Jack Whyte has come a very long way from the crumbling empire of Rome many generations ago to the man known as Riothamus – Arthur. In this ninth concluding book in the series, we finally get the full story of Arthur’s life, and what makes this series interesting is that while our hero is obvious, in the context of the series, he is but one of the many players on the stage of early medieval Britain. This is what Whyte is saying with this series: that it’s not about specific individuals, but – as is the case with all history – it is a series of events over hundreds of years that lead to the establishment of Britain as a country, putting itself back together as a sovereign nation after its abandonment by Rome.
Continuing on from the Lance Thrower, our narrator is Clothar, known as “Lance” by his friends because of his skilled ability to throw lances with precision at the enemy – a feat no other man, not even Arthur, can master. In the first part of the book, Arthur forms his knights – a term taken from the Roman élite, all with their own specifically designed swords in the form of Excalibur. The knights are addressed by the term “seur” from a Frankish term meaning one of noble or high stature. Whyte is impressive in his interweaving of parts of the Arthurian legend and fitting them in a realistic setting in fifth century Britain. In the second part of The Eagle, it is learned that the girl who Arthur considered his soul mate in the Lance Thrower was in fact his sister and that an act of naïve incest was committed. At the same time, Clothar has his own personal problems to deal with in falling in love with a woman who is to be married. After a long night of sharing their love, they must accept their fate and go their separate ways. In the final part of the book, Clothar must go with Arthur’s élite cavalry to Gaul where he will train thousands more men both to establish the authority of Arthur and his cavalry, as well as to prepare for any invading forces. Word has begun to spread of these invading peoples from the distant east known as Huns, led by a man known as Attila.
While the fate of Gaul with the invading Huns is never fully revealed, the book ends, naturally, with Arthur’s death from a wound in battle, while his son Mordred is next in line to rule. The book ends without any great summation of the mighty ruler known as Arthur who united Britain and made it a nation to be reckoned with, but tapering out like a long burning candle. Whyte’s point here is that the saga of Camulod is over, its characters now all dead, but they have done much to change Britain from the abandoned land after the fall of Rome. Their part is complete, and it will be up to other people, other kings, and other rulers to continue making Britain into a great nation.
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Originally written on January 5th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.