Monday, December 21, 2009

Alfred Duggan's CONSCIENCE OF THE KING is a marvelous tale of the founding ruler of Wessex, the kingdom of the West Saxons. It's marvelous because he is a wicked man, a backstabber and a traitor. And yet you find yourself rooting for him, even when Artorius shows up trying to save Britain for the British. Such is the power of a narrator to win you over to his side no matter how wrong that side is.

Like the best of historical novels, it's a visit to another time and other ways of thinking. Cerdic is born around 500 AD, the same time more or less as THE CIRCLE CAST. He's born a Roman but of Saxon descent, and his journey takes him from Roman Britain to Saxon Britain to Saxony and back. It's the Dark Ages of Britain, when Roman civilization is collapsing without any Saxons civilized enough to take it over. Alfred Duggan captures the nostalgia his hero feels for the comforts of civilization even as he's destroying it for his own reasons.

CONSCIENCE OF THE KING is not a passionate book; Duggan's hero is a conniver who barely feels much sentiment for his own son, and doesn't regret his murders. But it is a fascinating book. I'm looking forward to his other two Saxon novels, THE KING OF ATHELNEY, about Alfred the Great, and THE CUNNING OF THE DOVE. He really brings another time and place to life, and with tremendous historical accuracy. It is hard to find a movie that does that.

For you Celts, Happy Solstice, and for you Saxons, Merry Yule, and for those of you who still cling to the ways of Rome: Joyous Saturnalia! (Did I miss anything?)

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