Gwendolyn’s Sword | Review

The prior pivoted on his stool to face Gwendolyn and stared at her intently.

“Gwendolyn,” he began softly, “You have heard the legends, some call them prophesy, told by the Welsh of King Arthur’s return?”

“What of it?”

Gwendolyn realized she was sounding combative and tried to soften her voice.

“I’m sorry, Prior Thomas, but other than being Welsh, I don’t see what these tales have to do with me or Penhallam.”

Thomas said the next words so quietly that she had to strain to hear him.

“It has everything to do with you and your family, child. Your father, and there also you, are the direct descendants of Arthur.”

Gwendolyn’s Sword is a work of historical fiction set in the Middle Ages and the crusades. The story weaves through the events, people and places of southern England during the autumn of 1193.

Trouble is brewing in England. Richard I, King of England, is being held ransom by the Germans creating a dangerous power vacuum. His brother John has aspirations for the throne. John is gathering a host of rebels to his cause, aided by a powerful sorcerer and abetted by the King of France. If he doesn’t ascend the throne through political manoeuvring, he is willing to gain it by force.

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Enter Gwendolyn. She had to run the de Cardinham family estate, Penhallam, on her own since her husband left for the crusades when she was still a teenager. Now she is a woman to be reckoned with, respected by her men, and as good as any knight with the sword.

One day she confronts a group of John’s supporters in a field near Penhallam. They are mercenaries, blood-thirsty men ready for war, travelling under cover and ready to murder to keep their secret. She kills one of them and drives the others off. Suddenly the turmoil in England is hitting home. The safety of her people is in jeopardy. Not only that, her brother-in-law joined John’s treachery and wants to reclaim the family estate as his own.

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It is at this time that Gwendolyn is confronted with her family history: she is the sole survivor and heir of King Arthur and the true owner of his legendary sword, Caliburn. This changes everything. She devises a clever plan to save her husband’s estate, thwart her in-laws, and bring down the treacherous John – all by enlisting with the dowager Queen, Eleanor.

I have always been a huge fan of Sir Walter Scott and his books set in the times of the crusades – works like Ivanhoe and The Talisman. This is the times of Robin Hood, of knights and chivalry, where alliances are forged in blood and on the edge of steel. It is a very exciting setting for a novel – a delicious distraction and a sort of a guilty pleasure of mine.

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So I was delighted that E.A. Haltom managed to bring this period to glorious life in her debut novel. Haltom’s descriptions are vivid and immediately pull you into the setting and the heroine’s mind. Her characters are beautifully drawn and show depth and complexity.

Gwendolyn, especially, is a wonderfully likeable character. She is a very strong female protagonist, full of spunk, able to hold her own among the boys without losing touch with her femininity.

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The story is meticulously researched and carefully developed without devolving into a history lesson at all. The historical facts effortlessly mix with the fictional elements to create a rich tapestry and highly engaging story.

This is a lovely book. It is clearly and beautifully written, professionally edited, and cleverly plotted. I became more and more enthralled with it as it went along. I highly recommend this work for its romantic setting, likeable characters and entertaining story. It is highly recommended. A must read.

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