Tag Archives: King Arthur

Book Review: Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey - Reviews ...

Black Horses for the King is the first Anne McCaffrey book that I have ever read. No, I am not joking; prior to this, yours truly had never done more than peek at a page of Miss McCaffrey’s books. The Dragon Riders of Pern series is on my “to read” list, but so far this blogger has not actually read those books.

Knowing her reputation with those novels, however, Black Horses for the King looked like a good place for this writer to begin getting to know Miss McCaffrey and her work. While it doesn’t strike me as an excellent piece, it is enjoyable and well written. I really have no complaints about it, beyond a few minor nitpicks.

The story begins with Galwyn Varianus, who has been apprenticed to his uncle, a rough sailor and pagan who despises him. Following his lead, the crew picks on the boy mercilessly. The fact that Galwyn is currently cleaning up after six seasick passengers below decks isn’t helping much, since their discomfort is making him ill, too. Despite that, he is doing his best to avoid telling off the sailors; doing that only makes them increase their cruel teasing. But when one of the sailors insults the lad’s mother, Galwyn whirls around, ready for a fight…

…Only to be stopped by Comes Artos, the Dux Bellorum. Artos is Latin for Arthur, making this novel an Arthurian tale. Miss McCaffrey, however, is leaving off the magic and other familiar trappings in order to remain as true to history as she can. She is also focusing on an almost mundane aspect of the legend – the large horses Arthur had to buy to repulse the recurrent Saxon invasions.

Artos is sailing to the continent to buy big horses he can breed with the larger ponies in England so that his men can face the Saxons on better terms. On their ponies the Britons cannot face the pagan invaders, since the animals are incapable of carrying the large Englishmen for great distances or long amounts of time. In order to out-maneuver and overcome the invaders, Artos and his Companions need bigger horses. So they are sailing to Septimania to buy them.

When apprised of the Comes’ plan, Galwyn finds he approves of it. Having grown up in a Roman villa prior to his apprenticeship with his uncle, the boy has a fondness for and skill with horses. He would much rather tend the animals than sail, but due to his father’s death, working at sea appeared to be the best way he to support his mother and sisters until he can find a different profession. And better companions.

Black Horses For The King ISBN 9780552529730 PDF epub ...

But when his uncle’s crew goes too far, Galwyn seizes his chance and escapes his hateful relative’s ship. He then buys a pony and follows Lord Artos to the fair in Septimania. There his knowledge of horses, his ability to bargain, and his skill with languages prove invaluable in the purchase of a large group of black Libyans – stallions, mares, and foals. Following their purchase he, Artos, and the rest of the Companions lead the animals to port in order to bring them back to England.

Shipping the creatures across the ocean is difficult work, since they are as unused to the water as the Companions, who are too busy taking care of them to get sick this time. On their first arrival in England, Galwyn makes a final end to his apprenticeship under his uncle. Staying with Artos and his Companions, he helps bring the other two sets of horses to Britain.

From there, he travels to a farm where the animals will be tended and allowed to breed with each other and the biggest Briton ponies. On the way he becomes apprentice to the horse expert friend of Artos, a man named Canyd. Canyd and his fellow horse masters are trying to make the first horse shoe in order to protect the animals’ feet. As Canyd likes to remind everyone around him, whether they want to hear him or not: “No hoof, no horse!”

Black Horses for the King does not strike me as the best of Miss McCaffrey’s work. Still, it is an enjoyable story that presents a good picture of the times in which it is set. Horse and history lovers will find it a great read, and it is hard to stop once you get going with it. In the final analysis, it is a worthy book from a good author.

‘Til next time, readers!

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey (Paperback ...

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Book Review: Sword of Clontarf by Charles A. Brady

Sword of Clontarf : Charles Brady : 9780976638681

Whew! After that streak of Star Wars reviews, some of you might have been worried that I had no other books to talk about. Fear not, hardy readers! There are a couple of different novels which I have up my sleave, one of which we will discuss today. Since we are only a few weeks from December (where did the year go?!?!), however, I will have time for just one more book review this year. That slot is going to another Dean Koontz book, as promised to Mr. Bookstooge. All others will have to wait until January of 2019.

