Merlyn does not want to return to Camulod. He has found happiness in Mediobogdum with his wife, Tressa, and his charge, Arthur Pendragon. However, war is coming. Merlyn’s enemy, Peter Ironhair, has hired mercenaries to attack the Pendragon lands in order to advance the claim of Carthac, a distant relative of Uther Pendragon and a monstrous — some say invincible — psychopath. Meanwhile, the Saxons continue to invade along the southeast coast and there are also rumors of an invasion from the northeast.
Clearly, the Britons need a savior king, but Merlyn still worries that Arthur’s metamorphosis into the Riothamus — the high king — is not yet complete. They return to Camulod, where Merlyn and his brother, Ambrose, prepare to lead campaigns in the east and the west. Surprisingly, the primary challenge of the Cambrian campaigns comes in locating the enemy army so that they can smash it with Camulod’s invincible cavalry.
At times in Metamorphosis, it seems like too much goes Merlyn’s way. It’s not that there are no challenges for Merlyn. Ironhair’s greatest war asset may be two biremes, gigantic galleys beyond the power of any other ship in Britain. However, the ships are ultimately taken without ever complicating or compromising Merlyn’s plans. Merlyn’s wife, Tressa, worries that she will not get along with her new sister-in-law. No worry — they get along immediately! Civilization is failing in Britain — oh well, at least they still have bathhouses in Camulod. Yes, Arthur has a lot of potential, but… But nothing — he lives up to the hype!
So I found myself questioning Metamorphosis as I read it. Why aren’t there more complications? Well, Merlyn’s victory is assured. This is his story and we know that he survives. We even that he wins the war in Cambria because he tells us so before his record of the campaign begins. Further, Camulod is to become a great military power that is built on Roman and Alexandrian principles of warfare. In fact, Camulod has held on to Rome’s greatest strengths and developed new ones, such as cavalry, while so much of the rest of Britain has given way to disorder and banditry. It makes sense that things should go Merlyn’s way most of the time as he is better educated, better fed, better trained, and better equipped than his enemies. But, at times, it does not make for very exciting reading.
It is not until the final third of Metamorphosis(closer to the final tenth for those readers who count The Fort at River’s Bend and Metamorphosisas one novel) that things begin to go awry. Although Merlyn has spent most of his life as a soldier, a governor, and an officer, he is now forced to take on the role of the sorcerer. While Arthur’s metamorphosis is glorious, Merlyn’s is tragic. As I read the end of Metamorphosis, I realized that there was one more reason Merlyn’s plans had to work so often: the bad things that happen in the medieval world are really terrible. One would be lucky to survive just one complication or setback.
Jack Whyte’s The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis is the second half of The Sorcerer and the sixth entry in his A Dream of Eagles series (published as The Camulod Chronicles in the United States). Taken alone, it’s a more exciting novel than its predecessor, The Fort At River’s Bend, and some readers that gave up on Fort might well consider skipping ahead to Metamorphosis if they want to continue the series. The readers who value Whyte’s attention to historical detail may end up preferring Fort to Metamorphosis as the latter introduces few new historical details aside from a return to the question of Pelagius’s heretical teachings. Of the two entries, I preferred the latter as it actually felt more like a novel and offered more immediate antagonists for Merlyn to face.
But I couldn’t help laughing as I finished The Sorcerer. Whyte has written six books in this series, and, as Merlyn tells us from the start, this is the story of how Arthur was trained to become King Arthur. Whyte has taken a deliberate approach to Camulod’s rise and shows no sign that he feels a need to rush along the narrative now. If The Sorcerer were the last entry in the series, I’d feel disappointed that the series ends with Arthur’s rise rather than his final defeat, but Whyte has gone on to write three other novels in this setting so I remain optimistic. And I also remain curious to see what happens next.
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.