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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Eagles' Brood & The Saxon Shore

The Eagles' Brood and The Saxon Shore by Jack Whyte. Toronto, Canada: Penguin Books, 1995, 1996. ISBN: 0-14-017048-0 and 0-14-017047-2

These are the third and fourth books in Jack Whyte's Arthurian saga, "A Dream of Eagles." The first two books are titled The Skystone and The Singing Sword, respectively. The amazing thing about this particular retelling of the age-old story is that at the end of four good-sized, lengthy novels, Arthur himself is only 8 years old, and Merlyn is just now removing him from his home to be raised somewhere else.

The story that Jack Whyte tells is really the story of a colony, as the protagonists themselves call it, a colony of native but Romanized Britons who attempt to set up a Roman style enclave after the Roman armies have left Britain early in the fifth century AD. The colony is called Camulod. The main characters in the first two books are actually Merlyn's grandfather and his friend. The current pair of books tell the story of Merlyn himself, starting as a boy, and growing into manhood.

These Romanized Britons forge an alliance with the native Celts of Cambria (Wales), under their king, the "Pendragon," a title, not a name. Uther, the father of Arthur, and Merlyn's cousin in Whyte's version of the story, grows up alongside Merlyn, and is Pendragon throughout much of these two books, until his death at about the same time as Arthur's birth.

If there is a downside to the series, it is that it takes thousands of words and four full-length novels, just to get Arthur born and into boyhood. Still, the stories stand up on their own, and make for good reading, although the author's slightly pedantic style does get in the way from time to time.

Only the barest bones of the traditional Arthurian legends make it into the story thus far. The sword is there, but known only to Merlyn and a select few others. Arthur's mother, Ygraine, is wife of King Lot of Cornwall, implacable enemy of Camulod and the Pendragon, but Merlyn has no hand in her liaison with Uther. Merlyn himself is far from being a wizard or magician, although there are hints that he is capable of becoming such in future.

These stories are recommended reading for the true fan of all things Arthurian, and also for the lover of historical fiction set in the Roman era, when told from a decidedly masculine and military point of view.

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