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The Dragon At Noonday (Brothers of Gwynedd 2), by Edith Pargeter

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Carla
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The Dragon At Noonday (Brothers of Gwynedd 2), by Edith Pargeter

Post by Carla » Sun January 6th, 2013, 3:53 pm

First published 1975. Edition reviewed: The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, Sourcebooks 2010, ISBN 978-1402237607. This edition includes all four of the Brothers of Gwynedd novels in one binding. The Dragon at Noonday, 193 pages. Complete quartet, 782 pages. Uncorrected advance review copy kindly supplied by publisher.

The Dragon at Noonday
is the second in Edith Pargeter’s series of four novels telling the story of Llewellyn ap Griffith, the last Prince of independent Wales, and his mercurial brother David ap Griffith in thirteenth-century Wales. The Dragon at Noonday follows Llewellyn from his achievement of a (more or less) united Wales in 1258 to the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 in which England formally recognised Llewellyn as Prince of Wales. It also follows the closely linked story of the civil war between King Henry and a reforming party among the English barons led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Many of the major characters are historical figures, notably Llewellyn and David, their mother Lady Senena, King Henry III of England and his son Edward (later to be Edward I) and Simon de Montfort and his family. The narrator Samson, clerk and secretary to Llewellyn, is fictional, as is his lover Cristin and her husband Godred.

Scarcely a month after most of the Welsh lords and chiefs swore homage to him, one of them breaks his oath and Llewellyn has to take military action to punish him. Together with his youngest brother David, currently proving an able and active ally, Llewellyn successfully maintains order within Wales and defeats any attempts at external aggression. But when their mother Lady Senena dies, her dying words inflame the rivalry between the brothers all over again. When the reform party in England led by Earl Simon de Montfort asks for Llewellyn’s tacit support, David repudiates his promise to Llewellyn and goes to England to fight alongside his childhood friend Edward, son of King Henry III. As the bitter civil war between the English monarchy and Earl Simon’s reformers builds to its tragic climax at the bloody battle of Evesham, once again David and Llewellyn find themselves on opposing sides, and the growing conflict between them threatens Llewellyn’s dream of a united and independent Wales.

The Dragon at Noonday takes up within days of where Sunrise in the West left off. As with Sunrise in the West, the characters of Llewellyn and David dominate the narrative, though Earl Simon is also a powerful, if temporary, presence. The remarkable complexity of David’s character and his contradictory feelings for Llewellyn, which started to emerge in Sunrise in the West, come fully to the fore in The Dragon at Noonday. David is so skilfully portrayed that the reader can understand and sympathise with him without necessarily condoning his actions. Llewellyn remains the hero he appeared in Sunrise in the West, honourable, generous and large-minded, always putting his country’s interests before himself. Earl Simon is another heroic figure, though perhaps cast in a more inflexible mould, prepared to fight and die for a principle. Whether these two were quite as heroic in history as they appear in the novel is a moot point, but even if their motivations are idealised it doesn’t detract from the compelling story as Earl Simon’s tragedy plays out.

Among the other characters, Henry III is shown as a weak and rather spiteful man, distinctly not up to the job he was born into. His son Edward (later to be Edward I) is a more complex character. How anyone ever trusted Edward’s word for anything again after his double-dealing and oath-breaking to Earl Simon is beyond me, but although Edward’s cheating does him no credit whatsoever he is not merely demonised as a tyrant and is capable of controlling his desire for vengeance when it makes good policy. Edward, David and Llewellyn are the chief actors in the remaining story of independent Wales, and in The Dragon at Noonday they all take their places on the stage.

As in Sunrise in the West, the use of Samson as a narrator allows complex political events in both England and Wales to be recounted with clarity. Samson stands slightly outside the conflicts, an observer rather than a driver of events, and as a fictional character he can be placed wherever the conflict – military or emotional – is sharpest. Thus he can witness Earl Simon’s campaign as well as the conflict between Llewellyn and David.

