Sometimes it seems like we’ve heard a story so many times that we can recount it by heart. Sometimes we can become bored with a book before we even start reading it because it is so familiar. Some authors try to turn legends on their heads or try to give it an extra dimension. The Knight With Two Swords attempts this.
The Arthurian legends are one that is so very indelibly tied to the Anglo-Saxon culture. We have seen it told in various ways and through various eyes like Excalibur, First Knight, The Sword in the Stone and Legion. Essentially they all end up doing the same thing, just recounting something we already know. It is a difficult task to attempt. Is it possible to make an age-old story interesting again?
Erdelac attempts to do this by initially shifting the focus away from Arthur and on the twins Balin and Brulen. They grow in a tumultuous time in Britain, where various powers are battling for control of the entire island. It is a war not only between men but also religion. The old ways from Avalon and Christianity. The brothers end up on opposite side of the spectrum when their mother is burned at the stake. Brulen accuses the Christians and Balin Avalon.
When a sword is pulled from the stone, by the young Arthur, the land becomes divided and the twins more so, born from Brulen’s distrust of the demonic Merlin. Balin gets behind Arthur and his plan to unify the land and a desire to weed out the old. When Balin is promised to be made the greatest knight in the realm in exchange for the death of Arthur he may very well bring the entire world down upon them.
Erdelac’s saga is one of opposition. Balin is constantly torn between two decisions, two worlds and this is what drives the story forward. Like The Mists of Avalon, we get to see the Arthurian tale told through the eyes of someone close to the events. Unfortunately little is added to the mystique of it all. The Arthurian legend is extremely fragmented and there have been several who have tried to connect it or even just focus on a fraction of it. Cullen Bunn’s Unholy Grail offers a new take on it by suggesting it all being orchestrated by Merlin himself. Erdelac instead tries to offer details in the tale that might not have been addressed before. Creating a historical setting and humanizing the people surrounding Arthur and the events leading up to the fall of Camelot.
One might argue that there has never truly been a book which has been successful in re-telling the myth of Avalon. TH White may have come close, but he blended the classic story with modern aspects, placing it in another category, also very much bastardized by Disney. The allure of King Arthur and his Knights is the legend of it all. That we never truly get the entire tale. We do not need to have details because all of a sudden it makes it all too real and it then tends to become more of a historical document.
The Knight with Two Swords would work for someone unfamiliar with the Arthurian legend. Where every aspect of the book comes as a surprise, but then it would need more details initially. To answer the question whether one can make the legend of King Arthur interesting, one would have to say that Erdelac tries, but is not entirely successful.