Tagged: arthurian legends

I, Morgana by Felicity Pulman

I, Morgana by Felicity Pulman(Cover picture courtesy of Momentum Books.)

You know my name, but you don’t know my story …

After being schooled in magic by Merlin and promised a kingdom, Morgana is robbed of her birthright and betrayed by everyone she has ever trusted. Risking everything for revenge, Morgana uses her magical arts to trap Merlin, threaten her half-brother King Arthur, and turn away the only man she will ever love. In destroying King Arthur and Camelot, Morgana sets into motion a catastrophe that can only be reversed if she can learn from the past in time to protect our future … and so fulfill an ancient prophecy.

In the tradition of The Mists of Avalon comes a new story of Morgan le Fay, one of the most enigmatic and reviled characters in Arthurian legend.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I requested I, Morgana on a whim one day while browsing through NetGalley.  The blurb sounded interesting enough but when I began the novel I was under the impression it would be all about Morgana railing against her wrongfully deserved evil reputation.  Fortunately, it was nothing like that.

Morgana is an interesting narrator because she’s not very self-pitying.  She accepts that she really did deserve a lot of her reputation and you can really feel her deep regret at all that she did in the name of trying to seize her kingdom back.  Maybe her reputation as evil incarnate is not deserved but she was far from a good person in her younger years.  Still, even though I didn’t like her as a person her introspective voice as she writes looking back on the events is enough to make me keep reading.  Morgana is a complex person whose ultimate downfall was her pride so you really can’t help but empathize with her.

I liked how Felicity Pulman stuck to the traditional Arthurian legends most of us are familiar with but also put her own flair on them.  Morgana can travel into the Otherworlds, which was never really mentioned in the traditional legends.  She was also taught by Merlin himself and that makes for some very interesting confrontations later in the novel as both of them regret their shared past.  Felicity Pulman decided to set her novel much, much later than most authors choose to set King Arthur’s time (she set it around the 1100s) but it works pretty well.

The only thing that disappointed me was that Felicity Pulman’s writing lacks description.  Morgana is always telling us what is going on rather than describing the scene as she saw it at the time.  It makes her a more sympathetic character in general but I would have loved a little more description of the various scenes throughout the novel.  Telling is okay for some purposes but reading a whole novel of it isn’t necessarily the most exciting.

Still, I really did enjoy I, Morgana.  It’s a very interesting take on a complicated woman who has become one of the great villains of legend.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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*Not available yet but will be published on June 26.

The Eagles’ Brood by Jack Whyte

The Eagles' Brood by Jack Whyte(Cover picture courtesy of 49th Shelf.)

The Eagles’ Brood continues the saga of the Colony known as Camulod, and the tale of the descendants of those brave Romans who forged a new way of life for the Celt and Roman peoples when the Roman legions departed Britain.

Most know the new leader of the Colony as Merlyn; all call him Commander. Cauis Merlyn Britannicus is responsible for their safety, and all look to him for guidance, leadership, justice, and salvation. It is a harsh life but a good community, and Merlyn is dedicated to spreading the influence of Roman culture beyond the Colony’s borders.

Uther Pendragon, the man who will father the legendary Arthur, is the cousin Merlyn has known and loved since they were birthed, four hours apart on the same day, the year the legions left Britain. He is the tireless warrior–the red dragon to Merlyn’s great silver bear–and between the two of them, the Colony knows few enemies.

As different as they can be, they are inseparable: two faces of the same coin. In a world torn apart by warfare and upheaval, each is the other’s certainty and guarantee of the survival of the Colony . . . until a vicious crime, one that strikes at the roots of Merlyn’s life, drives a wedge between them. A wedge that threatens the fate of a nation . . . .

For me, The Eagle’s Brood was such a sad book.  I had to say goodbye to some of my favourite characters from the previous two books: Picus, Publius Varrus and Equus.  Although Caius Merlyn doesn’t have the flair and sense of humour of Publius Varrus, I really did grow to love him as a narrator.

The characters were great in this.  We see everything through Merlyn’s eyes, with all of his judgments and flaws.  He’s a good person but not a perfect character and gradually realizes his flaws.  He can be more than a little judgmental and arrogant at times, but I love how the perspective is told from his older self looking back on his youth.  It brings a little more balance to the equation and I loved Merlyn all the more for it.  Uther was an okay character, but we didn’t really get to see much of the good side of him at all.  That’s why I feel I need to reread Uther (the standalone Jack Whyte later wrote from Uther’s perspective) to fully understand him better.

The plot wasn’t the most fast-moving at the beginning, but the last few hundred pages went fast.  The familiar Arthurian mythology we all know and love is now present almost all of the way through the novel and combined with the other events like the war with Lot, this made for a fast read.  If you’re just picking this book up without reading the first two in A Dream of Eagles you won’t appreciate it as much, but each of Jack Whyte’s books can stand on their own.

I can’t and won’t really comment on the historical accuracy of The Eagles’ Brood.  Although the main events of the novel are correct: the Romans withdrew from Britain, the Saxons started raiding the shores, tribes squabbled for control while the remaining Romans in the province tried to restore some order.  I have a feeling that most of Jack Whyte’s novel is historically accurate because of what I know of ancient Rome as well as how he really sucks you into that period of time.  You really do feel like you’re there and that’s something I’ve always admired in him as a writer.

