions about the nature of sub-Roman Britain have changed considerably since she penned this tale. Her use of legendary material is heavily Irish rather than Arthurian. When she does use Arthurian sources, she invariably takes the Celtic-origin interpretation of the material to extremes. Bradshaw includes a note at the beginning of the novel, briefly outlining her sources. She owns that she antedated the Irish conquest of the Orkney Islands and clearly states that she envisioned a "Celtic Roman empire" existing in Britain in the sixth century. She cites several of her Irish sources and gives the reference for a passage from the Aeneid, which she uses at one point in the novel. She also presents a brief discussion of Welsh pronunciation and explains her choice to use modern Welsh forms of personal names and lack of consistency in forms for place names. At one point she refers to "Celtic forms," which I find more confusing than enlightening, since we do not have any hypothetical "Celtic" forms for the names to which she refers (instead, we have forms from languages that are descended from a hypothetical Celtic original). The story itself weaves between the world of high fantasy and the "real" world, with occasional forays into the realm of historical fiction. The narrative follows Gwalchmai from the arrival of the news of Uther Pendragon's death, through adventures during which the young warrior acquires his sword and magical horse, explores his own magical powers (which for some unknown reason Bradshaw associates with the Germanic tradition of the berserker rather than with the Celtic branch of that tradition), and becomes one of Arthur's knights. The familiar cast of Arthurian knights, kings and enemies is present: Cei (Kay), Bedwyr (Bedivere), Agravain, Gruffydd (Griffith), Cedric, Lot, and others. In spite of the problematic scholarship behind the book, which was caused, in part, by the atmosphere in Arthurian studies at the time Bradshaw composed her work, Hawk of May is an excellent story. The tale itself is tight and consistent. The characters are vivid and well developed. Bradshaw's descriptive narration is absolutely top notch. The fast-paced action keeps the reader turning pages, and the mental tapestry of images created by Bradshaw's words is absolutely intriguing. So, if you can overlook the flaws, which are only visible when you compare what's in the book to what we now know about sub-Roman history and the Arthurian legends, this novel is an excellent read. - Linda A. Malcor 10/99

- Linda A. Malcor, 11/23/2005

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