It’s Monday and I got nothin’

Ok, not entirely true but somewhat.  I’ve been hoping to get back to a regular blog rhythm this year but I seem to have turned into a cold and flu magnet and I haven’t felt like doing much writing.  After two rounds of antibiotics and a few days on the couch, I’m finally feeling good enough to sit up and thought I’d take a minute (a short one) to talk about a few of the books I read last week.

The Last Pendragon: A Story of Dark Age Wales by Sarah Woodbury — This was a Nook read.  I found it while looking at my Nook library online and downloaded it.  My love of Arthurian Legend always compels me to do these things.  It won’t top my best of list but it did help me get out of a slump.  There are some supernatural elements in this one that most Arthurian stories don’t have and while I’m not a huge fan of those additions to this story, it worked here.  It adheres to the basic story and many of the required elements are present — the sword in a stone, love, a merlin-like character, etc.  It was more character than plot driven but I’m all right with that.  All in all, interesting.

 

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill — I love ghost stories and when I found out my library had this one, I wanted it.  It delivered on the creepy front.  It’s tension filled and can make you want to turn the lights on in every room of your house.  On the surface it might seem a bit tame — a young lawyer is sent to handle the affairs of a deceased client who lived on a small, isolated island in the north of England.  What he finds is a town unwilling to share information about the woman whose affairs he’s handling and even less willing to talk about the house and property she owned.  Nothing is explained at first and that adds to the story being this dark spot in a small town’s history.  I loved it.

 

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness — As soon as this book entered my house I wanted to read it.  I put it off at first but then gave in as soon as possible.  I don’t really know what to say about this one because I loved it so so much.  Being sick makes it hard for me to read sometimes but I couldn’t put this book down.  The characters all worked for me, the story was complicated, it mixed science and history, and it was a book about a book.  Books about books always entice me.  It was also about witches, vampires, and daemons.  I thought I was sick of the vampire thing but they worked in this book.  I adored the cover too and yes I mentioned that in another post already.

I think my next book is going to be Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDivitt.  I have a non-fiction book about Jamestown but I don’t think I’ll be able to comprehend that one in my current condition.  I also have Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen so my next few days are happily covered.

The Divine Sacrifice

The Divine Sacrifice

By Tony Hays

Forge Books

ISBN: 978-0-7653-1946-3

3.75 stars

This is the second book in the Arthurian legend mystery series following The Killing Way.  You can read my review of The Killing Way here.

Malgwyn ap Cuneglas is a counselor to King Arthur. He’s asked to accompany the King to Glastonbury Abbey to investigate reports of rebellion. What he finds on his arrival is a dead monk, accusations of heresy, and while investigating one murder, finds himself entangled in a second. The second murder becomes the more problematic one as the dead man is a well-known and revered man of the church. While trying to find a murder, or murderers, Malgwyn uncovers a conspiracy to overrun the church and the kingdom.

I’m not a mystery person but I’ve been trying to read more of them. I always have the same problem with all mysteries though — I spend all my time trying to figure out who did it that I don’t always enjoy the story itself. I don’t have this problem with other genres, although I do read ahead a lot and of course I do that with a mystery too but I just get caught up in it too much. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy this book because I did find it a fun read but I think I’m coming to a realization about mysteries themselves. They might just not be for me.

There was a small thing that did bother me about this book. All the men are rough and stay true to their nature throughout which I appreciate. I don’t expect 5th Century warlords to be overly kind but when an old murder — rape and murder of a young girl actually — is mentioned, it’s treated so casually and coldly that it bothered me. It’s a brutal murder but somehow having taken place so many years ago means nothing to all the people involved. It irked me too much.

I will say this though, I was surprised by who did it in this book. It was hidden well behind a name I didn’t connect. Of course, by this time I was too busy trying to figure out who did it that I had completely overlooked the connection and was annoyed by several of the characters reactions to past events to pay attention to this person at all. Then again, maybe that was the master plan of the author. Overall, this quick read was good and if you like historical fiction mixed with your mystery, it’s not a bad aside.

The Crystal Cave

The Crystal Cave

The Crystal Cave

By Mary Stewart

William Morrow and Company, Inc.

