The first hardback edition, published in January 1997 by Eastern Washington University Press, was shortlisted for the Georgette Heyer Historical Fiction Prize.
Mayse sets the scene for us in this piece on her website https://susanmayse.ca/books/
‘Inspired by the ninth-century Welsh poetry cycle Canu Heledd (the Heledd poetry), Awen draws on three enigmas of early medieval Wales: the inscription on a ruined memorial stone, the monumental earthwork that marked the border between early Welsh and English kingdoms, and the unnamed poet of Canu Heledd.
One woman alone, a homeless wanderer shocked by grief, survived the destruction of her family and her kingdom of Powys. Her name was Heledd. One poet made her the voice and conscience of his own devastated Powys generations later. His purpose and identity remain unknown. Only fragments of the poetry cycle still exist to suggest what happened on the Welsh border in the seventh and eighth centuries.
This novel tells of a fragile peace between enemies. It is the story of Cynfarch’s journey from dispossessed hostage to king’s poet, his obsession with a lost kinswoman, his hard exile and the betrayals that ended peace forever. Awen reconstructs the shattered portrait of a complex, brilliant culture long since swept away on the flood of history’.
Publisher Holdfast Books also tempts the reader to this eighth century tale:
‘Long after Arthur lay in a rain-washed grave, long after the legends faded from memory, a new generation defended an old border. White town in the breast of the wood, his forever is its wealth: blood on the face of the grass.
In a dangerous era, an enigmatic poem portrayed a war fugitive wandering her ruined kingdom; an earthen wall transformed enemies into uneasy allies; and a man with a famous name wrote an inscription of lies on a memorial stone. All three survived twelve centuries as fragments of a nearly forgotten world. Awen imagines the origins of the poetry and restores the breath of life to a brilliant poet in a dark time’.
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