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Jack Whyte: Uther

cover of Uther: red, with golden stylized lion stitched on red cloth, text in uncial lettering

This novel traces the life of Uther Pendragon, father of Arthur Pendragon, and his growth from a boy to a king and ultimately his death fighting. It is told simply, without magic or trickery, and aims to make the story sound plausibly placed in a historical context. It's not set up to be the accounting of Uther, but instead a story about him, and at 832 pages does a rather full accounting. Uther is the sixth book in Whyte's Dream of Eagles series, which has other books set in the same period about other characters in Arthurian mythology - Merlin's story, in particular, runs parallel to Uther.

To be honest, though I read through about 760 pages and gave up at last, I could not like Uther well enough to finish, nor most of his companions. The novel follows Uther right enough, and if it were a biography would be lovely, since events that occur are entirely unconnected. There are many descriptions that I had taken to be foreshadowing and expected to morph into important plot points later (such as Nemo and her upbringing and character), but none of those were resolved. Unlike fairytale conventions, when characters are often archetypes, Whyte avoids such storytelling and clearly tries to portray characters as more fleshed-out people. And while I admire that he tried, many of the characters' actions seemed odd, such as Uther's grandfather. The town in Cambria Uther lives in is, by his accounting, lived in by suspicious and superstitious folk, and against that backdrop Uther's grandfather seems strangely magnanimous and generous and noble. The same goes for the man who trained Uther - unexpectedly gracious and levelheaded. As a foil, I suppose, is the character of Nemo, who is unswervingly obsessed with Uther and also unaware of others' feelings and unconscious of any personal pride or hurt or - really - emotion. The characters were just flat.

But Whyte's presentation of Uther's world is something else. Uther's maternal grandfather is Publius Varrus, connecting Uther's Cambria to the Roman Empire (or rather, what's left). The narrative is told through different people - Veronica, Uther's mother, who writes letters to her family - but mostly with a third-person omniscient view, which gives a broader view of the various characters that move in and out of the story. I did enjoy the confederation of chiefs come to choose the new king of Cambria. Mostly, though, the different spellings predictably intrigued me (Camulod, Merlyn, etc).

Perhaps it's reading the last books without reading the first, but I found the characters dull and often flat or out of place, and couldn't stick it through the end. Whyte gets points for trying realism, but the characters just aren't real enough to support it. 6/10

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/109606.html.



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