Category Archives: Fiction

“The Strangled Queen”

Maurice Druon

This, the second book in the “Accursed Kings” series has the virtues of the first. It starts in 1314. Philip the Fair is dead and his son, Louis X (“the Headstrong”) is on the throne. The novel focuses on the power stuggle between the king’s uncle and his father’s treasurer and on Philip’s desire to rid himself of his queen so he can remarry.

“The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel”

Jeffrey Lewis

This isn’t much of a novel, however, it’s a very interesting book. The subtitle pretty much explains it, and for someone like me who loves alternate history and is interested in nuclear war (for which I blame 60’s Civil Defense public awareness campaigns — I was a weird kid who grabbed all the bomb shelter brochures at the state fair) it’s a fascinating read. If you’re looking for characters and dramatic tension you might be disappointed.

Yes our current president figures in the book. No, that’s not comforting.

“Winged Victory”

V. M. Yeates

The fact that it was written by an actual WW I combat pilot makes this book about the air war over France especially interesting. It’s not — quite — an anti-war book like “All Quiet on the Western Front”, but it’s not an entirely heroic tale of aces, either. The focus is more on the effects of war on the protagonist rather than on adventure and there’s more in it about life on the ground, friendship, and leadership than there is about aerial combat. Which is not to say the combat parts aren’t interesting, becuase they are, especially in light of the author’s experience.

“Avalon: The Return of King Arthur”

Stephen R. Lawhead

This is the fifth and final book in Lawhead’s “Pendragon Cycle”. It takes place in a modern Britain that’s on the verge of getting rid of royalty and becoming a republic. Merlin is still alive and has identified a young Scotsman as the next rightful king of England and as the not-quite-reincarnation of Arthur himself. It’s a mix of political thriller and Arthurian tale, entertaining if you don’t look too closely.

“Grail”

This is the fifth book in Lawhead’s “Pendragon Cycle“. It’s entertaining enough, but the story in this and “Pendragon” is meant to be stuck in between, as Lawhead puts it, “the first two parts of “Arthur“” and “the last part of “Arthur“”. It’s all very confusing, especially if you don’t know about the sequence — as I didn’t — beforehand. The result of this out-or-order story telling is that the latter two books feel superfluous and, since you know how the story will end, are relatively uninteresting.

“Arthur”

This, the third book of Lawhead’s “Pendragon Cycle” concludes the tale of King Arthur. What? Aren’t there three more books in the series? Well, it’s complicated. As Lawhead puts it:

To get a chronological reading of the Pendragon Cycle, first read Taliesin. Then read Merlin. Next, read the first two parts of Arthur, followed by Pendragon and Grail in order. Finally, read the last part of Arthur, and, if you’re keen to complete the marathon, finish with Avalon, which recapitulates the themes in a modern setting.

Naively, I read them in sequence. That’s not a problem since “Taliesin“, “Merlin“, and “Arthur” make a fine trilogy all by themselves.

I liked this re-imagination of the “Matter of Britain“. In Lawhead’s treatment the “Fair Folk” (fairies, get it?) are the nearly immortal survivors of Atlantis and their descendants. The Fisher King was a king in Atlantis. Merlin is the son of the bard Taliesin is and an Atlantean princess, a princess whose half sister it the villain of the series. And so on. It’s all very clever and occasionally moving.

Obviously it’s not an attempt to tell a “realistic” version of the Arthur story. For that see Bernard Cornwell’s “The Winter King“, “Enemy of God“, and “Excalibur“. But despite the fantastic elements, magic is restrained and suitably mysterious and the growth of Christianity is treated sympathetically.

Overall, I enjoyed the three books. They’re a little uneven, but the good bits are very good and the less good ones aren’t half bad.