Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur (A Novel of Arthur: The Warlord Chronicles) Mass Market Paperback – 1 Oct 1998
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"Medieval times burst to life in Cornwell's canny retelling of the King Arthur myth." --"People" "The action is gripping and skillfully paced, cadenced by passages in which the characters reveal themselves in conversation and thought, convincingly evoking the spirit of the time." --"Publishers Weekly "on "Excalibur" (starred review) "The best Arthurian since Gillian Bradshaw, if not Mary Stewart herself." --"The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction "on "Enemy of God" "The strength of the tale lies in the way Cornwellflesh-and-blood tells it through the creation of fesh-and-blood players who make a historical period come magically alive." --"The Washington Post "on "The Winter King"
A story of love, war, loyalty and betrayal, "Excalibur" begins with the failure of Lancelot's rebellion and the ruin of Arthur's marriage to Guinevere. The Saxons, sensing the disunity of the Britons, seize the chance to destroy Arthur. The climax of the war comes with the legendary triumph at Mount Badon, and Arthur's great victory. But the promises he made then come back to haunt him after the years of peace and glory.See all Product description
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Arthuriana is a crowded field with countless books, films, comics, TV series being made every year. This trilogy manages to be a valuable adition to the wealth of material already produced by the simple expedient of being well written and hugely enjoyable.
Set pieces, The Battle of Mons Badon and Merlin's attempt to return the Old Gods, dominate the opening half of this novel, These are very well done, and Cornwell uses then to flesh out his version of Guinevere , making her more sympathetic than in the earlier volumes. Gawaine too, is given a memorable scene. There is little room for Lancelot though, who is hardly featured at all. Like most of this trilogy this part of "Excalibur" is mainly realistic, historical fiction with the more fantastical elements of the tales being presented in an ambiguous way, easily expilcable by credulity or fancy or coincidence.
In the closing scenes, the magic that infuses these ancient sagas, shines through, as history starts to be too flimsy a thing to retell the heroic deeds, and the legend and myth shows clear. As Cornwell puts it, in the afterword detailing his (immaculate) historical research and sources, "We have clearly moved far beyond the realm where any self respecting historian would venture..."
Even so , the whole novel has a realistic , grounded setting and flavour, making the final inexplicable episodes, Ceinwyn's illness, Merlins's last enchantments, Morgan and Nimue's spell duel, all the more striking.
As to Derfel himself, our narrator and chief actor in the wars and struggles of Arthur, readers may long have suspected which of the huge cast of memorable characters from the cycle he stands for / is a version of. The actual final scene confirms it, in a very satisfying and theatrical way,
The framing story, an older Derfel writing up the events for a Christian audience , are left tantalisingly unfinished. But at least when we last see him, even in aged retirement in a monastery cloister, he has had mighty Hywelbane returned to him and will meet his end, whatever it is, sword in hand.
The third and final book in Bernard Cornwell’s series of tales of Arthur and his quest to build a better Britain. Once again Cornwell endeavours to look behind the legend that is associated with Arthur and attempts to put the tale into the context of life in fifth century Britain.
Britain is threatened by the marauding Saxons. They want land and are willing to take it through invasion and by wiping out the existing British population. Told through the eyes of former warrior and now monk Derfur it is a time of fear, evil and upheaval.
The spread of Christianity is also a factor in the tale. There is considerable tension between the traditional pagan religions and the new belief. This serves to act as a major wedge between the British peoples as each faith seeks to cancel the other out. Individuals within each perspective seek to gain advantage though not necessarily for their belief. They serve themselves using their own particular religion as a shield to hide behind.
In truth the biggest threat to Arthur and his ambitions are the people he seeks to protect. Arthur may believe in trust, loyalty and justice but this is at a time when personal interest, greed and power are there for the strongest and there are no shortage of individuals who believe they have the strength to take control.
Cornwell strips back the glorious history of the Arthur legends. He dispenses with the facade of honour and chivalry associated with it. He challenges the so-called magic identified with Arthur and leaves the reader with the clear impression that superstitions would be a more accurate term. In a time where life is nasty, life is brutal and for the majority life is short Cornwell describes a likely reality which is anything but honourable and is more likely vicious in its content.
The central story is the battle of Mynydd Baddon, which may or may not have taken place somewhere in Britain sometime after the Romans went home. Arthur is the not-King (it's complicated) and Derfel is his sidekick, a British warlord of Dumnonia, now Devon, and under attack from the Saxon immigrants. (In the author's later books the Saxons are under attack from Viking immigrants). Derfel tells the story in his old age, now a Christian monk.
It is the third book in the Arthur novels. It's hard to tell how accurate it is, because as the author points out in the note at the end, we just don't know. After the Romans left, there is a gap of 500 years in the historical record, filled with bits and pieces written long after the event. We don't even know if there ever was a King Arthur, or not-King Arthur
But it FEELS real