Here Lies Arthur
South-west Britain, c. 500 AD. The Roman legions have left and Britain has splintered into warring factions. Saxons, arriving from the continent, are raiding ever further westward. The country needs a strong man to unite Britain against the invaders.
Enter Myrddin, a skilled teller of tales and one who understands the political value of appearance. His aim is to turn Arthur into the country’s saviour. When Myrddin rescues ten-year-old Gwyna, fleeing from Arthur’s murderous war-band, he notes her ability to swim underwater. She is the tool he needs to strengthen Arthur’s position by some ‘supernatural’ endorsement: Gwyna’s first job is to play the part of the Lady of the Lake and give a credulous Arthur the sword Caliburn.
She becomes ‘Gwyn’, Myrddin’s boy and, later, resumes her female identity as maid to Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s neglected wife. Myrddin’s ‘spin’ may turn Arthur’s raids into the stuff of legend, but, for Gwyna, it cannot disguise the war-lord’s brutality, greed and betrayal of trust. How can an insignificant girl survive in such a dangerous and unpredictable world? And it becomes a whole lot more dangerous once she finds out Gwenhwyfar’s adulterous secret…
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a modern and very believable take on the Arthurian legend. The first person narrative gives it immediacy and, having the low-born Gwyn/Gwena as narrator, gives us a worm’s eye view of this blood-thirsty age and an understanding of how ordinary people of both sexes suffer in times of strife.
But spin-doctoring is nothing new, and this is also a book about myth-making. As Gwena says, ‘The real Arthur had been just a little tyrant in an age of tyrants. What mattered about him was the stories.’ Philip Reeve’s skill and way with words illuminates this dark corner of history brilliantly. For 13 plus. (EH)
Reeve weaves an enchanting and convincing tale, woven much like one of his chief character’s stories. He takes you right back to late 5th/early 6th-century Britain, drawing you immediately into a whirlwind adventure where truth lies forgotten and nothing is quite as it seems.
Philip Reeve has created a fun and action-packed book that provides an insight into the life of both boys and girls in Arthur’s time. Somehow he has managed to make the story both educational and, dare I say it, fun! The book is a refreshing break from the usual trash lined up for our age group, and I feel it would be best suited to the 12-14 age range, but it is not the best book for readers in search of a challenge. This said, Here Lies Arthur is one of those delightful books that you appear to just glide through and is thoroughly enjoyable. (RC-S)
Arthurian (ca 450-600)