I immensely enjoyed book I of the Warlord Chronicles, and eagerly rushed to my local book store to pick up "Enemy of God" once I had finished it. I had heard some say it was better than "The Winter King," and some say it was worse. After finishing it, I think the truth falls somewhere in the middle, with it being both better in some ways, and weaker in others. I'll preface the rest of this review by stating there are some spoilers, so don't continue past this point if you haven't finished book I.
The tale begins with Derfel, Merlin, and Nimue heading north to Ynys Mon, an island shrouded in legend as the once holy site of the ancient druids, but now ruled by the half-mad Irish king Diwrnach. There, Merlin says, the Cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn will be found. This entire "side-quest," I felt, went on for far too long, and ended up feeling as separate from the rest of the book. If it had have been edited down a little more, I feel it would have suited the rest of the story structure better, and would have helped get the novel off to a quicker start. As it is, however, we must wait until after the cauldron is retrieved before we get to Arthur and co. Thankfully, once this part is over, the book quickens its pace, and becomes thick with my favorite aspect of this trilogy: the ruins of the Roman Empire!
I love Romano-British history, and it's one of the reasons why I enjoy Cornwell's take on the Arthurian legend so much -- it's a story set in and around the last remnants of a once mighty empire, now mostly forgotten, but still embodied in Arthur. When Derfel heads east with Arthur's army, they come into Saxon lands that had once been thickly settled by the Romans, and we are exposed to Arthur's pain in seeing the knowledge and civilization that Britain once possessed slipping away to be replaced by barbarity. I found myself wishing for more of the story being set in and around these ruinous visages, but Cornwell only offered a tantalizing taste of it.
Derfel, the PoV character, has matured between the Winter King and Enemy of God. He is older, stronger, more experienced, and now leads a large band of warriors. Cornwell handles his character arc wonderfully, but I found myself unable to fully suspend my disbelief over the success of his affair with Ceinwyn. This is one of the areas I found myself most disappointed in. The innocent love Derfel held for Ceinwyn in book I was enchanting. She seemed unattainable, his love for her an unimaginably large obstacle to be able to ever overcome. I was eager to see how Cornwell resolved it in the books to come -- I was sure it would be the source of countless heartache for the young Dumnonian. Well, as it turns out, all it took to realize his love was to run away into the forest with the princess. On the night she was to be wed to Lancelot, she went instead into the watching crowd, fetched Derfel, and left, walked right out, and began a family in a little house in the woods. Just like that. It seemed a little anticlimactic, and decidedly lacking in my wished-for heartbreak. Ah well. They still make a strong couple, even if I do find her character a little one-dimensional.
Overall, book II excels in some areas, but falls short in others. I hope I didn't make this review seem too negative -- it's not meant to be. "Enemy of God" is still a very entertaining read. It's incredibly difficult to make the second part of a trilogy as strong as the parts that bookend it, but Cornwell does make a knightly effort. Lancelot is as slimey, two-faced, and backstabbing as I imagined him to be, and witnessing Arthur's heart-break and anger overtake him at the revelation of Guinever's moonlit activities was one of the best scenes yet in either book. I can't wait to discover the harsher, colder "King" Arthur I expect I will find in book III.