So recently I did a blog post called Novel Book Report: The Chrysalids, and I had a lot of fun doing a book report on a novel. I was also very passionate about that book, and so it isn’t too surprising that I would want to cover it.
For today’s blog post, I wanted to do a book report on a really different kind of book. Not one that falls in the sci-fi world, but one that borrows heavily from both historical influences and myth. I am talking about historical fiction regarding the birth of Britain and mythos known as the Arthurian Legend. The novel is called: The Great Captains.
Henry Treece paints a sweeping panorama of proto-Britain using characters that you might be able to recognize either from the Romanticized version of the Arthurian Legend, e.g. Artos, Merdin, Calibrun, or from Romanized names like Londinium or Ambrosius. And all of this is done a very natural kind of way, actually, which was rather surprising. It waskind of fun to take some of the names that Treece offers and try to reconstruct where or who he is writing about.
Now this book, as said by its back cover, isn’t for those who don’t “have nerves of steel.” It follows the gruesome adventures of many great heros, namely Medrawt and Artos, and the many battles that befell them. Of these battles, Treece describes them with artistic depth and realistic depiction A number of times even I found myself thinking how lucky I am not to be doing battle in a similar fashion. I mean, an arrow to the throat doesn’t sound all that fun to die by and literally thousands of men and horses die this way in the book. Very sad, really.
But this book is more than that, the gruesome violence, it is a tale about the complexities and intricacies of establishing an empire, or building a kingdom. I think that many of us fail to grapple with the absolute brutality of the older generations of man’s existence. There was a time when you were measured not by the wealth that you could display, although that was important, but by the ruthless measures you displayed in battle, on horseback, with a sword or ax in hand. I am not bemoaning this, but we are an incredibly soft people compared to the savage natures of those generations not less than a thousand years ago.
So what will you get out of this text? That’s a great question. You will most certainly enjoy the quick writing style of Treece and his ability to entertain you through the most boring of details. I mean, who would have thought that the financial accounting of Britain would actually play an important part of how to govern a nation? Who would have thought that the influence of Christianity in the West was not only a contentious feature to living in the new land, but that many did not share in the belief, and they thought it strange? Who would have thought that London has always been an absolute mess for a cosmopolitan and that it most likely always will be on account of its vibrant shipping lanes?
But seriously, I can almost hear you asking from across the expanse of the internet, what would compel me to actually read this book? Well, its brutal. And I think that for a book that crawled out of the the late fifties, something like this would have been incredibly impolite to read aloud or to let on that you read books like this. The brutality that is demonstrated reminded me very seriously of that book A Clockwork Orange. But that book really isn’t that gruesome or ultraviolent when taken into context with the kinds of bloodshed that has been spilt in this book. I mean, sure, some punk going around causing mayhem and absently killing people just cause he is a punk is one thing; but how about stringing up a brain damaged man, cutting off his genitals, and sending him as a message to a ruling brother? I mean, the brutality just doesn’t compare.
So if you’ve been interested in getting into a book that no one has ever told you about, and the subject matter is almost familiar as it reflects on history and legend, then check out The Great Captains by Henry Treece. Truly, a fun book.