Sparked by Words

Queen of the Summer Stars by Persia Woolley is book two of her Guinevere Trilogy, and a story that continued my passion for romantic Arthurian legends. Woolley’s unique take is to present the famous tale from Guinevere’s point of view. The series takes us from the princess as an adventurous youngster in book one, through the years of her romance and marriage to King Arthur and her attraction to Lancelot in book two to her final years in the third book when the legend of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table have become the stuff of the past.

It all started for me with the 1967 movie Camelot, the musical starring Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Harris, and Franco Nero. I couldn’t get enough of singing (badly) the songs and imagining myself so loved by two men. Of course I was very young then and in love with all handsome men, none of whom were in love with me. The movie was a perfect foil for the alluring alter ego I longed to be. Several years later when my marriage had become nearly impossible*, the books fed my craving to be adored. I was smitten by the adventure and fantasy of a world of magic, power, quests, nation building, and a beautiful woman at the heart of it all. I can’t even remember which book of the list below I read first, but I know I read several out of order.

The essential Arthurian legend concerns Arthur Pendragon who is guided by the magician Merlin to claim his birthright to the High Throne of Britain, a land of warring lesser kings. The beautiful Guinevere becomes his bride and the High Queen but eventually she falls in love with  Lancelot, supposed to be Arthur’s most loyal and noble knight. Thrown into the mix is Arthur’s jealous and evil sister Morgan le Fey and her dour son Morgause, as well as the quest for the Holy Grail. Arthur is determined to establish the strength of the Round Table of fellow leaders to preserve the trembling country and protect it from foreign invaders as the Roman Empire collapses around them. The dream of enduring peace drives Arthur, and Arthur needs Guinevere at his side.

Ideas of faith, passion, sacrifice, fidelity, betrayal, rebellion, determination, schemes, and murder accelerate the action. Guinevere, the symbol of greatest femininity and desire, despairs of ever having the one thing she most yearns for but cannot achieve: a child of her own. Though she is revered by everyone, she also suffers sorrow and self doubt. Every character is majestic but flawed, except for those who are well known to be simply evil and unredeemable.

This second book focuses on the best known parts of the legend, so I was familiar with the characters and the outcome. Woolley describes the complex political intrigue in detail but also lingers over the beauty of the land itself as well as the castles, dwellings, and aspects of daily life in the sixth century. Her fresh and masterful approach kept me eagerly turning pages, and then seeking the other two volumes in the series.

At a time in the world where greed, manipulation, and lies promote agendas to protect the powerful and sublimate the common man, the Arthurian legends speak to noble causes. Though the premise of a perfect world falters at the end because of human foibles, it’s nice to know there are ideals to which we may ascribe. If I had to describe Queen of the Summer Stars in a word I’d say sumptuous. Ah, queens and kings, campaigns and secrets, myths and reality – these books have it all.

I look forward to learning about your favorite Q fiction books – or your favorite Arthurian books.

 

*We’ve struggled, but the marriage remains intact; just celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary.

 

 

Other books based on the Arthurian legends or related ancient Britain topics:

Child of the Northern Spring, and Guinevere:The Legend in Autumn: books one and three of the Guinevere Trilogy by Persia Woolley

The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, The Wicked Day, all by Mary Stewart (I haven’t read The Prince and the Pilgrim, her final book in the series)

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (there are six other books in her series, but I haven’t read them)

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Sherwood by Parke Godwin (about Robin Hood, but similar in its romantic fantasy tone)

Oddly, I have not read Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory.

 

 

Book cover image courtesy: Google images and Sourcebook Landmark

 

 

 

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Comments on: "Q is for Queen of the Summer Stars" (26)

  1. I’m not big on Arthurian stories—non-fiction tends to be my thing—but I have read and enjoyed Mary Stewart’s works. Trying without luck to remember a Q book.

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    • Peggy, I get where you’re coming from, especially if you prefer non-fiction, but I bet there’s a recipe book beginning with the word “Quick.” These are definitely romantic fantasies and I really enjoyed them at the time, but they are not for everyone. And there aren’t a lot of other Q titles out there that would interest me.

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  2. Oh wait, a few years back I read ‘The Queen’s Necklace: Marie Antoinette and the Scandal that Shocked and Mystified France’ by Frances Mossiker. Fascinating and rewarding!

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  3. Sharon, books at times are the only solace in times of hardships, giving us the strength to continue. This is an epic sweeping strong series and I’m so glad you had these tales to go to during your marriage problems. This sounds wonderful and sumptuous seems just the word! BTW congratulations on your 45th wedding anniversary! 😀

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  4. You’re right on target for #AtoZChallenge–Q is for…

    This sounds delightful. I’ve been reading history, though long before King Arthur. Greeks, Romans, Neanderthals… that sort. There is a lot to admire about this book, especially told through a female’s eyes.

    Umm… I hope husby doesn’t read your blog, or maybe he knew you struggled back then. I learn more and more about you, dear Shari.

