cover image In the Shadow of the Oak King

In the Shadow of the Oak King

Courtway Jones. Atria Books, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-73403-9

This lively extension of Arthurian lore, the start of a projected trilogy, takes accurate cognizance of the various peoples of fifth-century England--Britons, Gaels, Picts, Saxons and the vanished Romans. The narrator, Pelleas, bastard son of High King Uther Pendragon, is saved by master smith Myrddin from sacrifice by druids to the Oak God. At Uther's behest, Myrddin, his young ward, the girl Nithe and Pelleas take another of Uther's sons, the just-born Arthur, to the Scillys to rear him in secret. In the political turmoil following Uther's death, Arthur is presented as the High King's heir. The young king must soothe tensions among his Briton, Gaelic and Pictish allies, settle religious disputes between Christians and druids, battle Saxons who would overrun his realm, and uphold his legitimacy as ruler before an often skeptical following. He is supported by his half-brother Pelleas, a leader among the Picts. But Pelleas, chafing under court politics and believing himself spurned by Nithe, cannot abide the court snobbery and jostling for precedence, and he is determined to make his place among his people in Arthur's new kingdom. Cultural anthropologist Jones's version of Camelot in its early years is appealing; readers will look forward to later volumes. (Aug.)