Queen of the Summer Stars: Book Two of the Guinevere Trilogy
Woolley gives fair warning that her vision of King Arthur’s world is in the realistic tradition. The book’s first sentence, therefore, should come as no surprise: “I Guinevere, wife of King Arthur and High Queen of Britain, dashed around the corner of the chicken coop, arms flying, war whoop filling my throat.” It put me off, nonetheless, as did Guinevere’s endless grinning and even the anachronistic description of her being a “tomboy.” But Woolley’s three Guinevere books – Child of the Northern Spring, Queen of the Summer Stars, and Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn – were first published from 1987 to 1993. Sourcebooks wouldn’t be republishing them if they weren’t good, I thought. What’s more, the hallowed Geoffrey Ashe, modern Merlin of Arthur’s legend, praises Woolley, saying her “re-creation of the legend… [is] far better than anything else I’ve read.” So I plugged on.
On page 54, when Lancelot comes on the scene, I began to see the light, and within a dozen pages of that I was thoroughly enjoying the book. The long back story, delivered in clunky conversations, was over, and Woolley relaxes into a marvelous rhythm of storytelling for the next 450-some pages. At the book’s end, I was surprised at how little action there’d been – this is a character-driven romance and, as Ashe says, a re-creation of a lost world – and yet it’s a page-turner. Morgan le Fey, Morgause, and Agravain are all appropriately despicable; Arthur is a flawed hero; Nimue, Isolde, and Tristan all hold their own; but it’s Guinevere and Lancelot who really come to life and spring off the pages. Fans of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset, Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles, and, of course, Mary Stewart’s take on Arthurian romance will likely enjoy Woolley as well.