Book Review: The King Arthur Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell

King Arthur trilogy - by Bernard CornwellThe other day I was searching for something new to read, and I spotted my own review of a Bernard Cornwell novel, here, on my blog. The benefit of blogging is that, despite my imperfect memory, I have an accurate record of many of the books I’ve enjoyed. This post inspired me to look up his other work, and I am now part-way through the third book of Cornwell’s King Arthur trilogy, thoroughly enjoying every page.  

Set in the aftermath of the Romans leaving Britain, this is a story that is both comfortingly familiar and extremely strange, balancing somewhere between historical fiction and myth. I love Cornwell’s cast of enigmatic and unusual characters, and the occasional comedic moments that take you by surprise. The narrative is engaging, and full of unexpected twists.

It is narrated by Derfel, a Saxon slave who survived being thrown into a death pit as a child, and was brought up among the British to become a loyal British warrior. He narrates the tale in his old age, as a Christian monk, looking back on the days when he, and many of his fellow warriors, believed in the old British gods.

Since the Romans left, the Saxons have been invading Britain, and with King Uther’s death, his heir Mordred must be protected at all costs. Arthur returns from abroad to take on the task, seeking peace and unity among the Britons, while leading in the fight to defend their land from the Saxons, who occupy territories in the East. There is a helpful map in the front of the book.

Merlin, the famous wizard, is conspicuously absent for most of the first novel, but re-appears to reap chaos and confusion, to save the day (sometimes) and to add some hilarity and fun. Arthur is presented as a complex figure, admired by many, but impetuous, not always trusting the right people, or making the wisest of decisions. Lancelot is smarmy, greedy and arrogant, twisting the truth at every opportunity to promote his own interests.

The most intriguing aspect of the narrative is the strange clash between the pagans and the Christians, as Christianity is still a new religion at this point in Britain. It is fascinating to observe how these two groups get on, or do not get on. The warriors, for example, ask priests to pray for them as they enter battle, while also relying on the curses cast by their hopping and spitting druids.

Meanwhile, Merlin is intent on his quest to locate the Lost Cauldron of Britain, and Derfel continues to narrate his intriguing tale…

Book 1 – The Winter King

Book 2 – Enemy of God

Book 3 – Excalibur

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