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86 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on Arthur, the real warrior behind the legend.
This is the best story yet written on the Romano-British cavalryman and leader whose deeds gave rise to the legend of King Arthur. In the days of my youth Rosemary Sutcliff's fiction for children opened the wonderous world of the people of Roman Britain. Sword At Sunset is NOT A JUVENILE FICTION BOOK despite including characters and continuing a story line from an...
Published on 2 April 1998

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Sword at Sunset
A realistic approch to what we think is a well known myth . a theme covered recently in a film staring Clive Owen.
Having read Bernard Cornwell trilogy I was interested to see that this book was written in the early 60's.
Published 1 month ago by Annie


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86 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on Arthur, the real warrior behind the legend., 2 April 1998
By A Customer
This is the best story yet written on the Romano-British cavalryman and leader whose deeds gave rise to the legend of King Arthur. In the days of my youth Rosemary Sutcliff's fiction for children opened the wonderous world of the people of Roman Britain. Sword At Sunset is NOT A JUVENILE FICTION BOOK despite including characters and continuing a story line from an earlier novel: The Lantern Bearers. MS Sutcliff brilliantly weaves what little actual knowledge we have with fictional details in a manner that brings Arthur out of legend and into life.
The story is that of Arthur's struggle to lead the Britons, both Celtic and Roman, against the invading Saxons.
It is the story of the warrior brotherhood known as his 'Companions' as they battle to preserve the light of the dregs of Roman civilization in Britain against the darkness of the barbarians who would destroy it.
The battles are realistic and the reader practically feels the blood, sweat, fear and courage of the fighting men.
It is also a story of love, loyalty, betrayal and a horrible unspeakable sin, the consequenses of which could destroy all that Arthur holds dear.
The story includes realistic events that would seem to explain an archeological mystery of the era and other events that give rise to important elements of the medieval legend.

MS Sutcliff takes us through Arthur's challenges as he strives to mount his men on the horses of his dreams, which he believes are the key to victory against the foot-bound Saxons.
We follow him as he meets and befriends the men who will be his sword brothers as well as his meeting with the lady he grows to love, Guenhemara.
We see Arthur confront a ghost from his past whom he knows will try to destroy him and whom his own honor will not allow him to destory in turn.

As a soldier and historian I had always wanted to write a historical novel of the Arthur behind the legend.
I would have no Camelot, no round table, no magic or knights in shining armor.
It would be a story o!f a Dark Age warrior fighting a desperate battle to hold back the night. To my small dismay and my great enjoyment I found that the master story teller who woke my passion for history had already done so.

I have read both Mary Stewart's and Jack Whyte's books on the Arthur behind the legend and I have enjoyed them and highly recommend them.
Because of it's realism, the historical and military research so obviously put into it and the 'historical feel' of the story, I enjoyed Sword At Sunset even better.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sword at Sunset, 22 Oct 2004
By 
T. M. P. Bacchus "Tamsin" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Since I read this book as a teenager it has been for me the definitive telling of the Arthur story. It is quite simply how it must have been. A book so good everyone should read it once, so laden with impending doom it is almost impossible to re-read. It is extraordinary that it is has been out of print so long, especially now there is a revived interest in the Arthurian legend and her other books are being re-issued.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best historical treatment of Arthur EVER!, 31 Jan 2010
By 
Darren O'Connor (Norfolk, Virginia United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sword at Sunset (Paperback)
I first read this novel when I was in high school, and I was absolutely blown away by it. It portrays King Arthur, the figure of medieval romance and legend, as he might have been in historical reality. There has been much speculation and debate on the real man behind the legend, if there was one. The real Arthur may have been a single man, or conversely, the legendary Arthur may, in origin, be an amalgamation of several real figures; we will likely never know. All that it seems safe to say is that, like nearly all legends, this one probably has a seed of truth from which all the stories later grew. In "The Sword at Sunset" Rosemary Sutcliff tells a story of what the real Arthur might have been like. As such, it is a very, very different tale than the one with which most people are familiar. There is no Camelot, and no round table. There is no Merlin, for this is not the mythical, magical Arthurian story. There is no Grail Quest. And there is no Lancelot du Lac (who, after all, wasn't introduced until the 12th century by French writer Chrétien de Troyes). No, this is the story of Artos, a Romano-British war leader. His men, called "the companions" or "the brotherhood," not "knights" as that term would be anachronistic in early 6th century Britain, are basically late Roman cavalry troopers. The weapons, armor, and warfare are all those of late antiquity, not the high middle ages, which is the setting for the legends. Ms. Sutcliffe does such an outstanding job in portraying the world in which Artos lives, the daily life of his men, the hardships they faced on campaign, and the world in which they lived -- a combination of Roman civilization and British Celtic culture -- that the novel really transports the reader back to the 6th century. It's a fascinating time, not least because records from Britain of that period are so sparse, and also because it was the end of Romano-Celtic Britain, and the beginning of Anglo-Saxon England.

