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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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