Bingo Square: Throwback Thursday
I originally read this novel, and the rest of the trilogy it belongs to, over a decade ago when I was in Iraq. It was a gift from the same friend that turned to me onto A Game of Thrones, and I had fond memories of this take on the Arthurian legend that mostly attempts to be grounded in reality.
As a historical fiction nerd, I can definitely see why this approach appealed to me, especially since it leaned heavily on the idea of a Britain in political chaos and confusion after the Roman withdrawal. Rather than have time to rediscover their original identities, the Celts are quickly threatened by Saxons, while facing internal infighting. I’d been thinking about rereading this one since my trip to the Museum of the City of London, and having recently finished The Welsh Princes trilogy, I was definitely in the mood for medieval English novels.
Overall, I still liked this novel and its take on the Arthurian legend, though I think the trilogy doesn’t really get into the meat of it all until later in the books. As a result, this novel felt more like set up for things that would occur later even though this one was certainly action packed. I read quite a few Bernard Cornwell novels back in the day (the ones that come to mind for me are his American Civil War series, Agincourt, the Grail Quest series, and the stand alone Stonehenge which I enjoyed) but at some point I kind of moved onto to different material. I attempted The Last Kingdom about a year ago but only got about halfway through. However, reading this earlier effort, I could certainly see parallels between the main characters/narrators of both these novels. In both, a young warrior grows up outside his people but distinguishes himself among his adopted community; he forms bonds with a woman who will influence his life (at least that part was implied in The Last Kingdom); and he rises to an important warrior position based on merit and bravery.
In this case, the narrator is Saxon but rather than being raised as a slave, he is adopted by Merlin who collects misfits. Like many of Merlin’s fellow orphans, Derfel survived being sacrificed to the gods. After King Uther’s heir dies, his newborn grandson, Mordred, becomes his heir. In a land where might equals right this is a rather dangerous position, and through various political maneuvers, Uther’s bastard son, the warlord Arthur becomes one of Mordred’s three protectors. The novel charts the early years of Mordred’s reign, Arthur’s rise and Derfel’s development into a man. Cornwell introduces the key players, such as Lancelot (who is portrayed as an ass in this one), Guinevere, Galahad, Morgan and Nimue/Vivian. Since Derfel is still proving himself as a warrior, quite a bit of the novel takes place away from the court and Arthur. Arthur isn’t always at center stage because Derfel simply doesn’t have that much influence yet.
I am not sure if I simply didn’t enjoy this one as much as I did on my last read, or if it is that those memories are clouded by how the rest of the trilogy developed. I certainly liked the novel but I didn’t love it. I’ll have to reread the two follow on novels to answer the question if I had simply forgotten that this was more of a set up novel, or if it just don’t quite like this trilogy as much as I once did.
Bingo Square: Throwback Thursday