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And yet another novel has been written featuring King Arthur’s children. This one focuses on the child from Welsh tradition, Amir or Amr, here named Amhar. He is one of the main characters in Aenghus Chisholme’s 2014 novel AD 517: Arthur the King.

AD 517: Arthur the King makes King Arthur’s son Amhar its hero.

Actually, two of Arthur’s children are in this novel. Amhar is the legitimate son of Arthur and Gwenhwyvar, and heir to the kingdom. Mordred is the illegitimate son of Arthur and Morgan. For most of the novel, Mordred is a bit in Amhar’s shadow, and the two act together, which is not surprising given that Amr’s story is one in which he is slain while fighting his father, and he may likely have inspired the development of Mordred’s role as the son who slays his father. (In the original Welsh legends, there’s no indication Mordred and Arthur are even related to one another. For more on the development of both of these children in early Welsh sources, see my book King Arthur’s Children.)

Aenghus Chisholme has previously written three other Arthurian novels, the stories of which are occasionally referenced in the novel, although AD 517: Arthur the King can be read as a stand-alone novel. Amhar appears in all of the earlier novels, but he is just an infant and small child in them and not a major character.

Before I describe the plot of AD 517: Arthur the King, I will give a spoiler alert here since it’s impossible to discuss this novel without giving away the ending.

The story begins with Arthur defeating the Saxons at Badon. He now rules more of Britain than any previous king. That said, he has not driven away all the invaders of Britain. The Saxons, Jutes, and Angles still exist on his shores. Arthur wants to rid the island of all these invaders, but his son Amhar is against this, trying to convince his father that many of them were born in Britain and are as much Britons as the Britons themselves. Arthur does not want to hear this and begins a program of ethnic cleansing that enrages Amhar. Arthur is upset by his son’s attitude, even though Gallahalt tries to explain to him that Amhar, who is twenty-five, is too young to remember the earlier years when war was necessary.

Meanwhile, a sorcerer named Ivorwulf has been spying on Arthur’s castle at Caerleon. Morgan eventually realizes this and warns Merlin. They decide they will kidnap Ivorwulf to prevent him from aiding their enemies. Ivorwulf is working for the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles, who are forming an alliance against Arthur. However, before Morgan and Merlin can get Ivorwulf back to Caerleon, they are themselves abducted by Nimue and other fairies. Ivorwulf manages to free them and tells Merlin and Morgan he realizes they must be allies against the fairies who are the true enemies of Briton. (There’s a lot of stuff about fairies in the book and how they can no longer reproduce because Christianity is weakening them. The fairy stuff was a bit much for me. I like a little magic in Arthurian novel, but these fairies were over the top, especially in their sexual appetites. A couple of sex scenes with fairies were nothing but erotica and too gratuitous in my opinion since they added hardly anything to the plot.)

Arthur continues his ethnic cleansing program. Amhar and Mordred decide to go to Camlann to rally the people to pledge their loyalty to Arthur and show they are true Britons, even though many of them are Saxons, Jutes, or Angles. Arthur accidentally learns of their plans and takes a troop to Camlann to punish them or at least quell their rebellion, as he sees it. Ivorwulf, Merlin, and Morgan accompany him. Ivorwulf is pretending to be on their side, but upon arrival at Camlann, he shows his true colors. Through various spells, Arthur and Mordred end up fighting each other, each thinking the other a Saxon. Of course, they kill each other and regret it when they realize what they have done.

As he is dying, Arthur then gives Excalibur to Amhar, making him king. Meanwhile, Ivorwulf reveals to Merlin and Morgan his plan not to betray the invader kings so he can become Caesar of Britain himself. Merlin and Morgan become prisoner to his spells, but in a last act of strength, they help Amhar defeat Ivorwulf.

Here is the most interesting part of the novel. Amhar is now King of Britain, but rather than stay king, he wants all people to live in freedom in Britain, so he abdicates and goes to live in Galloway. He gives Excalibur to Sir Pellus to return to Matrona, the Lady of the Lake.

