Haltom’s debut novel follows Gwendolyn de Cardinham, who, upon discovering that she may be King Arthur’s fabled heir, finds herself caught in the middle of a clash of crowns.
In defiance of proper ladylike behavior, Gwendolyn not only carries a sword, she knows how to use it. Upon encountering a band of mercenaries loyal to the would-be usurper Prince John, she draws her sword in protection of her estate, Penhallam. While on their way to deliver one of the captured mercenaries to a nearby gaol, Gwendolyn’s taciturn constable William Rufus takes her to see an aged prior, who gravely informs her that she is the descendant of King Arthur and thus the rightful heir to his mythical sword, Caliburn. When Gwendolyn discovers that Prince John, angling for his brother King Richard’s crown, has been hunting for Caliburn, she realizes that she’s uniquely poised to thwart John’s rebellious efforts. Under the command of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the dowager queen, Gwendolyn puts herself in the middle of the brothers’ duel for the crown. The queen’s plan takes Gwendolyn and William on a perilous journey to the castle of Arundel, where Gwendolyn must ultimately confront her own skepticism about her mythical heritage. Haltom creates likable heroes (feisty Gwendolyn and loyal William stand out) and enjoyably detestable villains. The author shows a meticulous concern for historical authenticity, evident in the little details, such as Gwendolyn’s struggle to conceal a sword in a lady’s gown. Though history buffs will undoubtedly appreciate Haltom’s thoroughness, the attention to detail can at times reduce the novel’s pace to an almost agonizing slowness, particularly in the many traveling scenes. Despite these shortcomings, the author’s writing style is smoothly readable throughout, especially in scenes heavy with action and dialogue. As Gwendolyn’s story builds to its tension-filled climax, Haltom draws the storylines together into a cohesive, largely enjoyable whole. The addition of magical elements in the forms of William’s visions and an evil sorcerer add a welcome layer of adventure and intrigue. Plus, Haltom wisely leaves room for a sequel.
Well-written, well-plotted, and mostly well-paced, a feisty addition to the historical fantasy genre.