Despite some rather graphic, disturbing scenes I really did enjoy The Eagles’ Brood.  I’d highly recommend A Dream of Eagles series to anyone who enjoys the Arthurian legends, with or without magical elements.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart(Cover picture courtesy of Hatchette Australia.)

Born the bastard son of a Welsh princess, Myridden Emrys — or as he would later be known, Merlin — leads a perilous childhood, haunted by portents and visions. But destiny has great plans for this no-man’s-son, taking him from prophesying before the High King Vortigern to the crowning of Uther Pendragon . . . and the conception of Arthur — king for once and always.

I’ve read so many different takes on the Merlin legend you’d think I’d get bored after this long.  But of course not, especially when I read such awesome books like Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy.  It’s the perfect mix of magic and realism combined with some brilliant research that makes it seem like Merlin could have been a real historical figure.

I’ll start off with the characters because they were my favourite part of the whole thing.  Merlin was pretty good.  He was a precocious child that grew up to be a mature young man that is slightly cynical about the world around him because he’s seen the ugly side of life.  He knows the fine line between the visions given to him on occasion and prophecy and that sometimes you need to give people what they want to hear.  The thing about Merlin is that he changes so much throughout the story that you can’t help but love him.  Seeing him interact with Ambrosius and Uther was fascinating.  Especially considering Uther isn’t the sort of man you would think he’d be in this novel.  I can’t say much without giving the plot away, but Uther is probably not how you imagined he would be.

I’ll admit that the plot is not exactly fast-paced but neither is it so slow that it drags on and on.  No, Mary Stewart has great pacing in The Crystal Cave and we really get to learn about Merlin on an intimate level while enjoying the plot.  Unlike so many first books in historical fiction/fantasy trilogies there are actually interesting events going on rather than the author just having the first book as a prelude to the real events.

Basically if you love the Arthurian legends you can’t afford to pass up The Crystal Cave.  It’s a great addition to the Arthurian canon and even if it wasn’t it’s a worthwhile read for Mary Stewart’s great writing style alone.  She has this way of describing things that’s just magical and leaves you wanting more (in a good way).  She never overdid the descriptions but I could clearly picture the world of Merlin.  Really, The Crystal Cave had everything I could possibly ask for.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Singing Sword by Jack Whyte

The Singing Sword by Jack Whyte

(Cover picture courtesy of The Templar Trilogy by Jack Whyte.)

Born of the chaos of the Dark Ages, the dream of eagles produced a king, a country and an everlasting legend—Camelot.

It is 395 A. D., and as the Roman armies withdraw from Britain, anarchy threatens the colony that will one day be known as Camelot.  Creating their own army and joining with the Celtic people of King Ullic Pendragon, the colonists emerge as a new breed of Britons, ready to forge the government that will be the Round Table and its Knights and to prepare the groundwork for the future coronation of Arthur, first High King of Britain.

I’m the sort of person that loves doing jigsaw puzzles, which is part of the reason why I loved The Singing Sword.  It’s a lot like a jigsaw puzzle, what with tiny, barley recognizable pieces of the Arthurian legends slowly being dropped into place.  We got the outline or the edge pieces in the first book in A Dream of Eagles (formerly known as The Camulod Chronicles), The Skystone, and now we’re starting to fill in the easy parts.

Publius is obviously more mature than he was in the first book and it’s almost more interesting to see this more mature, worldly point of view as he and Caius struggle to build up the Colony.  Their alliance with King Ullic, the growing threat of foreign invaders reaching Roman territory and an old villain reappearing made The Singing Sword very exciting and an entertaining read.  Of course, there are the bad parts of the novel as well and I would definitely not recommend it for people who are sensitive to gore.  Jack Whyte writes as Publius would have in the times and is less sensitive to the violence all around him.  Therefore, it’s difficult for someone with modern views on violence to accept the ancient world for what it was, but The Singing Sword feels all the more authentic for that.

Not only is Publius more mature than when we left him at the end of The Skystone, all of the other characters are more mature.  Their newly acquired maturity does not mean that they’re boring or that they don’t have character arcs.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Fans of the first book will love to see their favourite characters change even more and will learn to love the new generation that helps bring the legend of Camelot closer to reality.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Skystone by Jack Whyte

The Skystone by Jack Whyte(Cover picture courtesy of Jack Whyte’s website.)

Born of the chaos of the dark ages, the dream of eagles produced a king, a country and an everlasting legend—Camelot.

Publius Varrus is a veteran Roman officer and a maker of swords.  In the early fifth century, amid the violent struggles between the people of Britain and the invading Saxonx, Picts and Scots, he and his former general, Caius Britannicus, forge the government and military system that will become known as the Round Table, and initiate a chain of events that will lead to the coronation of the High King we know today as Arthur.

