Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Skystone By Jack Whyte (Book Review Edition)

Written by Jack Whyte
Book One in the Camulod Chronicles

Still experimenting with format of these blog posts. Trying to keep the reviews separate from thoughts on how I’d use the material in a game. Any opinions on that? Keep them separate? Bring them back together?

The King Arthur mythology is well tended. It’s had numerous books, comics, and even movies done about it. Some of these are classic. For example, Excalibur with a young Patrick Steward and a fantastic soundtrack.

Despite the age of the myths, despite numerous classic books like the Quest for the Holy Grail and modern books, such as Bernard Cornwell's own fist person telling through the Warlord Chronicles, there’s still room for others to plant their vision.

In the Skystone, the first book of the Camulod Chronicles, we’re introduced Pubius Varrus. He is our first person narrator for the tale of the Skystone. 

Varrus is a bit of a Mary Sue. He does face adversity. He does face loss. But when the chips are done, he always comes through smelling of a rose. 

He often finds himself in situations where no, he should be dead, but nonetheless, comes out on top. As a main character though, his flaws, such as his injured leg, help make up for the overwhelming good fortune he has.

Unlike some books on Arthur, this one takes place well before Arthur, or even Uther is introduced to the reader. This is a tale that takes place when Britain is a land still under the control of the Roman Empire but that control, over a number of years, slips and begins to vanish away.

Jack Whyte takes his time in the slow descent of Rome. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are signs and portents of it everywhere. Some people looking at things in America now might draw some parallels to how things work in Jack’s Rome. For example, discipline in the Roman army is down. They used to dig trenches prior to setting up for an overnight stay on the road for defensibility purposes.

That in and of itself may seem small, but coup it with soldiers not being treated right by Rome in the first place. In tandem with the Roman empire accepting people of various nationalities that aren’t Roman but who leave after service, bringing those skill sets with them. When people in other countries have been under assault for years by the Empire, their children killed, their resources drained. There are some parallels if one chooses to look for them with modern America.

By the end of the tale, Varrus and his good friend Caius Britannicus, have started to forge their own colony for the former Romans who are of long standing British birth. They have their own plan and their own method.

And more importantly, they have access to the fabled Skystone!

Jack Whyte puts a little too much description and detail into his writing but the good news is that it flows quickly. In terms of writing style, it’s not an “as it happens” 1st person. It’s an “as it happened” first person. The author is alive and well. We might fear something bad is going to happen to Varrus, but we know he’s not going to die. An editor who wanted to reduce this novel could probably have lopped out 50 pages without doing it any harm as it would still weigh in over 400 pages.

With such rich details and interesting characters, Jack Whyte has hooked me for at least the next two books as I already own the third and will shortly hunt down the second.