Guigemar is a knight from Brittany. Fighting alongside King Arthur, he is very much the ideal knight, in that he possess all of the qualities that makes him a legend in Arthur’s court. Save for one thing. He does not like the idea of love nor does he have any inclination towards it. In fact, he is extremely cynical about it. Upon returning to his land after many years- albeit a little overwhelmed with the reception – Guigemar is happy to be home. He describes to the court of his parents, as they listen with rapt attention, the countless battles won, and stories about attacks on darkly sinister forces in the North. Dorigen, his mother, more than a little curious about a lack of a wife, probes a little into his life as a knight. The story finds him quite averse to a discussion about women or marriage, as Guigemar recalls teasing Sir Gawain, one of Arthur’s most formidable knights, about poetry and love. I liked the author’s mention of Gawain in the story, it lends authenticity to Guigemar’s role as a Breton knight, fighting with Camelot’s best.
The story shifts pace a little when the adventure begins. Guigemar goes shooting with his childhood friend Jaufre, when he spots a ‘white hart’ – a rare white deer, a magical, legendary creäture known for its purity. Quite caught up in the challenge of pursuing this rare kill, he shoots the beautiful white hart, who is struck down. However, in what seems to be that odd moment of comprehension, where the knight realizes his mistake, Guigemar watches the deer fall, and the arrow rebound furiously onto Guigemar’s thigh. His pain is unbearable; a gaping wound, bloody, agonizing and hot. In a haze of pain, Guigemar recognizes a second spot of white and becomes aware of a fawn. He knows he has killed its mother, the hind, not a stag. As he repents his hasty shot out loud, the white hind speaks to him. It is a curse and blessing of sorts. The hind gently rebukes his haste, tells him her fawn will lose a mother and his realm will lose a knight. He will not die, but suffer a greater pain, one that can only be cured by a woman. A woman whose unconditional love will cause them both to suffer to depths they could never imagine, as she fights to be with him.
Guigemar loses all hope, walks around blindly in pain and stumbles onto an unknown ship, with no apparent crew. It sails endlessly for days and nights to a land unknown, as he dreams deliriously before opening his eyes to a lady who is angelic in her beauty, ethereal graceful and kind. Here, Guigemar’s true journey begins.
Medieval England is a time in history I am quite partial to. There is something so grand about that magically exquisite time when Arthur ruled Camelot, when he discovered Excalibur, and when he and his knights with the help of Merlin, fought alongside other knights, protecting the kingdom and region. Bretons are native to Brittany a region in France. Said to be immigrants from Cornwall and other parts of the Southwest of Britain, they are considered to be the most ancient of Britons. Many of them speak French today.
Kathryn Marlowe has done a remarkable job with her research, given the time frame of the story. The story’s incredible setting and the musical names of the main character and of his parents stay true to the history and reflects the region of Brittany beautifully. I also enjoyed parts of the story in relation to Arthur, particularly the implication of Guigemar’s close relationship with Sir Gawain and Sir Bors. The story is a lovely blend of myth and magic, unusually analytical about the reality of nature, about a scornful heart and the philosophy of love. The cycle of life is mentioned many times. I suspect it is necessary to the development of the main characters, as Guigemar’s heart, in the least expected moment opens to the possibility of love.
I did not like how slow the story was. I felt it was important to talk about who Guigemar was as a person, but the pace of the story somehow lost the depth I was looking for in each of the characters. I understood the philosophical conversations, the need to explore love in its purest form and how the isolation of these characters gave strength to that exploration. However, I expected a great battle, a climactic soaring fight to the end. I sought magic that was inherently Merlin-esque but with its own twist. I sought contradiction; flaws with flawlessness and I dearly wanted the Breton knight to display an Arthurian sword fight, not unlike the battle that was, but with much more flare. The language did not always reflect the era i.e. “grinned happily,” the writing however was beautifully lyrical.
I am looking forward to the second book with strong character driven battles. The series has such great potential.
Book – Knight of the White Hart – Breton Lais Book #1 By Kathryn ‘Kit’ Marlowe.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher, courtesy of NetGalley.
- 460 pages
- Tirgearr Publishing
- Kindle Edition, 2015