ISBN:0060548258

4.5 stars

I have a soft spot for any book that features King Arthur as a character or even, as in the case of The Crystal Cave, as a future character. This story here is all about Merlin, the sorcerer, prophet, and friend of the future High King of Britain.

We meet Merlin as a child. And, while he may be young, he understands enough about the world around him to know that survival skills will be necessary for him. He’s small and fighting doesn’t suite him, but being a bastard child with a family that would be ready to call his life forfeit at any time, he finds ways to garner information, and knowledge, that will keep him safe. His mother, a daughter of a local lord, has steadfastly refused to tell anyone the name of Merlin’s father. It’s caused her constant grief but she has remained true to the story of Merlin’s conception and birth that she has always told — he is the child of the Dark Prince, a spirit neither human nor ghost that roams freely in the world. It is this story that keeps him alive as a child and as an adult.

Growing up, Merlin does his best to take in every ounce of knowledge he can find, devouring books, and learning secrets from a close friend who lives outside of regular society. This friend and teacher shows Merlin things he never thought possible and opens a new world to him that includes magic. When the small village he lives is in attacked, Merlin makes his escape and finds himself in Less Britain at the feet of a man he never thought he would meet — his father. Ambrosuis, the man planning to conquer and rule the British has known of his existence but for his own sake has left Merlin be. With the help of his father, Merlin rises to great heights and becomes known throughout the country as the greatest magician and prophet known to man.

This was a nice change of pace in my Arthurian legend reading. Usually the stories are focused solely on Arthur but to be taken in to the world in Merlin is fantastic. He is a character that changes so easily with each story — in some he is all magic, in others more human. This one tended toward the more human, rational, and knowledge based Merlin. There is some magic, or the talk of magic, but even Merlin finds he has trouble believing what is said about him and his works.

Stewart is a wonderful writer. I was taken in right from the beginning and found moments where I had to pry myself away from the book. I don’t want to say this book isn’t full of action because in many ways it is, but it’s a different action. Following the life of one person instead of everyone in it, makes for a more intriguing story. While the action takes places around Merlin, he stays fixed and for some reason that made his story more compelling for me.

This book was originally published in the 70s and there is an entire series that I now get to work my way through. It’s a complex tale, and even though it’s one I’m familiar with, I’m looking forward to this series. Her first book was so rich in detail and the story telling wonderful that I plan to track down the rest of the series. It may be a while before I get to these books though. I’ve read a lot of Arthurian books this year and I think it might be time for a break so I don’t tire of the story. This one is a good book to end on for a few months.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so that other participants know what you’re reading.

This week, I’m reading The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart.

“So we waited. The escort must have stayed rather longer than need be in Maridunum, and after that cold damp ride who could blame them?” (351)

The Crystal Cave

What are you teasing us with this week?

Shadow of the King

Shadow of the King

Shadow of the King

By Helen Hollick

Sourcebooks, Inc.

ISBN:1402218907

5 stars

Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. Helen Hollick’s Pendragon’s Banner series is one of, if not the best, Arthurian re-tellings that I have read so far. She takes a well-known story and makes it fresh and exciting.

Shadow of the King is the third book in the Pendragon’s Banner series following The Kingmaking and Pendragon’s Banner. You can read my review of The Kingmaking here and Pendragon’s Banner here.

Picking up where Pendragon’s Banner left off, Arthur has brought peace to Britain but has been talked into going to Gaul to protect interests that are not his own. While there, word reaches him that Gwenhwyfar has become sick and he believes her to be dead. He falls into a deep depression and wonders why he ever let himself be talked into leaving his home. He throws himself into the battle wishing to die and all but succeeds. Morgaine, a healer once known as the Lady of the Lake and, unbeknownst to Arthur, the mother of one of his sons, offers to stay behind and bury him while the others try to outrun the approaching enemy. What Morgaine knows that the others don’t is that Arthur is still alive. She nurses him back to health and, knowing he has nothing left to return to, he stays in Gaul living unhappily without his wife or kingdom.

