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The Eagle by Jack Whyte

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sweetpotatoboy
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The Eagle by Jack Whyte

Post by sweetpotatoboy » Fri September 12th, 2008, 2:03 pm

From Publishers WeeklyThe ninth and final installment in Whyte's Camulod (Camelot) series offers an imaginative if rambling account of the end of the Arthurian era. Narrated by Clothar of Benwick (Lancelot), King Arthur's best friend and loyal companion, the novel is grounded in the author's "interpretation of Lancelot" as "an archetypal hero." Faced with fractious local rulers and Saxon invaders, Arthur hopes to unite Britain to fend off the invasion. But two regional kings—the treacherous Symmachus and the ambitious Connlyn—unite to frustrate, and ultimately destroy, Arthur's dream. The basic plot, however, is overburdened with a stew of subplots and backstories: Clothar's affair with a betrothed woman adds heft but not substance, and the detailed recounting of the paternity of Arthur's son, Mordred, the fruit of an unwitting incestuous affair with his half-sister, is distracting. The author also sends Clothar off on a seven-year detour to Gaul where he trains a cavalry force and saves his cousin's kingdom from the Huns. Clothar returns to Britain to find that events have taken a dangerous turn and a final showdown looms with Camulod's enemies. Fans of Whyte's exhaustive retelling of the Camelot legend will welcome this final chapter.

My thoughts

A highly readable and pleasant conclusion to a readable and pleasant series (with the exception of the plodding and pointless 'Uther'). Whyte has created a convincing version of the lives of Merlyn and Arthur and their antecedents, firmly rooted in his interpretation of the historical setting.

However, his focus on the historical and stripping all of the fantastic elements of these stories ultimately means there is little here to stir or move. This book, in particular, is somewhat anti-climactic. All series long, we've known we were building up to the appearance of Arthur and the stories built up around him, but when we get there it's no more exciting than what preceded it. There is no love triangle between the Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot characters (Gwinnifer only appears near the end). Arthur's reaction to the discovery of his incestuously born son Mordred is muted and what role Mordred plays in his downfall is left unsaid and it is hinted that he was not in fact involved. Arthur's decline is also long foreseen: he develops a wound quite early on in his reign and never recovers fully. Thus, when things do come to an end (and these events are not dealt with directly), it's no surprise.

The ending is so gentle you could be forgiven for missing it. Arthur's kingdom disappears, we are told, but where is the drama, the tragedy, the love triangle? Granted, Whyte is not obliged to ape the various legend-focused retellings of these stories, but - without that - this could be a story about just any old short-lived chieftain and his clan.

Other versions - such as those of Hollick and Cornwell - managed to be historical-rooted without being quite as prosaic as this version.

BUT, I fully acknowledge that Whyte is ('Uther' excepted) a gifted and convincing storyteller, though perhaps not compelling.

I have definitely enjoyed reading this series, but miss the 'spark' that exists in other stories.

3.5/5
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