There will be more Star Wars reviews next year, though, so stay tuned for them! I have had to postpone one of my promised Spotlight! articles – the one I described as rollingly entertaining here – until January, too. This is on account not only with the focus of the upcoming Spotlight! post, but of the last article discussing Wedge Antilles. Still, he had to do a lot of rolling in his X-Wing, so maybe we can count him as the promised Spotlight! discussion. Next year’s first two Spotlight! foci will be different, however. Trust me. 😉

All right, with that out of the way, let us turn to today’s subject. This would be Sword of Clontarf, by Charles A. Brady. Sword is a children’s book, obviously, centered on a fictional character who shows us a piece of history. Originally published in 1960, the reprint I have came out in 2006, so you can buy a good copy of this story new if you desire, readers.

The book begins with Niall (pronounced like “Neil”) Arneson being shaken awake by his Irish, Christian mother. Taken to Iceland after being captured by Vikings during a raid on Ireland, Etain the Fair is known throughout Eaglewaterheath, Iceland, as the Dumb Woman. No one means disrespect to her with this title – especially since she is the second wife of the steading’s master, Arne Helgison. Etain is known as the Dumb Woman because she can’t speak.

Only, now she suddenly is speaking to Niall. And she is speaking in Irish!

Finally on his feet, Niall learns from his mother and his uncle, Hjalti, that his father has been murdered. Clearly, this is bad, but on it’s own it is not enough to warrant such an urgent wake up call. Nor is it cause for Niall to flee his home all of a sudden. By rights, Niall should be out with his three older half brothers hunting his father’s murderers.

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But you see, that is where the crunch comes. Niall is a Christian. His older half brothers are pagan, just like his father. Arne allowed Etain to keep her faith and have Niall baptized, but he retained his pagan views. His first three sons followed his example, but they have never liked Etain or their kid half brother. With Arne gone they are likely to seize the chance to murder Niall themselves before chasing down Arne’s killers.

Etain, naturally, does not want that for her son. While Hjalti would be happy to offer Niall protection and care, being fonder of him than of his other nephews, the idea of having to kill his brother’s other sons to defend the youngest does not appeal to him anymore than it does to Etain. Thus the two have come at this early hour to prepare Niall either to flee or to fight. It is his choice.

Seeing the reason behind their arguments (eventually), Niall accepts their plan and dresses quickly. As he is preparing to leave, his mother drops another bombshell on him. Through her, he is related to the former high king of Ireland, who now serves as the current High King’s chief advisor and friend.

Who is the High King – the present Ard Rhi – of Ireland in this year of 1000? The answer to your question is Brian Boru.

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Brian Boru

Unlike King Arthur, Brian Boru is confirmed to have lived. Around the year 1000, Brian united all the clans of Ireland under one banner, becoming the High King of the island. Traditionally, the position of Ard Rhi didn’t mean what we would think today. The head of every clan in Ireland had a king; becoming Ard Rhi or High King wasn’t like becoming King of England or King of France. It was a somewhat temporary position and it didn’t have a lot of power attached to it.

Biran Boru changed that. For ten years he ruled a united Ireland, keeping the peace and making it the safest it had ever been. There is a legend that, during Brian’s reign, a well dressed young lady with a solid gold ring walked the length of Ireland (35 miles) completely unmolested. That is the type of peace Brian brought to the country.

In the year 1014 the pagan Norsemen – known better to modern audiences simply as “Vikings” – tried to invade Ireland. They raided the country pretty regularly prior to Brian’s reign; I believe he might have become Ard Rhi mainly to drive them from the Emerald Isle’s shores, though it is possible that I am remembering my history incorrectly. Either way, in 1014, on Good Friday, the Norsemen tried again to take Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf.