Gwenhwyfar, who survived her illness, now lives a life almost a mirror image to Arthur’s sad existence. When others convince her that she must re-marry to protect what is left of Arthur’s kingdom and herself, she stalls and has trouble getting over the feeling that Arthur isn’t dead. When a man tracks her down to tell her that Arthur lives, she leaves everything to find him. Unfortunately, when Gwenhwyfar finds him, he’s not the Arthur she knew and he tells her that he won’t be returning. Heartbroken, she decides she needs to live even if he will not and leaves. When circumstances convince Arthur he needs his life back, he finds Gwenhwyfar and they both begin to recover from the emotional wounds of their separation. They return home to find one more fight that needs to be fought. When his son by his ex-wife Winifred makes a move to take over his kingdom, Arthur overcomes his fear and leads his men to defeat, but not destroy, his son leaving the door open for a final battle that everyone knows will bring about an end to a world they all know.

I was truly sad to see this series end. While Arthur is tempered in book three, he’s still that brooding man I fell for in the previous two books. Gwenhwyfar becomes the strong one and a great ruler in her own right. Hollick takes the tale of Arthur and moves it to epic proportions of a different nature. Yes, some of the same faces appear in this story as in others but it has a new feel to it and one I couldn’t get enough of.

If you like historical fiction and especially Arthurian legend, Hollick’s trilogy is not to be missed.

Pendragon’s Banner

Pendragon's Banner

Pendragon’s Banner

By Helen Hollick

Sourcebooks, Inc.

ISBN: 1402218893

5 stars

Pendragon’s Banner is the second book in the Pendragon’s Banner series following The Kingmaking. You can read my review of The Kingmaking here.

Arthur, Arthur how I do adore thee. Yes, you’re an arrogant, self-centered, whoring barbarian at times but somehow none of that matters. I’ve come to expect you to be this way.

In book two of this series, Arthur has taken up the mantel of King, Gwenhwyfar has given him sons to carry on the Pendragon title, but he still refuses to settle down preferring to fight knowing the minute he stops it might be the end of him and his reign. When the tragic death of their youngest son pushes Arthur and Gwenhwyfar apart, he finally comes to the realization that being Supreme King may not mean anything without his wife and family. Tragedy and heartache follow both Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, political problems arise and fester, and Arthur is constantly watching his back afraid one his own may try to take his kingdom from him. Even after settling down in the beloved Summer Land, Arthur still fights — with his wife, for his kingdom, and his own worries and fears about what he is doing to lead his people.

While the relationship between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar is tempestuous, I like it. She’s a match for him in strength, anger, love, and stubbornness. While there is much to love about Gwenhywfar, there is much to hate in two other women Arthur can’t seem to extricate himself from — his ex-wife Winifred who still calls herself the Pendragon’s wife, and Morgause, his father’s ex-lover and his aunt. Both women cause so much pain and destruction wherever they go. They are so annoying yet so riveting.

I liked the liberties Hollick took with this story, and while it’s more realistic, I also enjoyed the small throw backs to some of the original more fantasy oriented tales. For instance, at one meeting of the Council, Arthur mentally notes how he dislikes the Roman bleacher type seating arrangement for the meeting and makes an internal comment about building a round table so he doesn’t have to turn around to see who is speaking. His sword, while not named Excalibur, has a long Saxon name and a lovely legend to go with it as well.

As I said, Arthur can be a dolt of a man, especially with his own wife. He can’t ever seem to find the words I love you or I’m sorry. He’d rather show anger than fear and while I don’t like admitting it, I couldn’t get enough is his debauched ways. He’s not overly kind or gentle but after meeting this Arthur, I don’t know if I want the old version back.

This series is fast becoming my favorite Arthurian re-telling.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

1.) Grab your current read

2.) Open to a random page

3.) Share two teaser sentences from that page

4.) Share the title and author so that other participants know what you’re reading.

I’m starting the third and final book in the Pendragon’s Banner trilogy today, Shadow of the King by Helen Hollick. Today, the opening paragraph.

“Above the great height of Caer Cadan, the sky swept blue and almost cloudless. The bright, sparkling blue of an exuberant spring that was rushing headlong into the promised warmth of summer.”

Shadow of the King by Helen Hollick, page 3.

Shadow of the King

So, what you are teasing us with this week?