By: Jack Whyte
Saxon Shore is the fourth book in the Camulod Chronicles. There are nine total books in the series. The Chronicles tell the tale of a pair of Roman legionnaires who settle in Briton and form The Colony, a self sufficient and self defending, independent, settlement. As time unfolds, we eventually start hearing the story from Merlyn. Merlyn’s cousin, Uther Pendragon becomes the father of a boy named Arthur whom Merlyn immediately takes under his wing and begins training to be the King of all Briton. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Book 4, The Saxon Shore, picks up where book 3 leaves off with Merlyn and infant Arthur floating at sea with no way of returning to shore should the tides not take them there. Merlyn is awakened by a grappling hook being thrown into their boat as they are being boarded. A quick fight ensues, and Merlyn finds himself, along with Arthur, at the mercy of the captain of the ship. When his wits return to him, Merlyn recognizes the standard on the sail as that of Connor. Connor is the brother of Donuil, Merlyn’s captive turned friend. After much fancy talking and line walking, Connor agrees to let Merlyn go free, holding Arthur as captive until Merlyn can return Donuil to their father.
The story continues on to the eventual trip to Eire and tells the resulting story of the next 8 years of their lives. If you’ve read the first three books, you know that the series is one big historical fiction. It’s artfully done, and melds the history of the Roman occupation and eventual recession with the legend of King Arthur. As a bit of a King Arthur nut, I find it exciting as each “new” character is revealed and how Whyte chooses to integrate them into his story and give them a believable life and believable associations and motives. For example, Donuil and his wife have two boys. The second’s name is Gileadh. Of course, we all know who Gilead was. In book three, Uther fights a long war with King Lot of Cornwall. I have yet to find out, but I’m guessing that Lancelot will become something like Lance du Lot or some such.
In the same vein, the explanations and history of the sub-legends of the story are wonderfully explained. Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake as well as the sword in the stone all appear, but are given enough of a dosage of realism. Such realism, combined with a knowledge of how many stories evolve from one mouth to the next makes you think that it really is possible that what you’re reading could the the true story.
The writing is very good overall. There are a few places where the dialogue doesn’t feel right, but they are far between, and it really could just be my brain that does that. I find that there is sometimes a great deal more exposition that I care for, but have to keep in mind that Whyte often finds a way to make it integral to the story and not just mere exposition. The characters are more than believable, as is the world that he recreates.
I’m fully hooked on the series, and will most definitely read through to the end. I don’t think you need to read from the beginning to enjoy the book, but I would suggest it for maximum enjoyment of the story.
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