When we lived in Chicago, I worked in the Loop & there were a couple
bookstores right nearby. So, as you'd imagine, I pretty much
haunted them & one
day, like manna falling from Heaven, B. Dalton got a huge shipment
remaindered books & aggressively marked them down. So I found
a bunch of great
books & a few that looked good & were so cheap, it was worth
trying them. Two
were from a series I'd never heard of, The Camlud Chronicles,
by a Canadian
author named Jack Whyte. In fact, they were Canadian versions
of the books and
as it turned out, had never been published in the U.S.
As it happened, the books, set in 5th Century Britain as Roman occupation
ending, related the events leading up to the forging of Excalibur &
terrific. I passed them on to Chuck & he liked them.
We both prowled around
looking for the succeeding volumes & couldn't find them.
As if that weren't bad
enough, I was at Dartmouth Bookstore one day & found the first
Hardcover with cover blurbs announcing an exciting new series.
They were just
getting around to publishing American editions, so we were looking
years before the third volume came out here. But for once, Chuck's
craftiness worked in my favor. On one of his trips he found himself
in Canada &
popped into a bookstore, where, lo and behold, there were the next
He read them & passed them on & I've had them for awhile.
I was hoping to wait
until the series was done before reading them, but Zack has now read
two & was clamoring for the third, so I advanced my timetable.
This third entry in the series tells the story of the cousins Caius
Britannicus and Uther Pendragon & their battles with King Lot of
(Fans of King Arthur will recognize Uther as Arthur's father &
Merlin.) Merlin is now the keeper of Excalibur and has been entrusted
task of finding the man worthy of wielding it.
Keeping in mind that it had a high bar to clear, I did not like this
much as the prior two (I'd actually rather that he'd worked backward
since we all know the story of Arthur). However, there were two
aspects of the
book that I liked very much.
First: Whyte shows the tremendous effect of the longbow. One of
pet theories, known as The Longbow Theory of Democracy (I'll develop
fully elsewhere), is that the development of the longbow was a great
democratizing force. It was cheap, easy to produce and was effective
against armor. It was "The Equalizer". A peasant couldn't
afford armor and a
steed and a sword, but all these accouterments became superfluous if
could defeat them. Thus, where armor favored a caste system of
advent of the longbow was a vital step towards a more equal distribution
power & self-government.
Second: One of the central themes of the book is the resentment of Britain's
Christians towards the Roman Church. One of the pivotal episodes
in the book
concerns the Church's emissaries & their effort to reign in the
British version of Christianity that the Islanders practice.
This is another
pet theory; that there was something unique in the intellectual/political/
social milieu of Britain that gave rise to Capitalism (Adam Smith),
(Arthur, Robin Hood, Simon De Montfort, Magna Carta, etc.) and Protestantism
(Henry VIII, Elizabeth, Puritan Revolution, etc..).
So, I'm giving this one a sort of mixed review. I loved the first
and enjoy the way he's developing themes that I agree with. However,
didn't meet the high standard of his previous efforts.
Just read your review of it and tend to agree... still a fun series,
steam starts to go out of it when he approaches events we're more familiar
with. However, if you think of Arthur as escapist fantasy with
descended from Romans, Whyte is the way to go.
For an interesting alternate viewpoint, read the Cornwell trilogy on
that develops many of the same religious themes, but portrays Arthur
completely differently. Here he's of British Isles lineage, much
and less heroic. The battles with the church are cast much more
heathens vs. Catholics, with blood in the air throughout. I liked
Whyte and Cornwell, came away thinking that Cornwell (of Sharpe fame)
a much better battle scene and offers a scenario that's probably closer
true. And since his battle scenes are better, the more familiar
a better read.