From October 8, 2010
The first in Whyte’s Arthurian series, the Skystone focuses on the decline of the Roman Empire, specifically in Britain. Publius Varrus, a lifelong soldier, is wounded and therefore has to retire from the army. He returns to the home he inherited from his grandfather and took up the trade he was taught – blacksmithing. When his former Commander, and good friend Caius Brittannicus has opportunity he comes to visit and is highly amused by this soldier turned blacksmith. But his purpose in coming is not for his own amusement, but rather to tell his friend that he has plans to set up his own self-sufficient society so that when the inevitable happens and the Roman Empire crumbles, they would not be without their resources.
Publius does not initially run off to Camulodum, but after a situation in which he attacked and marred a prominent Roman, Claudius Seneca, he must fake his own death and leave Colchester. He retreats to Caius’s estate and there meets his future wife, and the sister of Caius Brittannica. He also tells the tale of the Skystone, an object that apparently fell out of the sky and produced the brightest sword in existence. It so happens that very near the estate there is a whole crater of skystones that Publius will be able to turn into these special weapons.
If Whyte’s writing has a fault it is that he tends to get a little too long winded, describing battles, or the day to day activities of his characters, as such I had to balance my desire to read about the King Arthur legend. with the fact that it might become too boring to continue. I must say though, having read this first book I enjoyed it rather more than I thought I would. And what is more, the very things that could have been a drawback to this story, were the things that made me enjoy it more. Whyte is able to write strong characters without having to throw in our face the fact that they are strong.
Perhaps a fault of these characterizations though is the fault with anyone writing historical fiction, or anyone writing about bygone times: we colour the past with our current beliefs. Not that it would have been impossible for there to be a smart and powerful woman in late fourth century England (in fact, I’m sure there had to be some), but it just seems that Whyte made the character of Luceiia Brittannicus in the image of present day women, rather than of a woman from the fourth century.
These minor irksome things will not, however, dissuade me from reading the rest of the series. Book two, here we come.