Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles

   The Skystone (Camulod Chronicles, Bk. 1), Jack Whyte, Tor Books, October 1996, ISBN: 0812551389
   A popular trend among the Arthurian authors of the last few years is to present a different viewpoint from the standard legend or to enhance the legends with a stronger historicity of the period. We have seen this trend in Helen Hollick's Pendragon series and Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian series. Whyte takes us to the pre-Arthurian period with his first book of the Camulod Chronicles. The book's time frame begins around 367 CE when the first Dark Age invasion strikes Britannia, the invasion of the Pictish and Scotti alliance that crushed the Roman forces of Hadrian's Wall and devastated the colony. We are introduced to two Roman soldiers, Caius Britannicus, an officer of senatorial rank, and Publius Varrus, an equestrian rank soldier (the equivalent of the American Army NCO rank); men whose character, talents, and friendship form the core of Whyte's story. Neither of these men or their families are historical; however, the events of their lives, the people they interact with, and the battles and personal struggles they face are based on historical data from the period.
   In a heroic effort to save his commander Caius Britannicus, Publius is seriously injured and leaves the legion to return to work as an iron smith and armourer, a trade learned from his grandfather. We discover that the grandfather made the legendary sword of Theodosius and that Publius has inherited his love of the iron smith's art. This, coupled with his skill, will bring together the future legends of the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur. Caius' plans for the future, Publius' skills, and the intervention of a mad Seneca forge a destiny that will weave British legend.
   Whyte gives us his viewpoint of how the slow collapse of the Roman Empire affected Britannia. We are given impressions of Theodosius, the general and later emperor, who quelled the rebellion and re-instituted political and military structure to the colony, of Maxen Wledig, the upstart general who bled Britain of her legions to pursue his own attempt at the throne. We meet men like Seneca, the canker of the Empire, men of wealth and power that abused the trust placed in them for their own ends. It is not too hard to picture a talented general taking the steps that Britannicus takes; to use his estate, the lands and people surrounding it, and his personal talents to create a safe haven for the future, a future bleak with the dissolution of all he holds dear of the old honor and glory of Rome. We know from the history of the period, in such works as Gildas' tirade, that when the end came, political and military leaders became tyrannus, subsuming the power of the empire as their own.
   Politically, there were two main Romano-Celtic factions that would rise in Britain of this period, the imperialists loyal to Rome, believing that Rome would rise back from the ashes and the separatists, much as our own hero Britannicus that saw a future without Rome but based on those qualities that made the old Rome great. Whyte creates a modified picture, adding a faction of Celtic people, the Pendragon, that were never romanized and see no need for anything Roman. This was probably the most difficult part of the story for me to deal with. I can see no evidence for any Celtic tribe within the confines of the main Britannic territory to have existed as Whyte presents, certainly not in the region of Dumnonia. There is evidence that the Celtic culture and language was maintained, especially among the plebian ranks, the common people of the countryside. It can clearly be reasoned that not every tribal family of rank intermarried with Roman families and that there was a revivalism of the Celtic culture as Roman culture faded. But there was just something that rubbed me wrong about Whyte's Pendragons. The Roman period was over 400 years in duration. Its culture was dominant and it is unlikely that any group of consequence within the confines of its borders was not directly affected by it. And yet, merely by its name, we know that this group will be highly significant to our story. Ullic Pendragon was too much a picture of Caratacus facing the Romans for the first time. I believe that I can see where Whyte is heading with his story and I do not believe that he will be able to resolve the issues that he has created; but I will enjoy the story.
   Whyte's story is strong and flowing, it reads easily without the standard distractions that I have faced with other similar books. In other books of the genre, I constantly feel distracted by the anomalies; the pieces of the story that lack credibility or that totally go against the grain of my own reasoning of the period. By beginning before the Arthurian period, Whyte creates the seeds for his story while allowing you to slip past your own conceived ideas of the time. His characters are well developed, multi-dimensional in depth, allowing the reader to picture them as real and alive. Occasionally, there are minor faults of idiom that seem out of place or context but they are seldom and far apart. I was slightly disappointed as the character of Luceiia developed. She went from the strong willed, dazzling, intelligent woman to a mere backdrop ornament for Publius. But even as a minor character, she is in excellent company.
   As the book progresses, you can visualize the trail that Whyte has chosen. Forbid me to reveal all of the story line. Hopefully, Whyte will have a few surprises and unforeseen twists that will keep the story interesting.

The Singing Sword (Camulod Chronicles, Bk 2), Jack Whyte, Tor Books, May 1997, ISBN: 0812551397  Paperback, 547 pages

  The Singing Sword is the type of book that most authors prefer to write, a second book of a series that is actually good. I do have my issues with it. The Cylla Titens affair seems to overshadow everything in the first half of the book. I tried to determine why I felt that this was so, wondering if the sexual titillation of Publius and secondarily the reader, myself, shifted it. But when it finally cleared, I find myself feeling that it was because the first section of the book didn't carry the storyline forward for me as a reader. There was a purpose in Whyte's structure - a depiction of the beginning lawlessness and laxness of moral character, but it could have been crystallized down to a couple of chapters or intersperced into the plot. In other words, from the author's own words - "I dozed off, eventually, then woke again ..."
   The second section of the story is part history lesson as told through the letters and later the person of Picus Britannicus and partly the beginning of the genesis of the colony and the growing role of Publius and Luceiia as the leaders of the change. To top it all off, we have the return of our principal villain, Claudius Seneca. I agreed with Luceiia that he should have been killed without compunction, but that wouldn't have allowed Whyte to create the plot of freeing Publius from the threat of future capture and trial, nor to provide the forum whereby Stilicho can be introduced and the colony receive formal status, nor set up the future tragedy and reckoning with evil.
   In the final sections, Whyte begins to bring us into the realm of the legend. By pairing Publius daughter with Uric Pendragon and Ullic's sister Enid with Picus, we can birth the legend. Positioned within this dynastic process, the singing sword is born and finally sees its first use to cleanse the world of evil. But who will wield it?

The Eagles' Brood (Camulod Chronicles Bk 3), Jack Whyte, Forge, September 1997, ISBN: 0312852894 Hardcover, 416 pages
The Saxon Shore (Arthurian Series), Jack Whyte, Forge; May 1998, ISBN: 0312865961 Hardcover - 496 pages
Fort at River's Bend, Jack Whyte, ASIN: 031286597X