A historical novel details the valorous fifth-century exploits of King Arthur’s uncle.
Early in the fifth century, during the twilight of the Roman Empire, 14-year-old Merlin attends the funeral of an infant named Theodosius in Barcelona. The child was to be the heir of King Adaulphus and Princess Placidia, and yet because Adaulphus is an Arian who helped sack Rome, there are those who reproach his offspring. Conspirators have switched the child, sending the Roman scion to be raised secretly in Britain, at the hands of the ruler Vortimer. In payment for escorting the child (now named Ambrosius) to Britain, Merlin receives an estate in Gallic Aureliani from Lord Grallon. Instead of settling down, Merlin travels the world, learning languages and the fighting arts. Ambrosius, meanwhile, grows into a willful but kind young man. Merlin returns home after 14 years and finds Ambrosius safe among those considered family (including the lovely Ahès, who adores him like a son). When one of the original conspirators, Bishop Germanus, stops by the family’s villa on the way to Britain—to reestablish Christian orthodoxy in the face of heresy—Merlin joins him as an interpreter. Ambrosius goes too, and begins his rapid metamorphosis from restless teenager to inspiring leader of men. Mintz (Memoir of the Masses, 2006) organizes a grand cache of myths and historical information to open a new series called Arthurian Tales. The story of Ambrosius, King Arthur’s uncle, proves an epic in its own right, filled with battles during which “the grass drank itself red,” and chivalrous wisdom, as in the line “Good deeds made a person noble, not lands or titles.” Mintz also whets the audience’s appetite for fifth-century history, with the bulk of his plot including the taming of the Saxon and Irish heathens. Each hint of the Camelot to come is thrilling, as when Merlin conceives the Round Table, at which “all men are equal.” With Merlin narrating, readers new to the historical fiction genre will find his clear (and occasionally sarcastic) voice great illumination in a murkily recorded era.
An impressive and captivating start to a new series offering Arthurian adventures.