The Singing Sword: Storytelling is about the details

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Jack Whyte The Camulod Chronicles 2. The Singing SwordThe Singing Sword by Jack Whyte

In some ways, The Singing Sword, second in Jack Whyte’s A Dream of Eagles (Camulod Chronicles in America) series, is just like The Skystone. The Roman Empire is in retreat and soldier/ blacksmith Publius Varrus chronicles the early days of Caius Britannicus’ Roman villa. Arthur is still nowhere in sight.

Whyte has a great talent for outlining battles and duels, but his passion is for world building through dialogue, particularly dialogue that allows him to explore the ideas of this time as they might have been created at the time. Still, progress is steadily made, however patiently. Publius is tempted by another woman, while alliances with the Celts are made and the colony — now named Camulod — slowly overcomes its enemies and the hurdles of administration. It can be a long, tedious bit of work. But for Whyte, and for many fans of fantasy, storytelling is about the details.

After all, this (well, not The Singing Sword, but the series as a whole) is the story of Arthur, a legend that many fantasy authors have strived to adapt in an original way. And few do as thorough a job of historical world building as Whyte, if for no other reason than because few decide to start the story of Arthur generations in advance.

Perhaps Whyte is at his best when outlining how Roman tactics gave rise to the knights that we often associate with Arthur and his Round Table. The Romans valued their legions, not cavalry. However, when we think of Sir Galahad, we think of a knight, armored, horseback, and carrying a lance. Where did these things come from? Although Publius and Caius have decided to protect civilization in Camulod, they are not bound by the past. Instead, they continue to innovate. And Publius’ greatest creation may well be a long sword made from the sky stone. He calls it “Excalibur.”

The Singing Sword, like The Skystone before it, is not a novel for the faint of heart. As exciting as Whyte’s action sequences may be, they are often separated by vast amounts of exposition. On the other hand, fantasy fans who think they’ve read it all might do well to check out this historical fantasy. If nothing else, it’s an impressive feat of world building, and it’s been assembled with an eye for historical detail.

The Camulod Chronicles — (1992-2005) Publisher: Everyone knows the story — how Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, how Camelot came to be, and about the power struggles that ultimately destroyed Arthur’s dreams. But what of the time before Arthur and the forces that created him? How did the legend really come to pass? Before the time of Arthur and his Camelot, Britain was a dark and deadly place, savaged by warring factions of Picts, Celts, and invading Saxons. The Roman citizens who had lived there for generations were suddenly faced with a deadly choice: Should they leave and take up residence in a corrupt Roman world that was utterly foreign, or should they stay and face the madness that would ensue when Britain’s last bastion of safety for the civilized, the Roman legions, left? For two Romans, Publius Varrus and his friend Caius Britannicus, there can be only one answer. They will stay, to preserve what is best of Roman life, and will create a new culture out of the wreckage. In doing so, they will unknowingly plant the seeds of legend — for these two men are Arthur’s great-grandfathers, and their actions will shape a nation… and forge a sword known as Excalibur.

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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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