Sunday, April 11, 2021

Excalibur (The Warlord Chronicles)

Excalibur (The Warlord Chronicles, #3)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always come back to the magic, and like in the previous two books I don’t know where I want to be. We can have a world where magicians levitate at will, shoot energy blasts, shape change, teleport, or none of it, just to keep this a grounded medieval adventure. The previous two struck a difficult balance between actual magic, dumb luck, and men who know a bit of science and present them as magic.

For the trilogy a balanced atmosphere is one where you as modern reader can understand the medieval mind that misinterpreted coincidences or scientific approaches as magic. In book 3, while it isn’t the level of energy blasts and levitation, Arthur’s defeat was in part due to an overtly magical attack.

From the movie King Arthur, King and Queen are every bit as equal

It came on demand, with fury, even selective in the destruction it wrought, thus sticking out like sore thumb. Without the fantasy movie type magic – teleportation and such – I can still dismiss the attack as naturally occurring albeit with the greatest difficulty. 

I had to dismiss it, because to put it in another way, what would an Arthur story be without magic, and this attack so painfully timed in its fury. It heightens the mystique of Arthur. He might have pulled off another come from behind win but magic or divine providence was in the way, leaving the ages to ask: what could have been?

This is Guinevere’s moment to shine that again I asked myself, is there consistency. What is the motivation from being the beauty obsessed princess with a gold digger vibe to what is in effect, a woman every bit as Arthur’s equal. I’m sold with Nimue’s reasoning that Guinevere has always been such, and only got a bad break because this is a culture of men at arms. She is capable, she wants to be heard, but was dismissed, hence it took this kingdom shaking event to realize that mistake.

I didn’t scour my memory for faintest hints of incidents that could agree or disprove Nimue but seeing Arthur and Guinevere go, now in their fullest form, you have to love them. Think of it. If all they did in life was Arthur winning battles and Guinevere just chilling with her ladies in waiting, it would be a boring life.

Arthur. What else can be said of how he was written here? He is every bit the idealized King the name of Camelot conjures up. This series, the Warlord Chronicles, wants to say that the ideal king is someone who refuses the power. There are many instances in history that proclaim this a virtue. Once a king desires power there’s a natural downhill to a sense of entitlement, and with that then they forget to serve the people.

Arthur’s talent and his almost joyful ease in battle; there’s a tragic dance he makes with that talent and the desire to just retire and own a piece of land. I love that part of his anguish is the people, those ingrates. He can’t kill them because that would be wrong, but he can suffer the ungratefulness only so much. Ignoring the people doesn’t help too which is what book 3 is.

Lastly, Derfel Cadarn. The Warlord Chronicles has an air of being a scoop as written down by Arthur’s only remaining warlord, who lived out his remaining days as a simple monk. You can feel all the emotions from his tale. He loved, oh how he loved, and then lost. He misses Arthur as a friend and lord. He’s had adventure and power. He faced death with head held high, he killed.

Sword and King were inseparable

And he is alone, what was well known as Camelot is gone and with them his wife and children. Derfel dies out in a Britain that is far from Arthur’s glorious achievement. So also in his writing is regret, as a co-maker of a kingdom and a citizen: life could have been different. He is the best part of this book, if not its true hero, mythical King Arthur notwithstanding.

The Warlord Chronicles is not an adventure for its own sake. When I read it there were slow moments and sad moments, and there are adventurous moments and glorious too. The slow parts can feel agonizing to read but that makes the adventurous parts more beautiful, truly like life. I’ve learned to appreciate the big picture now that I’ve reached the end.

It is the life of Derfel, a person. You are living within his head and he just happens to be Arthur’s right hand.

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