Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Eagles' Brood

The Eagles' Brood
Written by Jack Whyte
Book 3 of the Camulod Chronicles
Price: $25.99 ($16.04 at Amazon)
Historical Fiction/Fantasy (Arthurian)
Pages: 623 (mass paperback)

The Eagle's Brood is Book Three in the Camulod Chronicles. The series reimagines the Arthurian mythos from well before King Arthur's time, indeed, even before Uther's time. The chronicle is focused in a historical manner with a few nods to things that 'could' be interpreted as 'magic' or 'mysticism' but happen all the time such as deja vu.

Because Jack Whyte is always moving the series forward, The Eagles' Brood introduces a new point of view character and it is no less than Caius Merlyn Britannicus or simply Merlyn. This version of Merlyn is unlike any I can actively recall. He's no seer. No prophet. No magi-. No wild druid.

This Caius Merlyn Britannicus is a soldier, a leader, and a strategist. In this, he is joined by his cousin, Uther Pendragon. The two are the heirs of the growing colony, Camulod. They strive to keep all that is best from the old Roman Republic alive while adapting to their homeland.

As they do this, they find enemies about them including Lot, a king to the south whose ambitions include taking over Camulod and indeed, all lands.

Jack Whyte does a fantastic job of detailing out the ruin of the island as more and more traces of civilization fade. Without roads and with what crumbling infrastructure remains falling under constant attack by Saxon raids, civilization itself, or at least civilization in the cities, begins to fall apart.

Even as that happens, Uther and others craft and create their own weapons. Uther discovers stirrups for riding a horse. As I've read a few stories dealing with the Arthurian mythos, this bit struck in in particular until I did some cross references. Ben Bova did something similar with Orion, a time traveller who also helped King Arthur.

Uther on the other hand, invents the flail. This turns out to be a widely used killing weapon capable of smashing skulls and destroying breastplates as if they weren't there. The early day weapons and revisions to counter the new weapons plays out well in the novel.

This first person telling of Arthurian myth in a historical fashion is different than say, Bernard Cornwell and his own first person telling in the Warlord Chronicles.

For me, the Warlord Chronicles was all about the strategy. All about the terror and exultation of being in the shield wall.

And it's not that Jack Whyte doesn't have several combat scenes within his tale, but rather, they serve to move the story forward to the next character moments. The characters and their fates are what keeps the series moving forward.

I was a little worried by book two what I took as numerous useless passages but here the story movies quick and the character beats are solid. At the end I was left wanting to pick up the next chronicle ot find out "what happens now!".

If you're looking for an Arthurian version that tries to stick with the historical as opposed to the fantastic, The Eagles' Brood should be on your reading list.