Enemy of God is the book I feared I’d encounter when I originally hesitated to read Bernard Cornwell’s “Warlord Chronicles” series about King Arthur. As I mentioned in my review of the previous book, The Winter King, there is evidence in the (scanty) historical record that the original Arthur made enemies in the British church. I feared that Christianity would be made to look bad.
And that’s what happened in this volume.
Oh, Cornwell covers himself. He has a couple positively presented Christian characters, notably the warrior Galahad, but that reads to me like the standard “Some of my best friends are Jewish” denial of anti-Semitism. In this book, the Christians are the bad guys. Even worse guys than the Saxon conquerors Arthur is fighting. Arthur is tolerant of religion but doesn’t believe in much of anything himself, except his honor, and Cornwell seems to see this as the best way to live.
Arthur (not a king but a warlord, and protector of the not-yet-grown king, Mordred) made himself the most powerful man in Britain at the end of The Winter King. He wants to solidify the peace through a marriage between Princess Ceinwyn, Princess of the kingdom of Powys, and Lancelot, whom he has made king of another British kingdom. But the narrator, Derfel, spoils this plan by running off with the princess. Later Derfel gets involved in helping the druid Merlin search for the cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn, obviously meant as the inspiration for the quest of the Holy Grail. The story of Tristan and Iseult is also incorporated (in the most horrifying version you’ll ever read).
But the real struggle in this story is with Christianity. The Christians of Britain, whipped up by the oily Bishop Sansum and his missionaries, are working themselves into a passion to convert all Britain by force before the magical year of 500 A.D., when they expect Christ to return. They are being cynically manipulated by King Lancelot, whom they adopt as their leader despite the fact that his faith is questionable. This mob enthusiasm threatens Arthur’s peace and the very existence of what remains of unconquered Britain.
Except for the exceptions referred to above, all the Christians in the book are either stupid or evil, and virtually all the priests are assumed to be either sexual predators or pederasts. Derfel and Arthur look at the Christians as an alien group that has settled in Britain, grown in numbers insidiously, and now threatens to impose its laws on everyone. Perhaps Cornwell has the Muslim presence in today’s Britain in the back of his mind.
It bothered me, but I finished it. I’ve started the third book now, and that one is less offensive.
For the rest, good story, interesting characters, exciting action. A Cornwell novel.