It was a pitched battle, and if the Norsemen had won, Western civilization might never have risen as quickly or as well from Rome’s ashes. As it is, the Irish turned the assault aside when the tide went out, taking the Norsemen’s boats with it. Some might say this was coincidence, or good planning on the part of the Irish. It was neither; it was Providence, pure and plain and true.

The Battle of Clontarf was a great engagement, and the Irish distinguished themselves well there. But the fight had a cost, too. During the battle Brian Boru was slain in his tent, where he was praying for victory. His death ended Ireland’s unity, though not her civilization, nor her contributions to the West. But it was a sad loss nonetheless.

Before all of this happens in the novel, however, Niall receives something precious and deadly from his mother. Etain didn’t feign dumbness when she was captured by the Norsemen. Not on purpose, anyway. The reason she did not speak when the Norsemen captured her was because she had something in her mouth. It was a talisman they valued highly called Thor’s Ring.

Now the Thor you encounter in this novel isn’t the jovial, knightly, Christianized hero of Marvel Comics’ fame. (Yes, I said ‘Christianized,’ readers. What is more, I meant it; let the new Marvel hierarchy gnash their teeth about it if they like, but the truth is that Stan Lee Christianized the old Norse myths. That includes Thor Odinson.) The Thor in this novel is like the original Norse interpretation: fierce, bloodthirsty, and dangerous. And the Norsemen worship him and his fellow Asgardians accordingly.

Whether one believes such a talisman ever existed or that it had some kind of power does not matter. What matters is that the Norsemen believed it had power. As long as the Irish held the Ring and two other talismen of import in the novel, they could force a truce on the Norsemen. But if the heathen Northmen ever got their hands on the three talismen, it would mean all out, open war between the two factions again.

In order to protect the Ring and her people, Etain hid it in her mouth during the raid. She couldn’t speak without giving away her secret and, when the Norsemen came to the conclusion that she had been born dumb, she kept up the charade out of fear for her life. This fear extended to her husband, whom she came to love deeply. Eventually she felt guilty for keeping him in the dark about her ability to speak. She kept trying to work up the nerve to tell him the truth, but put it off every time. Now, of course, it is too late to set the record straight for him.

Anyway, that is the set up for the first chapter. After saying his good-byes, Niall sets out from Eaglewaterheath with an Irish thrall his mother and uncle have freed. After a series of adventures, he reaches Ireland and joins his mother’s kin…..

….And that is the last of the spoilers you are getting, readers! If you want to know what befalls Niall in Sword of Clontarf, pick the novel up today. A good read that is full of history, it is well worth the purchase price. Enjoy it, readers!

‘Til next time!

Image result for sword of clontarf by charles a. brady

The Librarians, a TV Series

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The Librarians, produced by the same crew who gave us Leverage, came out about two years ago. The news of this series’ emergence on the airwaves first reached this writer through borg.com, readers.

I was unimpressed by the advertisements for the show. This just proved how lacking in imagination Hollywood had become. They were making The Librarian films into a TV series now? Could they not come up with anything better?

Well, as you may have guessed, I jumped the gun again with this derogatory assumption. A friend of mine happened to turn the show on one night, and I got sucked into the series after two or three episodes. Before I get to The Librarians proper, however, here is a little bit of background on the origin for the TV show:

The Librarian film saga follows Noah Wyle’s character, Flynn Carson, as he is chosen to be the new Librarian. From there, he goes on various expeditions. The Library is like a living version of the warehouse where the government keeps all of the mysterious artifacts which Indiana Jones has recovered. The Library houses Excalibur, the Ark of the Covenant, the Spear that pierced Christ’s side at the Crucifixion…. You get the general idea. Anything historical and vaguely dangerous/powerful is tracked down by the Librarian of the time and filed safely away in the Library itself.

