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Pendragon
W. Barnard Faraday
Green Knight Publishing, 285 pages


Marc Fishman
Pendragon
W. Barnard Faraday
W. Barnard Faraday's Pendragon was originally published in 1930 by Methuen. This edition includes an introduction by Raymond H. Thompson.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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Anyone who is familiar with Geoffrey Ashe's gorgeous The Quest for King Arthur's Britain or The Discovery of King Arthur's Britain has a background to believe that Arthur may have existed as an historical figure. He just wasn't the King Arthur we're used to. In this addition to the King Arthur canon, General Artorius has been sent by King Aurelian to the North of Britain, where the savage attacks by the Saxons, Picts and Angles are ravaging the land and people. His task is two-fold, to lead the last remains of Rome's Legion against these raiders, and to unite the tribes of Britain to insure their safety. During his journey he meets the Princess Gwendaello, who has just barely escaped massacre at the hands of the Saxons. She is the only person left in her family, and thus can claim the title of Pendragon. Artorius is not certain if he should kill her or help her, but they find themselves working together to unite the people of Britain under one flag... before the invaders defeat them and make the land their own.

Pendragon is not the golden-tinted story of Mallory or White. This story is very realistic, and so sometimes does not have the gentleness of the legends. The first two chapters are like chewing tinfoil... extremely scholarly in voice as W. Barnard Faraday works to give the reader every little bit of historical information they need to understand Artorius's place in time, and to understand all the different tribes and peoples. Interesting to a point, but not exactly what you sat down to read. After this, however, the story comes into its own, filled with all the pageantry and adventure that one expects from an Arthurian tale. This is one case where I suggest the reader definitely take the time to read both introductions. I always read them because, well, it's my job, and because I want to see what purpose it serves. In this case, it is pretty invaluable, helping bridge our understanding to what Faraday is trying to accomplish.

At first, I thought my problem with reading this book was due to a 2002 brain trying to fit into 1930 writing style. This isn't the case at all, the writing once we get past the scholarly part, is crisp and interesting. Another aspect is, since this is a totally different take on the Arthurian tales, it kills the inevitable... we know there are points to which each Arthurian story hangs parts of its plot on... Arthur getting the sword, Guenevere and Lancelot, the final, terrible battle... these things are no longer definite. Sometimes what makes a story beloved is the familiarity. There's a comfort in knowing what comes next. (Heck, I can probably recite, word for word, the script to Excalibur.) But after a time, even re-interpretations of re-interpretations get stale. Pendragon does not suffer from this at all. The story, with its non-magical, completely historically researched base is completely new, and therefore a more pleasurable read. You are still spending time with Arthur and many of the familiar faces, while having the uncertainty that comes with reading a story for the very first time.

The take on familiar characters is interesting, particularly in the aspect of Artorius. His honor is incredible. There is a scene where Gwendaello, who used her family ties and the fact she has the Pendragon stone around her neck to ascend to the throne of Pendragon, while, ironically, Arthur himself has the true Pendragon stone, and has every right to claim the place for himself. He says it doesn't matter, what matters is unifying the tribes. That speaks volumes for the kind of man he is... brutal in battle, willing to sacrifice all for the greater good. The other feature that I loved about him is that he's a complete smart aleck. Sometimes he'll make some funny comment, almost as an aside to the reader, as the story is told in the first person through him. I did not care for Gwendaello at first, but she grew on me, proving herself to be as clever as she is wise. The back of the book made it sound as if the bard Merddin was an evil manipulator, but in truth he has a rather minor part. Mad Gildas is much more interesting, in that I found him wryly funny. Not a lot of familiar names will show up... for example, Cadifor and Essyeult make an appearance, killing any chances that Essyeult could be Artorius's mum, but aside from the ones I already mentioned, that's about it. The people are written perfectly to their time; well rounded and accurate, they do say some things that today we would not consider politically correct, but to have them hold their tongues would not work in the story.

Pendragon has been a popular, if rare, volume in the libraries of many Arthurian enthusiasts for years. That does not mean its re-release is only for them. It is a book that people who like well written historical fiction and military fiction could really get into.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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