A Dream of Eagles is yet another series that I didn’t start at the beginning.  Instead, I received one of the spin-off books, Uther, for my birthday.  I loved Uther, which made me track down The Skystone, the first book in the series.  But in the back of my mind I was wondering if I would like Jack Whyte’s earlier writing just as much as I liked his later writing.

The answer?  Absolutely!  Jack Whyte’s A Dream of Eagles (or The Camulod Chronicles, depending on when it was published) is a series that documents how the Arthurian legends could have really happened.  That means there’s no magic and a bit of historical speculation, but otherwise the series is accurate.  Rome really did withdraw from Britain in the late 300s AD when the Motherland was being threatened (hint: it didn’t help).  Before the chaos of Roman withdrawal, we meet Publius Varrus, our narrator, and his best friend, Caius Britannicus.

Publius is an amazing man, but is also a flawed character.  He can be incredibly wise and Jack Whyte has given him an unique voice, but he does things that will make you want to reach in and slap him.  Publius is far from perfect, but I guarantee you’ll love him anyway.  Caius doesn’t feature nearly as prominently as I would have liked, but he undergoes an amazing transformation in the last hundred pages or so.  And the ending was fabulous, tying together the mystery of the skystone and one of the very, very important parts of the Arthurian legends.  I can’t wait to read the next book, The Singing Sword.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight by Gerald Morris

The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight(Cover picture courtesy of Rainbow Resource Center.)

Sarah knelt and cleaned her blade on the grass, then sheathed it.  Her stomach was tight and she was slightly nauseated, but she felt no emotion.

Ever since her mother and guardian were killed, thirteen-year-old Sarah has been living on her own, searching for the murderer.  Her quest for revenge leads to greater adventure when she witnesses Queen Guinevere being kidnapped.  Soon Sarah is accompanying Sir Gawain and Squire Terence on a remarkable journey to rescue the queen.  But as the plot thickens, Sarah begins to learn the true consequences of vengeance and what it really means to be a princess.

Well, this was Book 6 of The Squire’s Tales series and I can confidently say that so far I love the whole series.  There is no ‘bad’ book in Gerald Morris’ retellings of the Arthurian legends; they’re all great.

Although from the summary I expected Sarah to be a typical girl empowerment character, that was far from the truth.  Her actions make sense and her character arc is gradual, but very powerful.  Just as a warning to younger readers, let me say that this book is more graphic than the others and may offend sensitive readers.  After all, the reason Sarah is looking for revenge is based on real, very tragic historical events.  And the road to revenge is not without its victims, so just keep that in mind.

Once again Gawain and Terence show up near the end of the book, but it is Sarah and her Dung-Cart Knight that play a much more important part in the story.  Gerald Morris certainly has an interesting take on Lancelot, who shows up later on.  Lancelot has changed immensely from the first few books when he was a caricature of a proper knight: foppish, immersed in courtly love, etc.  He has actually acquired some depth in this book and I look forward to seeing him in the next few books, if only to see how these changes affect his new life at court.

With a fast plot, amazing characters both old and new and hints at the tragic ending of the Arthurian legends, you won’t want to put down The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight.  Even though it’s aimed at younger readers I loved it, which is why I recommend it to readers of all ages.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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Parsifal’s Page by Gerald Morris

(Cover picture courtesy of Better World Books.)

Piers, watching from the door to the shop, gaped with awe at the night.

Piers is desperate to escape the dirty, tedious labor of his father’s blacksmith shop.  So when a knight shows up and says he’s on “the quest,” Piers begs to go along.  Surprisingly, his father lets him, and soon he is off on a series of adventures he never dreamed possible.  However, Piers’s knight quickly runs into difficulties and is slain by an odd character named Parsifal, who is on his own quest.  Piers has no other choice but to join him.  As their journey continues, Piers begins to realize what being a knight really means.

Apparently the legend of Parsifal is quite famous, although I have only heard of it through the title of Richard Wagner’s opera, fittingly called ‘Parsifal‘.  And no, I had not even watched the opera, just heard of it.  My only encounter with Parsifal thus far was briefly when Gawain wrestled with him in the Other World.  However, I’m glad Gerald Morris saw fit to bring Parsifal to the front of the stage.

This story is not told by Parsifal himself, but rather by Piers, his page.  Piers was raised to believe knights should follow a strict code of courtesy and that questions were impertinent.  It is this latter belief that gets both of them into trouble and in the end Piers’ views of knighthood are drastically altered.  Since this fourth book in The Squire’s Tales is told from the point of view of Piers, we do not get to see Parsifal’s thoughts, which is a real shame.  I personally would have liked to learn more about Parsifal’s motivations and his life in the Other World, but Piers is a decent enough narrator.

Once again the story is not so much about Terence and Gawain, although they appear in it and definitely challenge Piers’ views of the relationship between squire and knight.  While Parsifal’s Page is not my absolute favourite book in The Squire’s Tales, it’s certainly a good book and a fitting retelling of yet another popular Arthurian legend.  Sometimes authors lose their steam by the third or fourth book in a series, but this is certainly not the case for Gerald Morris.  He has attacked the legend with all the enthusiasm you would expect and delivers a heartwarming tale of friendship and love.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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