Every Librarian, however, has to have a Guardian. The Guardian is supposed to protect the Librarian from secret societies bent on world domination, or time traveling ninjas on motorcycles, or other such ludicrous, wicked organizations. Whenever a Librarian or a Guardian dies, the Library selects a new one to take his or her place. For some odd reason, Flynn’s Guardians have all been women.

Flynn was the man chosen to be the Librarian after the guy who previously held the post turned traitor and was killed. I do not know what happened to Flynn’s original Guardian, but as of The Librarians TV series, he has a new one.

Flynn’s “new” Guardian is Colonel Eve Baird, played by Rebecca Romjin, the actress who portrayed Mystique in the X-Men movies prior to Jennifer Lawrence taking the role. A woman who has seen battle up close and personal, Baird is rather trigger-happy at the start of the series. Her modus operandi at the beginning is to protect the Librarian and kill whoever tries to harm them. Only later does she learn that the Library selected her for more than her prowess at killing. And, intriguingly, a Guardian’s main mission is to safeguard the souls of the Librarians; the safety of their bodies is of secondary concern.

Throughout the Librarian movies, there was only one Librarian: Flynn. Now, you will notice that I referred to them when I said Baird was originally a little trigger-happy when the TV series started. That is because there is no longer just one Librarian; there are now four. Flynn is still the main Librarian. He was the one who answered the summons when his predecessor turned evil. Three others were sent for as well, but refused the job offer without knowing what they were actually being called on to do. (The Library is the best kept secret on the planet, naturally.)

At the start of television series, however, Flynn is in serious trouble. He appears to be dying. So the three candidates are invited to the Library again, and this time, they all answer. These Librarian candidates are: Ezekiel Jones, a master thief from Australia; Cassandra Cillian, a genius mathematician with a deadly brain tumor the guys refer to as a “brain grape” for its size; and Jacob Stone (played by Christian Kane, the actor who portrayed Elliot Spencer in Leverage).

Jake is the most “Librarian”-esque of the three. With a 190 point IQ, the ability to speak several dozen different languages (even dead languages), and more degrees than you can shake a stick at, he seems the most natural choice for Flynn’s replacement.

Except that Cassandra saves Flynn’s life after he names her the new Librarian, allowing him to remain the Librarian. So now, instead of guarding one Librarian, Baird has to babysit Jones, Cassandra, and Stone while maintaining her relationship with Flynn. (Yeah, they are boyfriend/girlfriend.)

At the start of the series, magic reenters the world, thanks to the plot of a secret society run by a mysterious man named Dulaque. At the same time, the main Library vanishes into another dimension. Flynn goes to find the Library and bring it back. Meanwhile, the three “sub-Librarians” and Baird hunt down magical items that the Library somehow lost when it was uprooted and yanked to another dimension, or items outside the Library which were reinvigorated with power by the return of magic to the world.

To protect these retrieved artifacts, the team has to keep them in an Annex of the Library. This Annex is under the care of an immortal who goes by the name Jenkins (John Larroquette). His real identity is Galahad, and even now that we know this, we know there is still more to him than meets the eye. Jenkins acts as Baird’s second in babysitting the three “sub-Librarians.” Typically, he stays at the Annex or the Library and does research to help the team figure out what they are up against in a given episode. He rarely enters the field – but when he does, he can pack a punch!

Jenkins and Dulaque – Lancelot du Lac – really do not like each other. The first season ends with the two facing off in a swordfight, which Galahad wins. (He was a better swordsman than his father in the original stories, too.)

On the whole, The Librarians is a far superior series than I initially gave it credit for. In a time when new TV shows are expected to be “edgy,” dark, dreary, and full of pain and dread, this series takes a far different approach.

It firmly places its tongue in cheek and swaggers through its seasons. It laughs in the face of darkness, sneers at pain and dread, and capers madly before the thought of maintaining a bleak outlook on its stories. Whether the Librarians are rescuing Santa Clause, defying Fate, fighting Minotaurs, dealing with the Devil, or are caught in a living video game, the danger is always well balanced by genuine humor and a light touch. Not an episode goes by where I am not laughing at something!

