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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 27 August 2012
Excalibur is the last of the Warlord Chronicles, Bernard Cornwell's trilogy on Arthur the warlord who, according to the author at least, was never king. This is the volume where the Saxon (and Angle) invaders get crushed at Mont Badon. Two-thirds of the book is devoted to the build-up of this climatic event. It is also the only battle that is a historic event, since it is attested by several of the written sources, starting with Gildas who makes clear that it was a great victory for the Britons. It also seems to have postponed the Anglo-Saxon drive towards the West for about a generation, although there is no secure dating for the battle itself and historians have been furiously debating this and everything else about Arthur and his times.

The qualities that were apparent in the two previous volumes are also displayed in this one. A rather original plot for a very well-known story - the medieval mythical Arthur was about as well-known as Roland and Charlemagne across Europe. The comparison that comes to mind, although it should perhaps not be pushed too far is with the Illiad for the Ancient Greeks. I already mentioned some of the main twists: Lancelot painted as a villain, Merlin as a selfish, grumpy and rather unsympathetic old man, Arthur as a very competent but reluctant and idealistic warrior, Galahad the Christian, Lancelot's half-brother but loyal to Arthur, Derfel, the narrator and one of Arthur's warlords, and who happens to be the bastard son of a King. There are many other original twists, such as that of King Mark of Cornwall and Tristan, his heir, and Iseult, his young wide who happens to be the daughter of one of the Irish piratical Kings who had settled along the Welsh coasts. This, by the way, is historically correct. Throughout the 3rd to the 5th centuries, war bands of Irish pirates attacked all along the western coast of Britain and founded several kingdoms. Those in Wales, which are mentioned in this book, were ultimately eliminated, but the Dal Riata who settled on the western part of what was to become Scotland and took over the whole country in the end.

As also already mentioned in my previous reviews, one of the greatest qualities of this book is to make the characters credible, whether the "goodies" or the "baddies". This is partly because the former are not flawless heroes whereas the latter are not dark arch-villains. It is also, and perhaps mostly, because the characters evolve over time, with some tending to move from one category to the other. Guinevere, for instance, becomes more sympathetic than in the previous volume, as opposed to Nimue who loses it completely and becomes quite atrocious. Above all, what makes this book a delight to read (and re-read) is that the characters appear to be human, with all their qualities and defects.

Finally, there is the historical context, which Cornwell has carefully researched. As the author acknowledges, no one can identify the location of Camlan, Arthur's last battle in which he was allegedly so grievously wounded. It is has been located on Salisbury Plain, in Wales, on Hadrian's Wall and in East Anglia (near Walton Castle). Cornwell has chosen another location, in South Devon, which fits better with his story but in reality we simply do not know. Another point we know little about is what gave the Britons - and Arthur in particular - a military edge over the Anglo-Saxons. We know the latter had no cavalry whereas the Britons did at least have light skirmishing cavalry equipped with javelins. We also know that among the units of the Roman Army in Britain there was at least one (and probably initially several) units of heavily armoured Sarmatian cavalry equipped with lances. So Bernard Cornwell's choice, to make Arthur's horsemen into heavy armoured cavalry of the cataphract type is both possible and plausible.

