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[Spoilers for Bradshaw's 'In Winter's Shadow', more historical story of King Arthur, at the end. Spoilers for the book specifically, though if you know the legend you will know this all anyway; in this one there is no Merlin, no Lancelot [replaced by Bedwyr], severely curtailed magical elements.]I've finished In Winter's Shadow and I have reverted to the state of being unable to do anything but think and want to cry and I am glad to have Hawk of May on my shelf because I need to go and reread that again to comfort myself. I knew what was coming, and I thought that the infidelity plot was the worst of it, but it wasn't, because now they are dead, they are all dead - Cei and Goronowy and Rhuawn and Gwyn and Rhys ap Sion, Gwalchmai and Arthur and Medraut - dead, all dead, and the rest of them scattered. Agravain, dead, the entire kingdom of the Ynysoedd Erch and Gwalchmai's clan deposed and executed. In the middle of the book Bedwyr thought he'd killed Gwalchmai and I had to stop reading, curled up and couldn't muffle my shriek entirely, but then he really does die and I thought - I thought -

Bradshaw gives a nod to the myth of Arthur sleeping, though Gwynhwyfar believes him dead, that she couldn't find him because he had been cut down from his horse and mutilated beyond recognition among all the dead they had to bury. I think I feel cheated a little because Bedwyr and Arthur never did face up again, Gwalchmai had to dictate a letter with his dying breath to Bedwyr and never talked to him, because Medraut realized his love for his brother after Gwalchmami was dead - a novel full of missed connections. After escaping from Less Britain Gwynhwyfar sees Arthur but leaves again straightaway for Camlann with the wounded; and the whole time I was hoping for some kind of meeting between the two on British soil even if it had to be over Arthur's dying body, but instead all we have is Gwynhwyfar's conversation with Taliesin where she finally snaps under unimaginable pressure and shouts that he's dead, he was probably one of the hundreds that she had buried.

It is not enough dead and not enough bitterness for me to write it off as merely cynical, and Gwynhwyfar who narrates it is too busy and numbed and worn down by the end in running the last calamitous war from Ynys Witrin that it's not even sad, it's just too much. Everyone is scattered. In my mind I know that the Saxons' settling of England does not mean the end, that the medieval period is not everything that is dark, but for Gwynhwyfar and Arthur and Gwalchmai the Empire stood for Light and what has come now is oncoming rushing dark.

If Hawk of May was bildungsroman for Gwalchmai, and Kingdom of Summer a novel about - oh, I don't know, the middle things, with the death and ending of Morgawse and the beginning of the end - then In Winter's Shadow was the end. I knew the basic plot and yet I didn't know how much it would hurt, actually; Gwalchmai's been my favourite character from the start but by the end the only significant characters left alive are Gwynhwyfar and Bedwyr, on two separate continents, and Gwynhwyfar is a little despairing despite everything. Rhuawn! He went over to Medraut's side early, and so did Goronowy, but when they died they did so supporting Arthur and it is a novel about war and it hurt.

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