Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Skystone - Jack Whyte [July/06]

Jack Whyte is Canadian and rather well known around the globe for his novels that tell the story leading up to and about the legendary King Arthur. This novel is the first book in his A Dream of Eagles series.

Born of the nightmare chaos of the Dark Ages, the Dream of Eagles produced a King, a country, and an everlasting legend - Camelot.

Publius Varrus is a veteran Roman officer and a maker of swords. In the early fifth century, amidst the violent struggles between the people of Britain and the invading Saxons, Picts and Scots, he and his former general, Caius Britannicus, forge the government and military system that will become known as the Round Table, and initiate a chain of events that will lead to the coronation of the High King we know today as Arthur.

Rich in historical detail, brimming with drama, intrigue and passion, The Skystone gives new resonance to an enduring and powerful legend.

Many people might have noticed that I have a very strong desire to support my local authors. I don't even remember where this book came from, judging by the shape I would think a yard sale or flea market. It has been in the to be read pile for a while. I think I thought there was no possible way that I could buy one random book by him and have it be book 1, but low and behold, my one random book is book 1.

I have always had a fascination with the story of Arthur, since I was very little. I heard someone talking about this series the other day, and I decided that it was about time that I give it a try. I really liked it, and you know what, I don't know why. It happens before Arthur even enters the stage, and when I really think about it, not a lot happened in it, but I loved it. I haven't been reading as much as I would like to be, so this was an accomplishment for me this month.

Anyways, the novel follows Publius Varrus. Arthur has not even been born yet, the wars with the Saxons that would mark most of Arthur's life are just getting started, and the Roman Empire is only now starting to feel the breaks. These are the things that Arthur was supposed to fix, even if it didn't happen exactly that way. Publius is an interesting character. You have to take in the time period to get to like him because there are moments in that book that I just can't stand him. He is appropriate for the early fifth century, but one can not always let men and their ways of dealing with things slide.

One of the things I must applaud Whyte for is his two female main characters that are associated with Publius. They are both strong, independant women for their time. That was a risky thing for Whyte to do. Publius's eventual wife even owns her own lands and businesses, which she inherited from an aunt. This was a very rare thing for the time, and it made the novel more compelling. Even when I try to take history into consideration I can not get passed the fact that women are not meant to be treated the way they can be treated at this time. Subordinate to men, it is just my 21st-century thinking that is at times hard to push aside. So, I was impressed with Whyte for not having meek women characters.

This novel touches on the wars that the Romans were having against the Saxons and Picts. It talks about battle strategies and other war-time things that were prevalant at the time. It is so interesting to think that the settlement that Publius and his friends are putting together in this novel is the stepping stones for what will one day be Camelot. The place that everyone has at least heard of, if not having read various Arthurian retellings. But why this book compelled me to read it so much, I don't know. I was so hooked I was reading it slowly, not because it was bad, but because the book store here didn't have book 2 so I wanted to finish it near the arrival of the copy I ordered in.

This book is also a testament to what life was like in the 5th century without technology. Publius is a blacksmith, and he explains the process of making swords and things in such a way that I was actually interested. And then there are his Skystones, what we know as meteroites. I just love how the men back then spend their time trying to understand where these rocks come from and how it is possible with them thinking that they are the only planet and that heaven is the only thing you find when you go up. I really felt like I was inside the mind of a man from this time period. You will find, though, that somethings will never change, but even still, Jack Whyte wrote an excellent start to what I hope is going to be an interesting series of novels.


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