A fantastic read which would be worth seven stars (just like the two previous volumes) if this was possible.
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on 29 January 2005
I found this book to be a great conclusion to an already great series. The book concludes in such a way that it makes you want to know more, even though the book has come to a satisfactory end.
I was very impressed in the way how Cornwell managed to write about a period in history where very little is known and is often associated with fantasy. Cornwell changed this and managed to write a perfectly plausible book on the events that happended, apart from the mild fantasy element.
The outline of the story is different from Cornwell's usual so it makes for orginal material if you are used to the normal Cornwell setup. The character narrates and the character has to overcome many personal challenges and tribulations.
Overall, i would say that this is Cornwell's masterpiece. I often say that Sharpe's Sword was the best but after reading excalibur, I have changed my opinion. THe state of my Excalibur book reflects this!
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on 18 May 2006
Ok, I know that this is supposed to be a review for 'excalibur' but im going to write this in the context of the other two books. I first got the winter king when i was 12 and have since read all three books at least 200 times. The artistry and skill whith which cornwall casually emits is staggering. I think the reason why i love this trilogy so much is because of the charcters. all of them are idosyncratic, loveable and three dimensional. Having read the books as much as I have you come to think of them as old friends, ready to take you on an epic quest of adventure and fantasy. It was these books that inspired my love of the arthurian legend and i think it is the way the charcters progress throughout the novels, that makes these works truly epic. As a reader, you have the sense of a greater period of time passing, from the turbulent stages of Arthur's early rule, the chaos of civil war, to the final battle in which civilisation is pitted against savagery. Therefore you, as the reader, feel like you have lived the lives of these characters; experienced their happiness, despair, avarice, and courage.

Cornwall himself has admitted that these three books are his favourite and upon reading them it is not difficult to see why. Although i have followed his work in the 'holy grail' series and most recently, the chronicles of 'alfred the great', the arthurian saga stands as his magnum opus. Within these pages a whole world has been created, which as any enthusiastic writer will tell you is extremly difficult process to achieve and can only convincingly be done by a true professional. I know this sounds like a patronising eulogy, but the engagement with which these books are able to draw the reader in is spectacular. I can only hope that this, along with J.R.R Tolkiens the 'lord of the rings', will eventually become texts that are studied in school, as a testment to ingenuity and artistic creativity.

So what are you waiting for?
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on 12 August 1999
I haven't read any other books by Bernard Cornwell and only read these because I'm interested in this period of Britain's history. Absolutely magical, to compare it with Tolkein is perhaps irrelevant but it may help the prospective buyer so here goes... In a nutshell, where The Lord of The Rings is a fantasy story based in a 'realistic', but unfamiliar, history, the Warlord Chronicles are realistic stories based in a familiar period of history that conveniently leaves few written records. A number of the 'shock' moments in these three books simply wouldn't have happened either in LOLR or most other fiction. Excalibur ties up the story, giving it a reasonably satisfying ending but leaving you wondering what then happened in the years between the end of the book and Derfel's arrival at the monastery. These books are as near perfect as possible: pretty close to being my favourites of all time. Cornwell is a genius.
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Wonderful read about king arthur when Arthur's final test of courage is upon him ...Arthur has crushed Lancelot's rebellion, but at a cost. Guinevere's betrayal has left him reeling, and his Saxon enemies seek to destroy him while he is weak. Chaos threatens to engulf Britain. Yet Arthur is a military genius and noble leader. As the battle draws close, he prepares to fight his way to victory at Mount Badon and also win back the woman he lost. But in the final journey of the warlord, the intrigues of Mordred, now the adult heir to the throne of Britain, and the magics of the priestess Nimue could prove to be Arthur's downfall.
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on 14 June 2000
Yes, it has finally happened. Derfel Cadarn's tale of his Lord Arthur has finally ended, Excalibur has been laid to rest, and the Last Enchantment has been cast. Giving the previous two books 4 stars, I look upon this book, and noting the fact that it had me gripped for longer than the two preceeding books, I feel that I must justly award this book a full pledged 5 stars. This book is filled with battles, which some may say drag on for too long, but they replace the long drawn out 'empty' scenes which were to be found throughout the previous two stories. But, the battles are good, and enchanting, and purely exhillerating. I found that I could not put the book down towards the end, and feel rather empty now I have read it. Truelly marvellous, slightly better than the previous two, and not at all dissapointing. Onto Stephen Lawhead...
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on 6 April 2011
It's a great book, and would certainly get 5 stars from me if I had the paperback version. However, I am somewhat annoyed at the poor quality of the Kindle edition, and to make matters worse, at time of writing it's nearly 40% more expensive than the physical paperback! Admittedly there is no VAT on the paperback, but it's still inexcusable.

