Caliburn: Merlin’s Tale

Written by Virgil Renzulli
Review by Thomas j. Howley

Over the years, the story of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone has been reworked in every facet of media—books, cinema, musical plays, and even feature-length cartoons. One would think “King Arthur fatigue” should have long set in by now. In Caliburn, Virgil Renzuli successfully illustrates how the ongoing fascination with Arthur’s tale never seems to wane. The first in a series, this book tells of Arthur’s beginnings in a cogent and entertaining manner. His relationship with the wizard Merlin is strained as the young man tries to assert his independence from the wizard, his foster-father Ector, and his older brother Kaye. Despite Arthur being more successful in combative trials and genuine battles against enemies, Kaye somehow becomes king even though it was the younger brother who removed the legendary sword from the stone.

Arthur becomes enmeshed in a forbidden love affair and is banished to a bleak northern outpost to protect the kingdom from the savage Picts. Meanwhile, evil and rapacious Saxons are preparing a major invasion from across the sea in Germania. Kaye is subjected to treachery in his ranks and Arthur must determine how to eliminate the Pictish threat and also come to the aid of his brother.

Despite a few minor anachronisms the book is fast-paced and enthralling, and most importantly, a genuinely new and exciting version of a traditional tale. Characters are well-developed and often humorous, and the action is realistic and pounding. Military veterans will relate to Arthur feeling strangely odd when not armed and in combat attire. At one point, it is mentioned that “good smells were not common”—perhaps the best and most honest line ever uttered in a historical novel set in medieval times. This is a wonderful little book, and I eagerly await the next in the series.