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Good, But Not Whyte's Best
on September 14, 2001
In Uther, Jack Whyte attempts to tie up all the tantalizing threads that he left dangling at the end of The Eagle's Brood. He does his best to explain the enigma of Uther, solve the mystery of Deirdre's brutal murder, and clarify the vague circumstances of Arthur's parentage. He makes a valiant effort, but comes up short.
It isn't a dismal failure. Jack Whyte is, after all, a remarkable writer. But it's difficult to write yourself out of a corner, and he'd boxed himself in pretty tightly at the end of Eagle's Brood. What he gives us here is at least one new character, Nemo, who is almost completely unsympathetic and whose actions are utterly bizarre and incomprehensible despite Whyte's efforts to provide good motivation. As for Uther, Whyte has only limited success at demystifying his erratic personality, mostly because the author is forced to use the third person in order to tell this part of the tale. His previous books, which are first person narratives, are much more immediate and visceral.
There are other disappointments, as well. The love scenes are painful reading, but mercifully short. Whyte's battle scenes, although written with the same painstaking detail as in previous books, are difficult reading here. The outcome is a given, and the slow progress of Uther's troops is laborious and layered in dread. This is one time where I would have appreciated a little less detail.
What does the author do right? He immerses us, once again, in a world that is brutal and black and frightening and that strikes me, anyway, as utterly realistic. Against that backdrop he sets human beings who are trying to make sense of it all, trying to create a civilization out of chaos. In this book, as in all the others, he takes myth and roots it firmly in history. It's a worthy effort, just not his best.