A good part of the reason I am fed up with the noir films and TV shows so in vogue these days is because they take themselves far too seriously. It is gratifying to watch The Librarians nod and wink at the audience. Dean Devlin and his crew have done it again, and I give them full marks for a great series. I cannot wait to see the next season of The Librarians when it comes back this fall!

Until next time, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Cyclops and Wolverine

Cyclops and Wolverine

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Round Five, people!  This time we go over to X-Men characters Cyclops and Wolverine.  So let’s start with the obvious question: why have these two polar opposites been switched?

Cyclops has, recently, been turning from stalwart leader (or ‘teacher’s pet’ in Logan’s book) to mass murderer on a scale that would make Magneto cheer and dance.  Meanwhile, Wolverine has exchanged most of his berserker temper for the chance to be a principled leader of the X-Men.  Until he deems it necessary to finally take someone down, that is; something he only does in private.

What, exactly, did I miss?

Wolverine was never this gentle except to girls (Shadowcat, Rogue, and Jubilee, for starters).  In the case of the latter two youngsters, this was because he empathized with their tortured or lost emotional states; while Shadowcat needed a strong man she could relate to almost as a fighting father-figure (she already had the female equivalent with Storm).  At the same time, all three girls gave Wolvie an extra purpose to keep fighting: a young innocent to protect at all costs so they wouldn’t end up like him, dead, or worse than dead.

Cyclops’s job was to get the plan ready and execute it, all the while staying true to the principles of Professor X.  He was the young King Arthur to Professor X’s Merlin; he listened, did what he was told, and everything got accomplished in (almost) the right way.  It was no picnic, to be sure, but it was the right thing to do.  To help keep him on the straight and narrow was Jean Grey, his Queen Guinevere who was loved by Wolverine but, unlike Arthur’s wife, stayed true to her love (when her mind wasn’t being manipulated or something of that sort).

Now the positions have been reversed: Cyclops has exchanged Professor X’s teaching for the speeches and ‘grand’ gestures of Magneto while Wolverine has suddenly straightened up and keeps his claws sheathed until necessity demands they be bared.

Why?

It seems that Jean Grey’s inexplicably permanent death (at least in the ‘present’ time of the recent comics) is the root of this change.  On top of that, with the Professor’s sudden loss of direction in his teaching and without Jean to hold him straight, Cyclops is being dunked into his baser nature – and wallowing in it.

Yet Jean’s ‘death’ has had the opposite effect on her clawed knight.  Instead of reverting to his brutish tendencies as he has in the past when she ‘died’, Wolverine has decided to become civilized and adhere to the Professor’s original statutes; at least until such time as his animal rage needs to be unleashed to stop a villain permanently (or as permanently as it has ever been in the comics).

While Jean Grey and Scott Summers have never been favorites of mine, they have been two of the strongest pillars in the X-Men comics, keeping the team on the path of right and forbidding them to go wrong.  Without that support, the X-Men have begun to deteriorate.  Already the team is split: half of the team is firmly entrenched behind Wolverine on the unsteady ethical high ground while the other half blindly follows Cyclops into the moral sewers.  Others can’t make up their mind and spend their time bouncing between both factions while ‘trying’ to do the right thing when they’re not being stretched by opposing loyalties.  It’s total chaos.

The X-Men were a great story because they stood on the principles of right; not only facing evil mutants but a world that would largely be ruled by people in power who had a hatred of them for simply being born different.  Despite saving the world a thousand times in a thousand different ways, there would be people who remained committed to their destruction, just as there would remain villains bent on conquering the planet.  They knew that, and no matter how hard it was going to be to deal with this double hatred, they weren’t going to abandon their post.  That was what made the X-Men strong.

And that, fellow writers, is what has been lost through the latest events in the X-Men comics and Avengers vs. X-Men.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled True Believer)