Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat- if you picked up Sean Pidgeon’s debut novel Finding Camlann hoping for a fast-paced, Dan Brown-style conspiracy thriller, chances are that you’re going to be disappointed.
Instead, Finding Camlann is a wonderfully meandering adventure through the Welsh countryside with Donald Gladstone, an English archaeologist researching the origins of the King Arthur legend, and Julia Llewellyn, a Welsh linguist working for the Oxford Dictionary. The reader is introduced to Gladstone as he struggles to prepare a manuscript disproving the popular conception of Arthur as a warrior fighting off the Anglo-Saxons in the post-Roman period. The problem is that Gladstone can’t seem to provide an alternate explanation for who Arthur actually was. This is a common motif throughout Finding Camlann- how do you disprove something without suggesting an alternate explanation in its place? If King Arthur wasn’t a post-Roman war leader, exactly who or what was he?
Much like the research work that Gladstone struggles with throughout the novel’s beginning, Finding Camlann takes several chapters to find its pace and enthrall the reader into the mysteries and lore of Arthurian legend. This isn’t a race-to-the-finish line adventure novel but rather a more scholarly, pensive tale that follows the discovery of an ancient burial site and a long-lost epic poem that could solve the mystery of the origins of the King Arthur legends and the location of Camlann, the purported site of the famous king’s last battle.
While Pidgeon writes with the assumption that the reader has a basic grasp of Arthurian legend, nothing in the lore or academic research being done by the characters is inaccessible or confusing. At worst, a quick Google search can help to untangle the relations of some of the more complicated Welsh histories but in general the story flows well, if slowly at times, transporting the reader back and forth from picturesque Oxford and a handful of quaint British pubs to the sprawling, spectacular countryside of rural Wales. The conclusions eventually drawn by Gladstone, the main character, are refreshingly unique from those of other novels based around the Arthurian legends and offer an enticing perspective into the vast realm of possibilities surrounding these long-studied characters.
Once Finding Camlann manages to pull you into its web, it’s extremely difficult to break free. This is the kind of story that stays with you long after you put the book down, challenging every single one of the mainstream historical narratives that have come to dominate discussions about the Arthurian legends- and thank goodness for that. It’s about time someone wrote a fresh take on the history behind the lore.