This addition to the Matter of Britain is an omnibus volume of the first two (of four) novels in Diana L. Paxson's Hallowed Isle series. The first novel begins in the chaos of early fifth century Britain: the Roman legions have left, and the Romano-British aristocracy, along with various Picts and Scotti, and a few assorted Teutonic tribes, are circling the power vacuum like vultures. The heart of the matter is, of course, Arthur (or Artor, as he is known here). Paxson surrounds Artor with all the usual suspects--Cei, Merlin, Betiver and so on--and sends him down the by-now standard path to his destiny. Her Once and Future King is smart and likeable, has equally good sword and people skills, and loves to infuse his followers with his own personal vision of peace, unity, and civility for all. Where Paxson departs from the usual fare is in her consideration of the Saxons (and Angles and Jutes and Frisians, etc.) as people with their own goals and beliefs and lives, rather than as stock barbarians who exist only to destroy what is left of Roman civilization.
The sword and spear of the novel titles are totemic objects of the Romano-Britains (in particular Artor), and the Teutonic Myrgings (in the person of Oesc) respectively: humming with fantasical properties and mystical significance. Paxson uses them to full effect. There are battles (of will, of weapons, of religion), prophecies, and lots of intriguing historical tidbits. The author has obviously done her homework, and equally obviously relishes immersing her characters, and readers, in the dirt and poverty and epic heroism of a still not well-understood age. --Luc Duplessis