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    • Are you doing Q today, Jacqui? I haven’t been over to see your blog yet, but I will shortly. Yes, the series is a perfect read if you like romantic fantasy. And hubby knows, takes two to make a tangle, he’d agree, but he doesn’t read the blog. Like I said, we are happy to have celebrated 45 years a few months ago. 🙂

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      • Funny that your husband doesn’t read the blog. I used to do two blogs–one for my books and historical passions and one just to document the farm. My husband always looked at the farm one and never the other. In some ways I don’t think he can relate in any way to my main blog. 🙂 I guess I can’t relate to him being an engineer.

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      • My family has very little interest in anything to do with my writing. I was a bit hurt when my dad was alive and my mom was “present” (she has Alzheimer’s now so she is alive but not really present, sadly) that they never expressed any desire even to ask me to talk about what I was writing. Husband probably thinks I’m writing inane, gossipy nonsense. Only one son has read anything at all, and I think he was more impressed than he thought he’d be.

        One reason is likely that in conversation I dwell on the things that bother me (an endless litany of complaints of injustice and outrage) but my personal life is not what I write about at all. A few friends have read my books and they’ve mostly been complimentary. I tend toward being clownish when I’m not hiding in the corner so no one will find me. In high school the few friends I had, and they were very few, were always shocked to learn how high my grades were. So I guess my writing is my secret self in its best iteration – ? One can hope.

        You always start the most interesting conversations, Adrienne. How are the baby goats doing at your place?

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      • It’s so nice having bloggers like you to converse with on topics very few people in my life have interest in. 🙂

        My two adult children are also my biggest supporters and capable of talking me off a cliff when I have a writerly breakdown–we’re a trio of dramatic artsy types so we get each other.

        I think my husband who is compelled to step in and solve other people’s problems finds my fiction frustrating because the characters make dumb decisions. 🙂

        My parents had very little faith in any of us finding success in life. As survivors of horrible childhoods they felt it was good enough for us all to just go beneath the universe’s radar and then maybe lightning wouldn’t strike us dead too soon.

        This has led me and my siblings to be very secretive about our aspirations and often times very fatalistic in outlook. When I began to actually publish my stuff certain members of the family were very threatened by it, while others pretended it wasn’t happening. Yet, I love them all (for giving me stuff to write about! haha).

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      • That is some story, Adrienne. Thank you for sharing what must be painful to remember.

        I worked for years in a big bookstore (yeah, THAT one) and noted that very few men bought fiction unless it was violent crime, hard boiled mystery, military, thriller, or science fiction. When we used to go to stores to get videos, I noticed that men rented the same kinds of movies. Sounds so stereotypical but it was proven over and over. Just recently I overheard some man say that the reason women aren’t more heralded for their roles as actors or directors for “sensitive” films is that men have no interest in seeing them. Once in a while I’ll go to the opening run of a film (La La Land most recently) and I see the theater is filled with women. Sigh….

        I’m glad you’ve found your way to writing.

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  5. Congratulations on your stamina, fortitude, patience and enduring loyalty. 45 years is not a “Q” word, it’s a “W” for WOWZA.

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  6. I recall adoring Mary Stewart’s series. I only read the first three — the last two hadn’t come out yet. I especially enjoyed her depiction of magic.

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    • She’s a strong writer and her books really captivated me. I liked her depiction of everything. One day I’ll read the last book, The Prince and the Pilgrim – it was published more than a decade after the The Wicked Day.

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  7. I never think of Camelot without the Song,, “If Ever I Would Leave You” coming to mind. Such beautiful thoughts in one set of lyrics.

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  8. am not much for Arthurian either, tho no real dislike of it either

    so glad you’re back 🙂

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  9. Q fiction for me has to be Anna Quindlen, who I find really interesting to read. Fascinating characters and good plots. Not fiction, but as a teen I was influenced by the spirituality of French Catholic priest Michel Quoist and his Prayers for Life. I’m afraid I can’t recall reading any books about King Arthur.

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  10. I’ve read most of these, but I thought Le Mort D’Arthur was far better than Mists of Avalon.

    If you ever want to go on a Camelot comfort-reading mini-binge, I highly recommend /the Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers. He has Arthur reborn as the down-and-out mercenary Brian Duffy in the musketeer era, who’s needed to save the west at Vienna. Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy wrote a brilliant take–The Forever King–where Galahad’s spirit is born again in the cop Hal Waczniak, who, when the book opens, is trying to drink himself into oblivion over his failure to save a kidnapped boy. Both books show protagonists becoming heroes, warts and all, which is my favorite kind of read.

    I know, your TBR pile is threatening to take over your side of the bedroom. But just in case. 🙂

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    • The pile already overtook my side of the bedroom – and his – and part of another room.

      Thanks for these suggestions, they really sound excellent. And guess what – I just added them to the list. Now we’re on the back deck!

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  11. I adore indulging in Camelot sorts of readings. Anything that takes me towards a French romance.

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