The novel’s ending is idealistic, and while I sympathize with its message, I’m afraid it’s not very realistic. I’m left thinking Amhar a bit of a fool. After all, who ever heard of him? By abdicating, he leaves Britain ripe for chaos and the resulting Dark Ages.

I also find the date of the novel strange. Only probably a few months at most pass during the time of this novel. Camlann was fought in 537 or 539 traditionally, certainly not 517, which is a year after the traditional date of 516 for the Battle of Mount Badon.

Overall, AD 517: Arthur the King was a bit over the top for my tastes, but I did like the treatment of Amhar and Mordred and the twist on how Camlann happened. The book is a fast-paced read and never dull, although it has more typos than it should. Arthur is a bit too much of a hot-head, but that’s to be expected in a novel that tries to explain how his sons were not the villains history has made them out to be. Some of the scenes felt a bit pointless, especially Arthur’s showdown with a witch, which did nothing to advance the plot. Even so, it’s a fun read and does make you wonder yet again what really might have happened at Camlann.

Those interested in reading Aenghus Chisholme’s other Arthurian novels can visit his website at www.AenghusChisholme.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other historical novels. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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Due to my continuing interest in fictional creations of Arthur’s descendants, I was very excited when I heard about David Pilling’s new book Caesar’s Sword, Book One: The Red Death. This book offers a new take on Arthur’s descendants, resurrecting the overlooked son of Arthur named Amhar, who in the Historia Brittonum, is listed as Arthur’s son whom he slew, and who may have been the source for Mordred later being treated as Arthur’s son.

Caesar'sSwordIn Pilling’s version, Amhar decides to side with the traitor Mordred against his father, Arthur. When Arthur learns of Amhar’s treachery, he fights Amhar and slays him prior to the Battle of Camlann. But that’s just the beginning of this book. Amhar has a son named Coel, Arthur’s grandson, and it is Coel who is the main character of Caesar’s Sword.

Coel and his mother fear that Arthur will be angry with them so they flee Britain. But a few days later, Arthur dies at Camlann and Coel and his mother’s existence is basically forgotten in Britain, which is caught up in battles between its kings.

Coel and his mother, Eliffer, are accompanied in their flight by Owain, one of Arthur’s knights. Owain has retrieved Arthur’s sword, Caledfwlch, which was knocked from his hand during his battle with Amhar. Owain keeps the sword for Coel until he is old enough to wield it. The sword is said to have belonged to Julius Caesar and to have been forged by a god, so Coel treasures it.

Coel, Owain, and Eliffer seek refuge at the French court, but after Owain dies fighting for the French king, Coel and Eliffer decide to travel to Constantinople. They make a long journey, during which Eliffer tells Coel all about his grandfather, Arthur.

So far, so good, but it is when Coel reaches Constantinople that the story really took off for me since I have long been fascinated by the history of the Byzantine Empire, and the rest of the novel covers much of the reign of the Emperor Justinian, the greatest of all the emperors. I won’t give away all the plot here, but it is sufficient to say that Coel will have Caledfwlch stolen from him and he will set out on a quest to win it back. In the process, he will find himself in slavery, working in the Hippodrome’s Circus, and making an enemy of a harlot who ends up becoming an empress and seeking revenge on him.

While the Arthurian elements are strongest in the novel’s beginning, David Pilling brings back the significance of Arthur at the end of the novel. Coel finds himself having to fight his own sense of dishonor in having been Amhar’s son, and he feels his grandfather is watching over him, perhaps displeased with him, and he has to come to realize he is his own man and not his father. How he comes to this realization I’ll leave for readers to enjoy discovering themselves.

Pilling writes smooth, clear prose that moves the story along. The plot is not overly tight, but it never lags, as the reader follows Coel through his many experiences. Pilling plans to continue the story, and I am curious to know what will happen next. Perhaps Coel will return to Britain or father more descendants of King Arthur.

