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