The Camulod series, ably written by Jack Whyte, covers the 5th century in Britain. His research into the relatively unknown aspects of life in early Britain is evident in many ways.
This is the 4th book in the series of 6-so far:), and finally meshes all the elements together that bring Arthur into his place in history. Here Whyte excels in a manner few can, without being redundant, or edging towards fantasy. For these books are not of that genre, but an honest attempt at creating a plausible background for the legend of Arthur of Camulod.
In the Eagles Brood, the last book, we found Merlyn riding towards Uther with the intent to kill him. Merlyn had long suspected Uther of one other heinous crime and now believed him responsible for the murder of his beloved wife Dierdre, and his unborn child.
As he pauses on a high bluff overlooking a beach, he sees what he believes is Uther, raping and ultimately killing a woman, before he can reach him. What he finds is quite shocking, and ends with Merlyn finding a new born baby nearby. Hoping to escape any further danger, he picks up the infant and jumps into a coracle (dinghy).
The Saxon Shore finds both of them drifting helplessly out to sea. By now, he is already fully realizing just who and what this baby is-Arthur, the future High King of Britain. He makes a vow to dedicate his life to the rearing of this tiny babe into adulthood. But the secret of the boys lineage must be closely held, for in the wrong hands, murder would ensue.
Rescue, though very dicey at first, comes from unknown Gaelic hands. Without giving away major plotlines here, it can only have been fate that brought them together. For far from being strangers, these are some of Arthurs own.
Whyte's knowledge of smithing in those times, and the ancient craft of swordmaking is awesome. Through the first books, we see the origins of the sword Excalibur, and why it must be kept secret and in trust for the right man. Whyte creates a beautiful scenario for the Sword In The Stone of legends here.
The extensive scholarship into the existing tribes who inhabited early Britain, along with the hand drawn maps, show just how much research Whyte put into creating these books. Yet they are never dull, and the characters are all crisply individual and very believable.
Camulod itself, created by Merlyn's grandfather Caius Brittannicus, his father Picus Brittanicus, and his uncle Publius Varrus is modelled on the old Roman republic, where all worked together and fought only for the good of one another. Having sustained a massive head wound, Merlyn for two years has had no memory of any of the Colony's beginnings. When he recovers it, in the Eagle's Brood, he has yet to discover how badly things are slipping in his beloved home.
After being released by his Gaelic captors, who are holding the "babby" hostage, until Merlyn brings Doneuil, King Athol's son home, he heads for Camulod. Donueil, captured 4 or 5 years prior, during a raid upon Camulod, has become a close friend and ally of Merlyn. It is Donueil's sister, thought long dead, whom Merlyn had married. And it is Donueil's other sister Ygraine whom Lot of Cornwall had married.
In the savage and long wars against Lot, many lives have been lost, and Ygraine fleeing Lot, runs straight into Uther and his bed. Out of this joining comes Arthur.
Though this is a long book, it rarely lacks interest. The military actions are all expertly depicted, holding the readers interest, due to the colorful and lively dialogue.
The constant incursions by roaming invaders, some, like the Saxons, simply seeking land to settle on peacefully, others simply to destroy, show Whyte's understanding of the duality of need vs greed. There is treachery, envy and intrigue enough in The Saxon Shore to keep you turning pages well into the night.
The seeds of Merlyn the Wizard, built so carefully through the earlier books, are fully realized in this one. Much of the legend was founded simply on Merlyn's ability to think quickly on his feet. But now we see that the prophetic dreams, along with Merlyn's acquistion of some assassins tools build his reputation to the point, that even those that know him well, by the end of the book, fear him.
This is one of the most intelligent interpretations of the Arthurian legend I have had the pleasure to read. It coheres without resorting to trickery or magic, but instead by utilizing historical fact, a much more human solution is found.
To really get maximum enjoyment from this book, I recommend starting with the first book: The Skystone, and reading them all before picking this one up. They are so readable, and entertaining, I promise you won't regret one moment spent in reading them.