Thursday, June 24, 2010

Brothers of Gwynedd Part 2 - Dragon at Noonday

At the beginning of the summer (Northern Hemisphere season that is because it isn't particularly warm here at the moment), the Sourcebooks Summer Reading Club was announced. The book that we were going to be reading was The Brothers of Gwynedd by Edith Pargeter. It's fair to say that a fair proportion of the participants in the club really struggled with the first part of the book (myself included), but it seems that continued for most people with the second part of the book, and therefore the club was cancelled.

I might have been one of the few participants who was disappointed at this outcome, because as much as I struggled with the first part, I really enjoyed the second part of the book, so at this point I am planning to try and stick with the original time frames. We'll see how we go with that. The story was engaging, and I was disappointed when I had to put the book down a couple of times, because I would rather have been able to keep reading than to go to work.

Once again, I found myself thinking back to my reading Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh trilogy a few years ago, with the events in this second part of the book equating with a lot of the storyline from Falls the Shadow. I am thinking that when I do finally finish this book, then a reread of the Welsh trilogy may be in order.

Part 2 of the Brothers of Gwynedd, which was originally published as a separate book under the title Dragon at Noonday, opens with Llewellyn returning to his lands in triumph. He is the head of a mostly unified Wales, with most of the major players having agreed to follow him. What followed was a period of relative prosperity and strengthening in Wales, helped in no small way by the fact that the attention of the English was not focused on their borders, but rather on internal strife.

Of course, the history of the relationship between Wales and England being as it is, even when things are peaceful it is never really all that calm, and for Llewellyn one of the worst things about this particular period of prosperity is the desertion from his ranks of one of his most important men, who also happened to be one of his relatives. On the flip side, it also meant a deepening respect and friendship between himself and Simon de Montfort, who at one point was the virtual leader of England during the baronial opposition to Henry III which is sometimes referred to as the Second Baron's War.

Rather than talk too much about what happened, I wanted to comment more on a couple of the characters, specifically the narrator Samson, and also Simon de Montfort.

It is always interesting when reading historical fiction to see what device authors use to get their fictional characters close to the action. Having Samson be a clerk who is a dab hand in a fight as well as having some religious background turns out to be very clever. By virtue of his occupation, Samson is able to be right in the action whether it be with Llewellyn, or as happens several times, by having Samson be temporarily seconded to Simon de Montfort's camp and by in the action I mean that he very well could be either confidante in his role as clerk or in the heat of battle.  The other advantage to having our narrator be a clerk, is that there are times when more background information can be shared through letter form, and it doesn't feel unnatural or out of place.

At the time that this book is set, King Henry III was being called to task by many of his lords for not living up to the agreements that he made in relation to the taxation and governance of the people. The leader of the rebels was Simon de Montfort who happened to be married to the King's sister. The relationship between the two men had started out in friendship, with Simon being one of Henry's son's godfathers, but it soon turned to animosity. Throw in some meddling from the church, and it seems like it was never going to end well.

One thing that I did find interesting is that in both this book and Falls the Shadow - again comparing to Sharon Kay Penman - the portrayal of Simon is so positive. In this book,  words that he are used to describe him include pure and saintly. An effort is made to admit that he does have failings, but for the most part it is obvious that the author really admires everything that Simon de Montfort stood for. He did do some amazing things, and is generally agreed to be one of the founders of modern parliamentary democracy, but I have also heard that there are some suggestions that there might be things to be less enamoured of, particularly in relation to the action he took part in whilst on crusade. However it is that he behaved in his time, I do find him a very interesting and dynamic character from history to read about, especially in the hands of excellent authors.

My plan now will be to pick up the third book at the beginning of next month and see what happens next, both in relation to Llewellyn and his family, in the relationship between England and Wales, and also in Samson's personal life. I am looking forward to it.

If I was to rate this second part, Dragon at Noonday, I would give it 4.5 out of 5, which is quite a contrast to the 3.5 out of 5 I gave the first part.


  1. I think I will end up finishing it but I'm going to spread it out a little bit more.

  2. I'm afraid that if I spread it out too much more that it will get lost in amongst the other big books that I am reading.

  3. Hi Marg, I've just stumbled across your blog and I'm glad I did :) I find historical fiction facinating, but I often struggle to get through the early chapters where authors tend to set up the context and major characters. Is that why the first part of this book was difficult to get through?

  4. I was disappointed with the cancellation, too. I've really been enjoying this book (and this is a reread for me!).

  5. You are a trooper. I was one of the readers that was skipping when it was canceled. It was just too dense, and not at all what it was reported to be. If I had more time, and wasn't so caught up in reading books for classes I'll be teaching this fall, I might stick it out, but I just can't. I'm glad to see though that you and other are still reading it and enjoying it. I'm sure it has some good, interesting historical points.

  6. I'll be carrying on with it too, on more or less the original time frame. I enjoyed the quartet the first time round and am enjoying the re-read.
    I agree with you that using Samson as the narrator is a clever device, as he can be wherever the action is at the time - I think the advantages of Samson as narrator get more noticeable as the series progresses.

  7. I am sorry to heard that the read along was canceled! It sounds like even though the first part of the book was a bit tough for everyone, that it really righted itself in the second section. I am glad to hear that you will be continuing on with it because I am really interested in finding out how it turns out for you. Great review! I think this book sounds really interesting to me!

  8. I think a lot of people were disappointed with the cancellation! I didn't sign up to be a participant, though I did enjoy reading everybody's thoughts on the book. I know there were a lot of people who thought Part 2 was really enjoyable and it's a shame that some people just gave up and the whole thing was cancelled as a result. I hope Sourcebooks does some other readalongs...It was a cool concept, and I'd like to participate in some.

  9. Allie, I am admittedly a long way behind on blog hopping as usual but I didn't see all that many mentions of disappointed people. I definitely think it was a small minority of bloggers. I am pretty sure that Sourcebooks are going to try it again at some point so hopefully the book will be a better one for everyone concerned next time.

    Zibilee, the only thing that will stop me from keeping on reading at this point is that I have so many other big books on the go at the moment as well.

    Carla, I did notice Samson's usefulness in the first section, but nowhere near as much as in the second book. I do want to see how things go with him, particularly in relation to Godred and Kristen.

    Becky, can I ask what you thought it was reported to be and wasn't?

    Michele, how long ago did you originally read this book? I had been intending to for a while so was definitely interested when they announced that it was being republished.

    zz, I think the difficulties of the first section were due to several factors. One factor was definitely the historical setup that was required but another factor was the denseness of the language, which is very different to the more accessible ways that most historical fiction is written these days. If you click on the link in my post, you can read my thoughts on the first part.



Related Posts with Thumbnails

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by 2009

Back to TOP