The Eagle’s Brood, by Jack Whyte, is the third book in the A Dream of Eagles series (Camulod Chronicles, in America) and it does something that up to this point has been unthinkable: characters that are recognizably from Arthurian legend take center stage.
For two novels, Whyte’s take on the Arthurian legend has focused on the exploits of Publius Varrus and his visionary general Caius Britannicus. Now, a new generation has taken over, one including Uther Pendragon and Caius Merlyn Britannicus. Still known as Caius, our narrating Merlyn is decidedly surprising. He’s young, he’s a warrior armed with a sword, and he’s into debauchery. He and Uther are the princes of Camulod, and they know it.
However, they haven’t let power go to their heads. Instead, they take the task of running the colony, perhaps the last bastion of civilization in medieval Europe, very seriously. And although they are fierce allies against Camulod’s bitter enemies, Caius and Uther are also rivals. Caius is the silver bear of Camulod and Uther is the red dragon. Who is more powerful?
Although Whyte has swapped protagonists, The Eagle’s Brood recalls Whyte’s first two novels in structure, which allows for a smooth transition of narrative voice. Once again, there are fierce battle scenes and duels, but they are more than balanced with planning of battles and logistics, philosophizing about Christian doctrine and politics, and, of course, administrating Camulod. Caius and Uther also do their share of innovating weapons and warfare. In fact, they invent the mace, a weapon so fierce that their physicians harangue them for inventing it. Swords may scratch here and there, but victims of the mace often find their bones crushed beyond the point of medical aid.
Details like these are a nice touch, and Whyte is nothing if not meticulous about historical detail. These stories and their protagonists are products of the Middle Ages and although they are creative and innovative in an age that is often associated with stagnation, Whyte ensures that his heroes come by their ideas honestly.
However, Whyte does “let up” a little bit on the exposition. There is more time devoted to love and romance, not to mention action and adventure. Still, Whyte’s great strength remains his ability to flesh out a world that could give birth to Arthur. The Eagle’s Brood is a fine piece of historical adventure.
The Camulod Chronicles — (1992-2005) Publisher: Everyone knows the story — how Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, how Camelot came to be, and about the power struggles that ultimately destroyed Arthur’s dreams. But what of the time before Arthur and the forces that created him? How did the legend really come to pass? Before the time of Arthur and his Camelot, Britain was a dark and deadly place, savaged by warring factions of Picts, Celts, and invading Saxons. The Roman citizens who had lived there for generations were suddenly faced with a deadly choice: Should they leave and take up residence in a corrupt Roman world that was utterly foreign, or should they stay and face the madness that would ensue when Britain’s last bastion of safety for the civilized, the Roman legions, left? For two Romans, Publius Varrus and his friend Caius Britannicus, there can be only one answer. They will stay, to preserve what is best of Roman life, and will create a new culture out of the wreckage. In doing so, they will unknowingly plant the seeds of legend — for these two men are Arthur’s great-grandfathers, and their actions will shape a nation… and forge a sword known as Excalibur.