Pilling is an extremely prolific author of historical fiction. He has written several other novels set in English history and about other legends, such as Robin Hood, but Caesar’s Sword is, I believe, his only Arthurian novel to date. You can find out more about Pilling and his books at www.DavidPillingAuthor.com

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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I’m always interested in treatments of King Arthur’s children and grandchildren and beyond–efforts to continue the story–so I was very excited to discover Anna Elliott’s Avalon series, which consists of a trilogy: Twilight of Avalon, Dark Moon of Avalon, and Sunrise of Avalon (the last to be published in the Fall of 2011), as well as two short stories you can download at Amazon from Kindle, or from Elliott’s website: http://www.annaelliottbooks.com/

Twilight of Avalon Anna ElliottElliott’s books seek to place the Tristan and Isolde legend into a new and perhaps more historically correct context within the Arthurian canon. The Tristan stories have always been a sort of digression from the main tales of Arthur and his knights, just plopped into Malory and other works, and not really feeling like they belong there. Elliott bases her versions on the knowledge that Tristan probably lived a couple of generations after Arthur in late 5th/early 6th century Britain, so she sets the novels in the  post-Arthurian era.

Isolde is the main character of the series through whose eyes we see almost everything with occasional switches to Trystan’s viewpoint and even Morgan’s. Isolde is actually Arthur and Morgan’s granddaughter, the daughter of Mordred and Guinevere. In earlier versions of the Arthurian legend, Mordred is said to have sons by Guinevere (see my earlier post While King Arthur was Away did Guinevere with Mordred Play?), but never a daughter. However, I found Isolde being made into Arthur’s granddaughter to be an interesting change.

Isolde is viewed as a sort of trophy wife by the Britons–the heir to Arthur, but a woman unable to inherit, and the local Britons view her more as the traitor’s daughter than the great king’s granddaughter. When the first book opens, Isolde is grieving the death of her husband Constantine “Con” who was chosen to succeed Arthur, and who in legend is the traditional heir of Arthur after Camlann. Isolde soon realizes her husband was most likely murdered and the primary culprit is Lord Marche (Elliot’s version of King Mark of Cornwall, though I don’t understand why she felt the need to change the name’s spelling). Marche now seeks to wed Isolde, although she is rather appalled by the idea. Isolde also encounters Trystan, who is in a prison, and as the novel progresses, she realizes he is Marche’s son and her former playmate as a child. Trystan despises his father (who does not recognize him). With Isolde’s help he manages to escape from prison.Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott

By the second book, Marche wants to become High King of Britain, but Madoc instead is crowned. Marche then seeks to ally himself with the Saxons and it is up to Isolde and Trystan to stop him from trying to seize the crown.

I won’t give away more of the plot than that, and we will have to wait to see how things turn out in the third book. It’s sufficient to say though that King Arthur’s great-grandchild is likely to be born soon based on how the second book ends.

In addition, Elliott creates a bastard son for Arthur, Amhar, based on legendary versions of his son Amir, one of the original sons given to Arthur in Welsh legend; Amhar died at Camlann, several years before the novels open, so he does not figure as a character in the novels, though his mother, Arthur’s mistress, does slightly. Elliott does not mention Llacheu or Gwydre, Arthur’s other two obscure sons in the Welsh legends.

I was really intrigued with Elliott’s ideas for these books and how she maneuvered the characters’ places in the legend. I have to admit, however, that I didn’t think the writing equaled the concept. The books were overly long – each runs about 420 pages, which is typical of Arthurian novels, but I felt Elliott’s scenes dragged and each could have been as much as half as long. I found myself skimming through most of the second book, reading just the dialogue and a sentence here and there of the description to see what would happen. I also never really figured out why she used “Avalon” in the titles since no scenes take place there. “Camelot” might have been more fitting.

Despite my not caring for Elliott’s writing, I will probably read the third book when it is out because of my interest in depictions of King Arthur’s descendants, and I am curious to read her two short stories, one about Morgan and Merlin and the other about Dera, a secondary character in Twilight of Avalon. Other readers may enjoy the books more than I did; before you buy, view free excerpts and download the short stories free at Elliott’s site. I suspect female readers will enjoy the books more than male because they are told more from a woman’s perspective.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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