The Saxon Shore: This series begins to pay dividends

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Jack Whyte The Camulod Chronicles 4. The Saxon ShoreThe Saxon Shore by Jack Whyte

When we think of Arthurian legends, we tend to imagine certain things. Merlyn is ancient and wise, and Arthur is strong and a leader of men. In his A Dream of Eagles series (Camulod Chronicles in America), Jack Whyte does his best to undermine these expectations. When we meet Merlyn in The Eagle’s Brood, the third book of the series, he is a warrior. Now, we meet Arthur, a toddler with golden eyes. Will he prove fit to carry the sword that Publius Varrus forged in The Singing Sword?

Unfortunately, we don’t find out in The Saxon Shore.

Instead, The Saxon Shore follows Caius Merlyn Britannicus (still known as Caius), who finds himself the leader of a beleaguered Camulod. Last bastion of civilization or not, Camulod has been sorely weakened by its battles in The Eagle’s Brood, and Caius is doing everything in his power to ensure that the colony survives. Times are desperate indeed, particularly with the oncoming Saxon raids. If the colony is not strong, they may not be able to withstand the Saxons. However, Merlyn is also charged with raising and training Arthur. If nothing else, it’s a difficult set of challenges for Caius to overcome.

Whyte takes a decidedly temporal approach to Merlyn’s legend. Actually, he has fun creating scenes that would go on to prove Merlyn’s reputation as a notorious wizard. In one scene, Caius is able to shoot an entire herd of deer with his bow thanks to a peculiar wind. Later, he and his twin attack brigands from two nearby hills; it almost looks as though one man is teleporting back and forth between those hills. Up to this point, Caius has been a legendary leader of men, one so influential that it seems as though Arthur, no matter how impressive, could never fill his shoes. Whyte, as always, calls upon history to provide him with an out, and he inflicts leprosy on Caius/ Merlyn to alienate him from his men (if not in The Saxon Shore, surely it will happen eventually in one of the later novels).

As always, Whyte does a fine job with his battle sequences and world building, and we make it all the way to Ireland in this installment. Almost certainly, a few readers were unable to make it through The Skystone and The Singing Sword, but it is truly gratifying to see all that foundational work paying off. And if nothing else, Whyte truly has provided the details to take his Roman legionaries, step by step, all the way to this proto-Round Table colony.

However, the story is not over yet. Arthur is still a young man and his destiny awaits. The Saxon Shore is, beyond any doubt, a work in the midst of a series, but it begins to pay dividends on the investments of the early novels in this unusual historical fantasy series.

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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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