Synopses & Reviews
At the top of his form, historical novelist Allan Massie revisits Britain in the dark years after the collapse of Rome, when the land is being ravaged by bitter struggles for power among warring kings. Or so it is until the arrival of Wart, a servant boy who has been tutored by a troupe of strolling players as well as by the politically astute magus Merlin. Reinventing old stories like that of the sword in the stone, Massie replaces the magic in Merlin's wondrous deeds with natural philosophy. In the often-incredible stuff of Arthurian legend and sixth-century history, Massie seeks out more mythic truths as romance confronts unheroic realities in Wart's transformation into the statesman-king Arthur. In Massie's tale, too, Arthur's marriage to Guinevere is a matter of political convenience. Lancelot is a sickly neurotic with little sense of honor. Mordred hides behind religious piety as he undermines Arthur's kingdom with a military dictatorship. An increasingly troubled and isolated monarchas unsympathetic to his thuggish knights' lust for battle as he is to their quest for the Holy GrailArthur does have one long-loyal friend. His name is Cala common man blessed with common senseand an invention of Massie's brilliant own mind.
"In this second volume of his historical trilogy (after The Evening of the World, set in the dying days of the Roman Empire), Massie presents a cheerily erudite deconstruction and retelling of the Arthurian legend. The linear events of the narrative are familiar: as a young boy, Arthur is schooled by Merlin, then claims the throne of England by pulling the sword Excalibur from its stone. Massie's version, however, fashions alternate histories for familiar characters (chronicling, for example, Merlin's wretched childhood and describing the twisted use he makes of his powers) and takes a playful, humorous tone ('Nor was Arthur enamored of mathematics, even though Merlin took great joy in that subject and excelled (as he supposed) in expounding it'). Once crowned king, Arthur is portrayed as a strategist and statesman whose marriage to the Saxon maiden Guinevere is one of convenience; his true love is his half-sister, Morgan le Fay, and he has a fondness for pretty youths (as does Merlin). Similarly, the machinations of the Knights of the Round Table are seen as a series of political maneuvers, particularly when the knights jockey for position as the quest for the Grail begins. Readers looking for the standard heroic take may be disappointed, but those of 'a speculative and skeptical turn of mind, which takes nothing on trust or unexamined' will appreciate this bracing chronicle. Agent, Weidenfeld & Nicolson. (Dec.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Familiar legend comes freshly minted in this boldly original retelling of King Arthur's tale and all its woes and wonders.