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
READ MORE
More Science Fiction / Fantasy
Your Fantasy House
Your Fantasy House
Where reader types would own a vacation home if it could be anywhere in literature

Robert Faires, June 17, 2016

More Arts Reviews
<i>American War</i> by Omar El Akkad
American War by Omar El Akkad
This dystopian novel of a late 21st century America split by civil war shows how vengeance survives down the generations

Jay Trachtenberg, April 21, 2017

Amanda Eyre Ward's Maternal Turn
Amanda Eyre Ward's Maternal Turn
In The Nearness of You, the Austin novelist writes about her most important topic yet: motherhood

Jessi Cape, Feb. 17, 2017

More by Rosalind Faires
Kate Shindle Talks <i>Fun Home</i>
Kate Shindle Talks Fun Home
The former Miss America on why she loves starring in the national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical

Aug. 11, 2017

The First Austin Bookstore Crawl
The First Austin Bookstore Crawl
This combo self-guided tour and scavenger hunt gives readers a new reason to seek out local lit sellers

April 28, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

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

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)