Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995
Review number: 76
This is the second book in Attanasio's Arthurian series, following on from The Dragon and the Unicorn. It is somewhat different in character than the first book, which was very much involved in the spiritual aspects of the Arthur-myth; now that Arthor has been born, the emphasis is far more on the human characters who will be carrying out the drama.
Arthor has been hidden away from the machinations of his half-sister, Morgeu, until he is old enough to take the throne. In his early teens, he grows up to be a formidable fighting machine devoid of fear or any human emotion, driven by the psychological need to show himself worthy of his foster father, the cheiftain Kyner.
As the time for him to assume the kingship approaches, Merlin goes in search of Arthor. He leaves behind him, to manage the cheiftains gathering at Camelot, my favourite character from the book. The mason Hannes, who helped Merlin build Camelot, extracted a promise from him to grant any one wish. What Hannes asks for is that he would be able to work magic, and Merlin reluctantly grants this wish, telling him that the responsibility will be far greater than he expects. Hannes has no time to get to learn hiow to use his magical abilities, and a lifetime of deferring to aristocratic clients makes it difficult for him to overawe them.
Arthor has been sent by Kyner to return a Saxon named Fen taken hostage by the Celts to his tribe. The Saxon tribe involved is particularly fierce, and Fen doesn't expect either of them to survive (they would consider Fen a coward for being captured rather than forcing his enemies to kill him).
The tribe has also captured a woman named Melania, who has control of a pair of spiritual beings, lamias, who live on the fresh blood of horrifically slaughtered human beings. In rescuing her, Arthor releases one of the lamias who posesses Fen in a rather complex way, forcing him to chase them to have a chance of getting rid of the creature.
I enjoyed the book. Though it lacks the sweep of The Dragon and the Unicorn, it spends much more time on the characters and gains in a different way through that. It's certainly easier to get into; the vast prologue in the earlier book makes very difficult reading.