Book Review: Gift Guide 2015: Fiction by Austin Authors

A well-researched and swiftly paced historical novel for grown-up girls who dreamed of being knights

Gift Guide 2015: Fiction by Austin Authors

There are girls who are traveling home to visit their families this holiday, who find themselves staying in their old rooms, looking at their childhood books, and can't help but thumb through some of their favorites. The horse girls will gaze at worn and well-loved copies of Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague. The amateur sleuths will revisit Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy. But the ones who begged to go to the Renaissance faire, who rewrote portions of Eragon and Lord of the Rings so the girls had better parts – the adventure-sword-and-dragon girls – they'll be wistfully revisiting Tamora Pierce's books and remembering how good it felt to be their own knights in shining armor.

Gwendolyn's Sword is Austin author E.A. Haltom's gift to Protector of the Small fans all grown up. A spectacularly well-researched and swiftly paced historical novel (with just the most tantalizing hint of magic) follows the titular Gwendolyn, a 22-year-old woman managing her husband's estate as he fights in the Crusades alongside Richard the Lionhearted. Land grabbing and rebellions foment in the king's absence, thanks to his resentful younger brother, John (known best from his role as villain in the tales of Robin Hood), and when Gwendolyn discovers that she is a distant descendant of the legendary King Arthur and supposedly the heir apparent to his sword Caliburn (better known today as Excalibur), she rises to the occasion and takes up the mantle of hero and political player.

Gwendolyn's Sword can't help but be fun by virtue of its genre alone, but its rich details and understated feminism are what distinguish it. Of course, a great part of writing about historical times is presenting the ugly realities of its ideology, and in 1193, as today, there was plenty of misogyny to go around. But Haltom doesn't allow Gwendolyn (and for that matter, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who appears throughout) to be crushed by it, and in the meantime allows space for fruitful female relationships, frank realism about womanhood (never have I been so surprised and delighted to have menstruation discussed in a book), and the creation of a heroine who deserves as many ballads as Arthur, Richard, or Robin Hood. One can hope for a sequel.


Gwendolyn's Sword

by E.A. Haltom
Wisdom House Books, 343 pp., $13.99
  • Gift Guide 2015: Fiction by Austin Authors

    From Hill Country mysteries to Lone Star steampunk, fantasy femmes with swords to alienated runaways with lycanthropic tendencies, there's an Austin novel for everyone on your gift list
  • Kissing in America

    Rabb's second YA novel features more than one love story, and they're all worth telling

    Hill Country Property

    Passion, compromise, and human frailty figure large in this touching and funny Texas novel
  • Bats of the Republic

    An arcane tapestry of alternate cowboy history and steampunk sci-fi in a multitextured graphic package

    Rules for Werewolves

    This tale of runaways prowling suburbia in a pack recalls the eerie unreality of The Twilight Zone

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Science Fiction / Fantasy
<i>Cold Storage</i>
Cold Storage
David Koepp's new thriller involves zombies, but its unexpected take, rooted in scientific realism, will make you rethink how the genre works

Reid Jowers, Aug. 30, 2019

<i>The City of Brass</i> by S.A. Chakraborty
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
This debut fantasy novel is appealing, in part because it draws on legends of the Arab world for its magic

Elizabeth Cobbe, March 2, 2018

More Arts Reviews
<i>Before Stonewall</i> by Edward Cohen
Before Stonewall
The short stories in this collection from Austin's Awst Press simmer with queer rage, grief, and longing

Rosalind Faires, June 25, 2021

<i>The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid</i> by Lawrence Wright
The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid
In his account of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the New Yorker writer reports the killers are off the leash

Michael King, June 4, 2021

More by Rosalind Faires
<i>One Last Stop</i> Is an Electrifying Queer Timeslip Romance
One Last Stop Is an Electrifying Queer Timeslip Romance
The author of Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston, unveils her second novel

June 4, 2021

<i>The Hunting Wives</i> by May Cobb
The Hunting Wives
When the Austin author leads you into the Piney Woods for her new thriller, the trip is sultry and surprising

May 14, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Science Fiction / Fantasy, E.A. Haltom, Gift Guide 2015

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle