on January 2, 2012
I am someone very interested in the setting of these books. I'm interested in the roman empire, and it's fall. I'm interested in the dark ages. I'm interested in the Romano British. I'm interested in the ancient Celts of Britain, Hibernia, Wales, and Brittany who come before during and after the Roman conquests. I'm interested in the Saxons and Angles and other Germanic tribes. I'm also interested in the legends of king Arthur as well as historical tie ins to those legends. This series should have been just for me!
I'll throw in that though I'm a fan of these topics, I'm not a historian on these times or peoples. I've never done a history degree, and though I touched on many historical readings of the dark ages, I have never done any thorough or academic research of the period. I don't claim to be an expert. I'll still state my observations and opinions.
There were some things about this book that I liked. I liked learning a few things about roman Britain, where the cities were, and how the military was organized and such. However one thing the author wrote into this story made me doubt the historical accuracy of the rest of the book. There is an important character who comes from the Roman aristocracy, old blue blood of Rome if you will. He's not only born of old respected ancestry but also born into great wealth. He is introduced as a general. At one point in the book he says that his son is joining the Legions as a rank and file soldier, just like he did. Not as an officer, not with special privileges... a common foot soldier. I can not swallow that both he and his son joined the Roman legions as common legionnaires. From what little I know of late Roman society, aristocrats did not join the legions as common soldiers nor did common soldiers get promoted up to being generals. In this story I am asked to believe that this character of very high birth joined as a common foot soldier and worked his way up to commanding a legion through honest hard work and personal excellence. I'm also asked to believe that his son is embarking on the same path. I could be totally wrong but I feel the author is imposing modern western middle class values of hard work into a society where those values do not belong. In my mind it destroyed all credibility that the author possessed.
Aside from making certain characters buy into modern values, and making me question the authenticity of the story, I do have other critical comments. I found the pacing odd. sometimes it glossed over long periods while at other times it was detailed. I suppose this is what happens when you tell a tale that goes over lifetimes and even generations. Personally I like tales of action and high adventure and at times I was disappointed when the narrator would summarize periods of great trial and conflict with very brief descriptions.
This first books can be read as the life story of a man, a Roman veteran. but the focus of the story is more towards the end of his life as he starts to build a new community. This will be important in the later books. Afterwards it follows the stories of others who follow the ground work he helps to set. With the passing of one hero we begin to focus on another. i have not finished the series but I would not be surprised if the second hero who is focused on is eventually overshadowed by a third. But I can not say as I have not read that far.
Overall I enjoyed the beginning, but lost interest as the books progressed until I just stopped reading them. I would not recommend it to anyone whole heartedly. I might reservedly recommend it to those who, like me, are interested in the historical setting that it takes place within. i may eventually pick it up again and continue reading. It wasn't horrible.
on March 11, 2001
Although this is ostensibly a review of "The Saxon Shore", it in actuality covers all four books of the series to date ("The Skystone", "The Singing Sword", "The Eagles' Brood", and "The Saxon Shore"), primarily focusing on the last two, since I've already written a review of the first two. Now, that I've totally lost you, I'll begin again. . .
This series, The Camulod Chronicles, outlines the story of King Arthur as it might have been in a historical perspective, beginning with the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. If there were such a person as Arthur, he would have lived during this time. Most likely, he was a composite character, based on some of the more influential warlords and petty kings of the day. As an aside, I am reminded of a vacation in southern England that my family took in 1995. My sons, who were 11 and 13 at the time, could not understand my excitement in viewing the ruins of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, asking "How can this be the birthplace of someone who never was?" But, that's a different story. . .
The first two books of the series, which outlined the founding of Camulod (or Camelot) and Avalon and the forging of the sword Excalibur, were told from the viewpoint of an old Roman soldier. These last two books, which detail the birth of Arthur and his early boyhood years, are told from the viewpoint of Merlin, or, "Merlyn" in the Chronicles. As an avid reader of Arthurian legend and all its various retellings, let me tell you that the character of Merlin is probably one of the most varied of them all, probably due to the fact that he was actually a minor character in Mallory. Hence, the details are free to be filled in by the current chronicler. Merlin ranges from an evil wizard living backward in time to a benevolent sorcerer to merely a human being who is just a little smarter than most. The most esoteric version of Merlin can be found in Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle in which Merlin is the son of Charis, the last princess of Atlantis, and Taliesen, the greatest of the Celtic Bards. Except for the exotic birth, Jack Whyte's Merlyn has much in common with Lawhead's Merlin in that both were mortal men, though a little larger than life in that they were fierce warriors, outstanding field generals, and outstanding scholars. Also, neither possessed the true gift of magic, though they were believed to by the masses of humanity.
The Camulod Chronicles begin earlier than Mallory's "Le Morte D'Arthur", in a time that historically did occur, hence the tales carry an air of realism. The descriptions of the Roman influence on Britain in the late Fourth and early Fifth centuries are fascinating. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, but the pages just keep on turning. The story is easy to follow as well as fun. There are those critics who complain that some of the dates given are inaccurate, as well as some of the situations. As Don Henley sang, "Get over it." This is historical *fiction* at it's finest, with the emphasis on *fiction*. Granted, there are differences between this series and others of its kind, but the abundant variety of viewpoints and details are what make Arthurian literature the great store that it is. The only "disconcerting" thing I've found so far is that the character of Vortigern (who was an actual person, by the way) is far more sympathetic in these tales than in others I've read. But, then, Jack Whyte has turned out such a magnum opus that I can only admire and respect his poetic license.
I have begun the fifth book of the series, "The Fort at River's Bend" and the level has not dropped. I will keep reading these books as long as Mr. Whyte keeps writing them (book 6 is in print and book 7 is due to be published later this year). So far, I consider this to be among the best Arthurian series' I have ever read. I would recommend them to anyone who has an interest in the Arthurian legend, anyone who has an interest in historical fiction, or both. As a bonus, anyone who likes these books would most likely like Stephen Lawhaead's Pendragon Cycle and Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy. The order you read them in is not important, though somewhere in the mix you should read Mallory to see where it all began. I love Arthurian fiction and fact, and, after reading these books, I'm sure a lot of the rest of you will, too.
on April 27, 2000
I only review books that I like. It seems to me childish and petty to attack an author's work simply because you don't like it. I usually don't bother to finish books I don't like, let alone waste time reviewing them. Why would anyone continue to read a book that bores them?
I have bought and read all six of Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles: The Skystone; The Singing Sword; Eagle's Brood; The Saxon Shore; Fort at River's Bend and The Sorcerer. It is a great series, and I enjoyed each one of them.
It is to be expected that Whyte departs from the (rather sketchy) history Aavailable of the period, in a fiction series. And yet he has done his research, obviously, which is important to me in historical novels.
There have been several very good books written about the pre-Arthurian period in England, many of which I've read. Jack Whyte's worked ranks right at the top, with me. I am familiar with what history is available, having read much of the period, and his research effort is obvious.
He begins with a couple of Roman legionaires as his protagonists, before the Legions pulled out of England: Publius Varrus and Caius Brittanicus. The series then follows their lives and their family's lives through a series of gripping adventures, as they strive to maintain order and peace on the colony they have created in the South of England.
Publius Varrus, a blacksmith, creates a great and beautiful sword from a meteorite before he dies, which he names Excalibur, King Arthur's famous blade. Of course, eventually the series chronicles the lives of Merlyn (Merlin) and Arthur.
I was caught up in the story, and I strongly recommend it. It is entertaining and a delightful way to learn a bit of history. Buy them, you won't be sorry.
author of THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS: Our Journey Through Eternity
on November 25, 1999
Jack Whyte's chronicles get better as they continue. The Roman history is a fascinating read and is easy to follow for anyone not familiar with the Roman conquests and traditions. The continuing adventures of Caius,Lucanus,Connor, Shelagh, and their charges , their friends and their enemies, continues. Jack Whyte weaves a tale of mystery, history, and reality in a DICKENEST fashion. His characters are unforgettable and it will be a sad day for me when I complete the Chronicles. What a set of films these stories would make. I can see all of my heroes and their adventures in my mind, the character descriptions are so vivid. I mourned the death of Caius and of Varrus and of Picus as I would mourn the death of any close friend. The memories created by the Camulod Chronicles will be with me to the end of my days!
on January 12, 2000
This book isn't that bad, but it certainly isn't that great, either. Overall unremarkable next to so many other excellent historical fiction novels or just plain adventurous fantasy novels. This book would be much better if the characters weren't caricatures, if the dialogue wasn't so artificial, generally if the writing were up to the standards of the field. But I enjoyed it in the way that I sometimes enjoy junk food. So I don't care about the historical accuracy of this book, the problem with this book is the sophomoric writing and all-around sub-standard story-telling.
on December 19, 1998
If you're looking for a history lesson, you shouldn't be reading Aurtharian tales in the first place. If it's epic, high-adventure, in a realistic setting you crave then you'll be satiated. Jack Whyte's re-telling of the dusty legend brings life and color to an other-wise "dark age." He beautifully, and sometimes starkly, synthesizes the historical and mythical tales. The result is a marathon, page-turning session which leaves one on the edge of his seat.