The story follows Artos' life from the time he first sets out on his own as a war-leader, to the time of his death in old age. Many features of the legend were retained -- the unfaithful wife whose infidelity breaks the brotherhood and the kingdom, the right-hand man (Bedwyr [i.e. Bedivere] here, not Lancelot) who betrays his king with the unfaithful queen, the brotherhood of peerless warriors, and most of all, the classic, Arthurian idea of a brief, finite, realm, whose end is seen, doomed to collapse because nothing, lasts forever, and the only constant in this world is change. All these things are there, and lend weight to the story, giving it a resonance that every reader will feel deeply. The historical detail is incredible also, and also serves to tease the reader with a sense of what's lost -- not only Artos' long-vanished realm, but all the scope of history. In this book, we see four distinct cultures sharing the island of Britain in this time: the Romanized people of the cities and towns, the unassimilated British Celts of the mountains, fens, and other remote areas, the "little dark people" (presumably the remnants of the pre-Celtic inhabitants of Britain), distinct from either of these other native groups, and the invading Anglo-Saxons. Each culture is richly portrayed with its own traditions, customs, songs, attitudes, and history. This novel is so well written, and so evocative of the period it portrays that it reminds the reader just how rich a cultural tapestry this world, even small portion of it like this little north Atlantic island, actually is, and how brief and transitory every culture is. These four occupy this particular place, and this particular time, and all have long since faded into history, leaving behind only the faintest, most tantalizing traces of what they were. That indeed is part of the story. From the very first chapter, it's made clear that Artos and his men are fighting to preserve their civilization, with the full awareness that it is a futile struggle, doomed to failure, but still they fight, because if they hold out just that little bit longer, more of what they are will survive and be carried forward in those that come after.

This is a beautiful story, full of tragedy and pathos, and yet also filled with a sense of hope. In this the author perfectly captured the spirit of the Arthurian myth, and put it back in its historical setting, which makes it far more authentic and far easier to place in the real world. Books just don't get much better than this.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book by a great writer, 3 Sep 1999
By A Customer
This is one of the most magnificent re-tellings of the Arthurian story, thrilling, moving tragic, authentic, it must at last be described as high and noble. All Rosemary Sutcliff's work is splendid, but this is the pinnacle.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the original Arthurs, and one of the very best, 30 May 1996
By A Customer
Seems like lots of people are doing the "King Arthur thing" nowadays; every time
I visit the bookstore I see a few more novels about Arthur, or Guinevere, or even
Mordred. But for me, the single best Arthurian novel out there, barring the
"originals" like Mallory and company, is Rosemary Sutcliffe's "Sword at Sunset".
The story is dark and compelling, the characters familiar from legend but fully-
fleshed in their own right. It's hard to create a new story when the outcome is
pre-determined; yet Sutcliffe accomplishes it. She goes back to the archaeological
and historical evidence, and creates a vision of a Romano-British civilization
desperately holding out against the inrushing barbarians, thirty years after
the Roman Legions left Britain for the last time. There is no magic, no Merlin,
no Round Table, no Excalibur; Artos is crowned Emperor by drunken soldiers
after a battle. The glory of the story, such as it is, comes from the characters'
determination, not from medieval trappings of castles and shining armor.
Sutcliffe writes (wrote - she died last year) with a real sense
of place and time: you smell the campfires and hear the clash of battle. It is
this immediacy that makes the story utterly compelling and
convincing. I am convinced that if Arthur existed, this is what his story must
have been like.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incomparable, 8 May 2010
This review is from: Sword at Sunset (Paperback)
I have the greatest admiration for Rosemary Sutcliff as an author, and for this wonderful novel. I bought it when I was 17 and the imagery, immediacy and powerful story has remained with me. I still have a copy - not the original one I purchased when I was so young, but one I paid a lot of money for when it was out of print. I'd re-read the three Aquila family novels - Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers and longed to re-read Sword at Sunset in which the Aquilas soldier on as minor characters, and was dismayed to find it out of print. Rosemary Sutcliff did not write many books for adults, but those she did create are most sensitively written and this is the best - the best of all that she wrote. For me King Arthur can only be the Romano British Comes Britanniorum,the war-leader Artos Aurialanus, who is declared Emperor by his troops after a decisive victory.There is no better version of the story. I love it as much now that I'm in my 60s as I did when I was that 17 year old buying the book with quite a large percentage of her monthly earnings who read it mainly for the romance. Now I better understand its depths, the story of brotherhood in war and sacrifice and doom.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tremendous Historical Novel, 18 Feb 2009
By 
Mr. J. H. Kitchingman "Man From The Swinging ... (Devizes, Wiltshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sword at Sunset (Paperback)
This,I think, is the finest historical novel ever written. Or,at least, the finest I have ever read.
Arthur,as portrayed here is the ultimate tragic hero. He rides around the ex Roman province of Britain with his company of dedicated followers desperately trying to save his land and culture from foriegn invasion. He has his moment of hubris at the victory of Mount Badon, Which Ms Sutcliffe, not implausibly, identifies as the Uffington White Horse, a place clearly significant to both Celts and Saxons.
But then he is betrayed by those closest to him, and in the end feels that the only one of the younger men worthy of respect is his arch enemy, the mysterious Saxon warlord with a Celtic name, Cerdic.
This is great storytelling. Whether it has any relationship to fact, who can say. This was a Dark Age indeed. The story is, from the start, overshadowed by the knowledge of the dreadful events to come. Arthur, or Artos the Bear, knows his fate, but battles on regardless. Truly a hero.
If you enjoy this story, you should, if you possibly can, track down a copy of Alfred Duggan's "Conscience of The King" his novel about Cerdic. This paints an equally convincing, but much more sombre picture of the same era, and gives more mundane reasons for Arthur's ultimate failure.
I was fortunate enough to read both these books almost simoultaneously, when Sword At Sunset was first published. They fired in me an interest in the Dark Ages which has never died.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless classic: but read Lantern Bearers first, 15 Dec 2009
This review is from: Sword at Sunset (Paperback)
I first read this in 1964, with its golden yellow cover, and to my young mind it was the best story anyone had ever written - even if i preferred its prequel "The Lantern Bearers". Years have passed, but this to me is still head and shoulders above any other recreation of early Saxon Britain, a tremendous feat of creativity.

