May Earth Rise
Medallion Press (485 pages, $15.95, October 2009)
Reviewed by Charlene Brusso
Does the world need another Arthurian fantasy series? There are as many versions of the story of King Arthur as there are authors to tell it. This is the fourth novel (following Night Bird’s Reign, Crimson Fire, and Cry of Sorrow) in Taylor’s muscular epic fantasy Dreamer’s Cycle, which blends Arthurian myth with Celtic legend in a Dark Ages setting. Arthur is a High King without a kingdom, threatened by one Havgan, a Coranian warleader from across the sea (think Saxons) who’s devoted to Lytir, the One God, and feels it’s his duty to kill all the witches.
As the novel opens Arthur is plotting to rescue the Y Dawnus, the magic-wielding druids, seers, sorcerers and bards whose powers are necessary to sustain Kymru, Arthur’s empire. Taylor casts Arthur as a master strategist who first offers Havgan a chance to leave Kymru – and the Y Dawnus – or stay and die. Havgan, a determined aggressor, and overconfident to boot, refuses to leave. Arthur is surrounded by a large cast of characters – minor kings who once ruled various parts of Kymru, some displaced druids who’ve broken away from the Archdruid after he sided with Havgan, and various friends and relations.
While the overarching plot of May Earth Rise concerns Arthur’s plans to defeat Havgan and regain his kingdom, much of the story itself is concerned with lovers: Gwydion, the Dreamer of Kymru, and his beloved, the sorceress Rhiannon, whom Havgan longs to possess; Rhoram, former king of Krydyn, desperately in love with the woman archer Achren, who will have none of him until Havgan has been driven out of the land; Geriant, son of Rhoram, who longs to rescue his long-lost Enid, trapped in an abusive marriage with Hargan’s partisan Morcant; young magic student Neuad, who loves Myrddin unrequitedly; Havgan himself, and his beloved – but dangerous – Kymric mistress, the witch Arianrod; and others.
As lovers meet and are separated by unfolding events, treachery and violence abound. If you’ve seen the film Excaliber, you’ll have a sense of this book’s melodramatic style. Readers new to the series will have trouble getting up to speed through all the backstory, and keeping track of all the characters can be a challenge–but those who stick it out will be rewarded with plenty of twisty intrigue and epic action.
Charlene Brusso is a science fiction & fantasy author and science writer. She also reviews science and genre fiction for several venues, from Ad Astra and Black Gate to the NY Journal of Books and the SF Site.