I have feelings. So many feelings.
Summerwode is the fourth book (out of an anticipated five) in the Wode series by J. Tullos Hennig. This story is (I believe) loosely based on The Tale of Gamelyn, which is a Canterbury Tale as well as actual English history from this time period, including a recorded siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194. Richard the Lionheart had been ransomed from Henry VI and is returning to English shores. Our band of outlaws had made some progress toward legitimacy in Winterwode, and now a royal pardon is within their grasp. Meanwhile, old enemies are plotting revenge and the leaders of the Templar Knights have their own agenda and seem to want to seize control of the magic of the Wode.
Why did this book take me almost two full months to read? I read 11 other books in between starting this and finishing it. I think part of it is that this book felt sacred. I didn’t want to rush through it just to get to the end (especially knowing that I’d be waiting for the next one) and I wanted to savor every little detail of the absolutely gorgeous prose. Seriously, the writing in this book absolutely blew me away on every page. How does Hennig – as a modern-day American writer – craft prose as lovely and lyrical as a Medieval ballad? The other reason why this book took me longer to read is that there is a definite shift in the pacing of this story (and Winterwode too, honestly) compared to the first two books in the series. Summerwode is much slower and the plot didn’t really compel me forward with a desperate need to know what would happen next. Rather, it led me through a slowly unfolding scene and asked me to appreciate the interesting details. Which I absolutely did. Think lazy river canoe instead of white water rapids. Both are good, of course. One just gets you to the end a lot faster.
Really though, I really can’t say enough to praise this book, and the series as a whole. I love, love, love the characters, their magical Medieval Wode, the dialects, the interwoven history and mythology: it all hits some really perfect notes and works so beautifully. As a consummate lover of all things achingly sad and painful, these books manage to deliver in spades as well. Are Robyn and Gamelyn constantly getting wounded, either physically or emotionally? Yes, and I truly love it. Not Marion though. Stay away from my queen. Anyone who tries to hurt her will have to go through me.
There is one thing about this book that is… controversial and that I had a really hard time reading. Let me warn right now for pretty big spoilers, ok? Spoilers from this point forward:
Other reviewers have mentioned this too, but basically the idea of a physical relationship between Gamelyn and Marion just felt too weird and forced and…. I don’t know. It made me uncomfortable. Especially considering that Gamelyn was drugged and neither one of them had really ever had any romantic feelings for each other before that. That being said, after the scene itself (which I was distinctly uncomfortable for the entirety of) I started to come around to the idea. I think seeing Gamelyn with Robyn again afterward really helped. I just love the chemistry between those two and I hate the thought of having that diluted. I do think it’s cool to see polyamory depicted in a positive and affirming way and I’m all for that. I guess I’m just pushing back a little on the feeling I got that was prioritizing procreation above Gamelyn’s own feelings and sexual orientation. At the same time though, I do love the idea of Gamelyn as a father, and I think he’s absolutely wonderful in those few scenes of him and Aderyn.
One thing I absolutely loved in Winterwode and Summerwode was the addition of a few new characters, especially Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alundel. I’m looking forward to (hopefully) seeing Alundel in a happier circumstance, but I’m so curious to learn more about his history with King Richard. Richard’s character was also superbly well done; his overbearing and bullish behavior was terrifying in its own right when it comes from someone who holds so much power. I also am growing to love Hubert more and more. His scenes in Summerwode were brilliant.
This book does end on a cliffhanger and HOT DAMN it is a tense one. J. Tullos Hennig please for the love of everything sacred you must write quickly and give us a bit of closure. And please, if you love us (you do love us, right?) do not hurt my sweet Heathens or keep them apart for long.
What else to say? This series is as close to perfect as I can dream up in my mind. It’s long and literary and achingly sad and gay and historical and ROBIN HOOD and… yeah. It’s everything. I’m so glad that we’re all lucky enough to live in a world where these books exist.