Friday, April 30, 2021

Knowing Your Background

Among the great purging of books I'm doing, the filter for keeping a physical hard copy on the shelf is somewhere between "Am I going to read this again?" and "Is it of enough personal significance that I want the actual dead tree book as opposed to just a file on a device?"

The latest series to fall under scrutiny is Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles. I really love the premise and late Classical to early post-Roman Britain is a fascinating historical setting for me. In the early Fifth Century, Britain was a tranquil backwater of empire that had been Roman turf longer than there's been a United States, and within fifty years was dealing with increasing encroachment of Germanic raiders and settlers and the collapse of an urban civilization.

The first few books I really love, and it's probably ironic that they're basically a setup piece for the Arthurian stuff...which I've read through once and don't have any real desire to slog through again. I'm currently re-reading the first four books to decide whether I keep only the first three or hold on to The Saxon Shore as well.

The second book, The Singing Sword, has Merlin's uncle, Arthur's grandpa, forging Excalibur from meteoric iron, and it tickles me the way that Jack Whyte tortures himself to come up with a way to have the character "invent" the hand-and-a-half bastard sword while not realizing that the Roman cavalry already had spathas

He winds up trying to combine the properties of sword and spear to give the new mounted warriors (because we only have a few books to get to knights, right?) something long enough for a mounted man to hit an enemy foot soldier. Fortunately that bit is mercifully quick and doesn't throw me completely out of the story. Migration-period technology had already worked out how to smack a dude with sharp steel from horseback, and a real Excalibur probably would have looked like this, rather than a prop from the 1981 John Boorman film.

Completely gratuitous sword photo

I get that half the fun is trying to work our way to the Arthurian mythos from Romano-British roots and put some flesh on the legend's bones (Minor Spoiler: While waiting for swordly inspiration to strike, our protagonist keeps the metal stored in the form of the statue of a nymph, which statue he names "The Lady of the Lake",) but some more technical military study to accompany the historic stuff probably would have helped keep war nerds like me happy. 

He's got the Roman troops in late-4th Century Britain running around in lorica, with the shields and weapons of late-Republican/early-Imperial legionaries. A dude with a gladius, pilum, and scutum in a Roman legion of 400AD would look as out of place as a guy with a tricorn and a Brown Bess in a military formation today.

Anyway, I'm having fun with the reread, but I had to vent.