The Kindle edition has been sloppily produced via some optical character recognition software, and clearly has never passed under the eyes of a human before being released. Don't get me wrong, it's readable, but there are enough errors to break you from the flow of the story quite often. Errors like "AH" instead of "All", etc, as well as bizarre hyphenation where the physical book has words that cross the boundary between two lines.

So... a brilliant 5-star book, but for paying 40% more for an inferior version littered with errors that could be easily corrected by the publishers at minimal expense, I only give it 3 stars. I'm yet to come across a more poorly produced Kindle edition of a book.
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on 28 October 2000
Having read the first two books I was eager to start this and was very happy when it was released. the winter king and enemy of god are excellent but this leaves them trailing in its wake, i don`t think that 5 stars does it justice. From the moment i first picked it up i was engrossed in the story, Cornwell writes so well that you feel that you are part of it. The novel is written so vividly and graphically that you don`t even need a good imagination to feel like you are there watching the story unravell infront of you. Somehow cornwell manages to get you to feel certain emotions towards the charachters which i rarely do when reading and it gave me a completely new reading experience. I would reccomend this book to everyone because it gives a different and very realistic impression of the story of King arthur, and it is so well crafted that you can`t put it down without waiting to pick it up again.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 September 2006
Bernard Cornwell is one of that rare breed of authors who are able to write convincingly on a broad range of subjects. Present day thrillers, the Sharpe novels about riflemen in the days of the Duke of Wellington, even an ancient historical novel about Stonehenge and it doesn't come much more ancient than that. His more recent novels have been about the Saxons and very good they are too. But I think that the trilogy he has written about the Arthurian legends are certainly among the best, if not the best of his novels. Having visited the authors website he also believes they are the best books he has written.

The legends of King Arthur hold a magical attraction for many people, myself included and I enjoy reading about them very much. The tales of Arthur and his knights of the round table riding about in full and shining armour are of course a total nonsense and a more or less modern day depiction of Arthur. Suits of armour were not even invented until several hundred years after Arthur's death, if indeed he existed at all. But if he did it would be more around the time in which the Winter King is set.

Mr. Cornwell puts a more realistic slant on the existence of Arthur in or around the sixth century, and the author himself believes that Arthur was some sort of war chief rather than a king.

The last book of the trilogy is the continuing story of war. It begins with the failure of Lancelot's rebellion and the ruination of Arthur's marriage to Guinevere. The Saxon hordes, although subdued have never been completely defeated and sensing unrest they gather their war bands together for one final assault on Arthur and all he stands for. However, Arthur gains victory at Mount Badon, but all of the promises he made are coming back to haunt him, after many years of peace and contentment.
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VINE VOICEon 24 February 2004
Very few stories hold quite so much resonance for an Englishman as the legend of Arthur and the Avalonian myths, but I had personally never stopped to consider how tame the story was, and perhaps, how stale. After all, the classroom version, T.H. White style was too romanticised to be particularly stirring and even La Morte D'Arthur was anachronistic at best. What the story really required was a serious update and a liberal sprinkling of darkness and desire. Cornwell has quite simply excelled in bringing the dusty tale into the light with his superlative Warlord Chronicles trilogy and Excalibur, the final instalment is the best of the three, although not in isolation, as it very much brings together the multifarious threads of this epic and soulful story.
Having read plenty of Arthurian writings and seen the movie of the same name, I can finally say that the story has been told as it should be, with wit, empathy, power and a paganistic purpose. Best of all, the characters of this tale are as real and tangible as an author could hope to create, their motivations are consistent, their deeds are by turn tragic and terrible, heroic and wonderful, but always believable and understandable. The elements of Druidic magic are particularly perfect, and as a reader you are never incredulous, uncertain possibly, but that's the trick, Cornwell makes everything viable and his magic will enchant you from beginning to end.
A criticism? There aren't three more novels in the series. I shall miss Derfel, his family, his fellow warriors and his king. Recommended without reservation.
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