The Arthur, or Artos, you get here is a far more thoughtful character than the young Sun-god who so dazzles in the "Lantern Bearers". And unusually for Sutcliff, it is told from the point of view of the main protagonist himself. There are no Charles Keeping illustrations to add life to her words, but her power of evocation is, as usual, spot on. Courage, brotherhood, love - all are faithfully placed into a seamless whole. Above all, Sutcliff was a superb stylist and one of the best writers about the wild English country-side there has ever been.

A huge talent, justly revered in her day, and now sadly in danger of being forgotten about. But truly there was no better writer of historical fiction in the twentieth century than Rosemary Sutcliff. And this is her finest achievement.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive historical Arthur, 3 Dec 2009
By 
Breakfast (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sword at Sunset (Paperback)
This book, following closely from "The Lantern Bearers" but equally easy to read as a standalone story, is to my mind the most brilliant retelling of Arthurian legend as a historical adventure. The atmosphere of a world where the last romano-britons are trying to cling on to their way of life as the Saxon invaders push further and further west. Sutcliff's bright, vital prose brings the period alive for the reader, conjuring up those long distant times and the largely forgotten struggles that once tore our country apart. I think part of the appeal for me is these wild adventures taking place in such a familiar setting.

The story doesn't flinch from the danger or the brutality of the time, the years of campaigning and the tough lives that these people led, but they are all interesting, rounded characters and the way that the familliar lines of the familiar Arthurian legends wind through the narrative without ever seeming forced or intrusive.

When I saw the movie "Arthur, King Of The Britons" I was furious, not only because it was a terrible film ( although it undoubtedly was ) but because had it told the story I am familiar with from this novel it could have been brilliant.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How it must have been, 25 Nov 2007
By 
T. M. P. Bacchus "Tamsin" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sword at Sunset (Paperback)
Since I read this book as a teenager it has been for me the definitive telling of the Arthur story. It is quite simply how it must have been. A book so good everyone should read it once, so laden with impending doom it is almost impossible to re-read. It is extraordinary that it is has been out of print so long, especially now there is a revived interest in the Arthurian legend and her other books are being re-issued. It should be reprinted, unabridged - there is the nitty-gritty in here of a very tough life and parts of an alien culture - and with the map that the early hardback had.
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