Review Of 'The Battles Of King Arthur' - Tony Sullivan
The first thing to say is that this is not necessarily a book for those who are interested in the legends surrounding King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is very much a factual account of the various battles which a real-life Arthur might have been involved in. Much of the first half of the book is dedicated to setting the scene and explaining the backdrop against which a real Arthur might have existed. Life in Romano/Anglo-Saxon Britain is examined, along with the various battles that took place, the structure of the society and the weapons used in warfare. It isn't until Chapter Seven that there is a detailed examination of the battles themselves (although they are briefly referred to throughout the book) and the author is very focused on providing the context for these battles. Consequently, the book seems to be less about King Arthur and more about the society of the time. The link to King Arthur feels more like a hook upon which to hang the history.
The book gives a very detailed account of the various kingdoms and leaders who were all fighting with each other and considers the question of how long Roman influence took to deteriorate and what impact that had on those who came next. The author acknowledges the difficulties of relying on unreliable sources for information and makes it very clear where he has made assumptions and this makes it much easier for the reader to accept that some of his arguments are based on these assumptions and sometimes there is more evidence to back up his conclusions.
What the book does brilliantly however, is demonstrate why it is that there are so many places across the British Isles which are associated with King Arthur. Historically speaking, there is limited evidence for Arthur's presence in Cornwall and yet, in the myths, he is very closely associated with the county and the south-west more generally. The history suggests that he may have fought in Wales, Ireland and the North of England. If the myths and the history are combined, there is no wonder that there are so many places associated with the same man.
Just as this isn't a book for looking at the legends, I'd also say it wasn't an account for the light historian. It's a serious work which deserves to be read seriously. King Arthur is often dismissed as nothing more than a legend and whilst this book doesn't necessarily dispel that idea, it does force its readers to consider the possibility that the legends may have stemmed from a real person. Not a legendary king, paragon of chivalric virtue, but rather a powerful warrior, typical of his time, fighting against those he considered his enemies.
I wanted to read this book as research for my own middle-grade fantasy novel and it was certainly helpful for that, as it gave me a different perspective to the legends. With thanks to the publisher & NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review it.