Samson’s own star-crossed love for the beautiful and noble-hearted Cristin, which was briefly introduced in Sunrise in the West, grows and develops further in The Dragon at Noonday. In particular, Cristin’s husband Godred who in his brief appearance in Sunrise in the West seemed an inconsequential lightweight, emerges here as a snake, all malice and venom. With his characteristic charity Samson attempts to understand Godred and see his behaviour in a favourable light, but he has to look very hard to find anything resembling a redeeming feature.

The end of the novel is not really an end, more of a pause before the story moves on to its next phase, so any readers who aren’t reading an edition with all four books of the quartet in one volume would be well advised to have a copy of the next book, The Hounds of Sunset, to hand. A family tree at the beginning helps to keep the characters straight, though I found the text sufficiently clear that I never needed to refer to it, and a glossary of Welsh terms at the back may be helpful to readers unfamiliar with the period. Readers who like to trace the campaigns and journeys on a map may like to have an atlas to hand, as there is no map in the book (at least, not in the advance reading copy; there may be one in the final edition).

Second in a thoughtful and evocative quartet of novels telling the powerful story of Llewellyn ap Griffith, last prince of independent Wales, and Simon de Montfort’s attempt to establish political reform in England.
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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Fri January 11th, 2013, 5:57 am

Thanks, Carla, for this review of one in a series of novels I've read and loved repeatedly over the years. Although The Heaven Tree is still my favorite of Pargeter's novels, the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet is a close second (despite its rambles into historical intricacies such as those summarizing the movements of various armies and strings of minor skirmishes in less-than-riveting detail). For me, Pargeter's David and Llywellyn are simply two of the most tragically compelling characters in historical novels anywhere.
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Post by Lisa » Fri January 11th, 2013, 9:35 am

The Brothers of Gwynedd quartet is sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. I'll probably read it later this year. I do really want to, but am waiting a while after reading The Reckoning first. If it can match The Reckoning, I'll be very impressed!

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Post by Carla » Fri January 11th, 2013, 4:25 pm

[quote=""Margaret""] For me, Pargeter's David and Llywellyn are simply two of the most tragically compelling characters in historical novels anywhere.[/quote]

Agreed, I couldn't put it better. Especially David, for me, because of his complexity and brilliance. If I had to choose, I think I'd rate Brothers of Gwynedd just above The Heaven Tree (although it would be a hard call!), which may be because I actually enjoyed all the historical intricacies and minor skirmishes, even to the point of getting maps out and tracing some of them :-) The first time I actually felt I might be beginning to understand why the Arwystli lawsuit was important was when I read about it in Brothers of Gwynedd.

Lady of Bennachie - It's probably a good idea to wait a while after reading The Reckoning. I think both are superb, but they are very different.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue January 15th, 2013, 3:07 am

If I had to choose, I think I'd rate Brothers of Gwynedd just above The Heaven Tree (although it would be a hard call!)
Brothers of Gwynedd has more complexity and scope, while The Heaven Tree has a more focused theme (though Brothers of Gwynedd certainly has a powerful theme as well!) and a story that is more condensed and cohesive. The former is closely based on historical events, while the latter (I believe) is entirely fictional (though informed by Pargeter's deep understanding of the history of the Welsh Marches). That probably goes a long way toward explaining the differences between the two works. It makes sense that different readers would gravitate more to one work than the other - and also that readers who appreciate one will also likely appreciate the other.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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Post by Carla » Thu January 17th, 2013, 2:49 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]Brothers of Gwynedd has more complexity and scope, while The Heaven Tree has a more focused theme (though Brothers of Gwynedd certainly has a powerful theme as well!) and a story that is more condensed and cohesive. The former is closely based on historical events, while the latter (I believe) is entirely fictional (though informed by Pargeter's deep understanding of the history of the Welsh Marches). That probably goes a long way toward explaining the differences between the two works. It makes sense that different readers would gravitate more to one work than the other - and also that readers who appreciate one will also likely appreciate the other.[/quote]
Yes, I think you're right.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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Post by Justin Swanton » Mon January 21st, 2013, 11:31 am

A first-rate review of one of my all-time favorites.
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Carla
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Post by Carla » Sat January 26th, 2013, 4:50 pm

Thank you, Justin - I'm glad you liked the review. This quartet is among my all-time favourites too.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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