Book Review: The Knight with Two Swords by Edward M. Erdelac

If you’ve read Le Morte D’Arthur or are otherwise familiar with the Arthurian legend, you know that the tale of Balin is one of the most mysterious and haunting episodes. You also probably know that contemporary Arthurian fiction usually varies widely from the source material—understandable, as the source legends lack unity (they are really a bunch of disparate stories jammed together), and often simply don’t make sense. So Arthurian fiction that does attempt to remain faithful to the narratives of the old tales is a kind of special subset, and one of special interest, as these authors have chosen to take on a rather daunting literary challenge.

I have my own Arthurian book series, The Swithen,which is one of these, committed to staying faithful to the actual legends as laid down centuries ago, so I was interested to see how author Edward M. Erdelac would handle the challenge. I also wanted to know what he did, so I could avoid repeating it when I get to the Balin section of my own series. And I love the Balin story, and was eager to see it brought to life. And I’m happy to announce that for the most part, Erdelac has delivered a great, well-written and very readable saga that makes the whole adventure very compelling. I must also say that it has an absolutely fantastic cover.

Erdelac

For those who don’t know the story as presented in the legends, I won’t spoil it, but I’ll give you the set-up. Balin and his twin brother Brulen (AKA Balan in Malory) are esteemed knights of the Round Table, but Balin has been in prison. When he gets out, a mysterious woman comes to court with a sword that can only be drawn by the most worthy knight. Everyone tries, but only Balin can do it. She demands it back, but he won’t give it. She tells him that if he keeps it, he will slay the one person he loves most in the world. But you know how greedy those knights are, especially about fine swords. Balin keeps it, and promptly slays the Lady of the Lake with it (she killed his mother long ago) and he is exiled from Arthur’s court. He sets out to do good in order to win his way back into Arthur’s good graces… and to say that he meets with some ups and downs along the way would be to employ the technique known as “understatement.”

Erdelac expands the story to include events that we only hear about in the legend, like the actual killing of their mother that sets their story in motion, and the accidental killing of Arthur’s relative, which puts Balin in prison. From there he does some of the things that readers of Arthurian fiction want; you get to know many of the Knights of the Round Table, you get some good Arthur time, you get a close view of Merlin and Nimue and many of the supernatural characters, and some quite good battles that avoid the annoying tendency to name every part of the knight’s armor in order to show off the author’s knowledge. And it all comes down to a quite vivid and bloody battle at the end, in which we have an imagining of what it’s like to have one’s eyeball knocked out of one’s head (something I didn’t know I was curious about until I read this book).

Buy The Knight with Two Swords at Amazon

As I have found with my series, due to the disjointed nature of the overall Arthurian legend, an author is inclined to embed the stories into a larger overarching narrative, and this is exactly what Erdelac does. Luckily, it pretty much works. I won’t hint at what it is, but I will say that the whole thing hinges on Erdelac’s very smart, very knowledgeable interpretation of the actual legend. What he creates to add on to the story comes from some very deep knowledge of the legend and does not at all seem like a stretch—it even draws in many aspects of the larger legend that are not within the purview of the Balin story proper, which will appeal to those familiar with the legend and interested in seeing how a very creative and smart author interprets it.

It is very engaging and readable, and I always looked forward to picking it up. That said, the only fault, and this is the most challenging and delicate aspect to pull off, is that it lacks a bit in the aura of spookiness the story can have. The story as told in Malory is quite eerie (in the Post-Vulgate less so) and also heartbreaking, and this telling, while very enjoyable, did not emotionally devastate me as one would hope… but still not really expect, because doing that would be an incredible feat.

All that said, great read, good Arthurian fiction, and a good story very intelligently fleshed out.


 

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One Comment on “Book Review: The Knight with Two Swords by Edward M. Erdelac

  1. Pingback: Facing the challenge of adapting Arthurian materials – The Swithen

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