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Excalibur (Warlord Chronicles) Hardcover – June, 1998

4.6 out of 5 stars 216 customer reviews
Book 3 of 3 in the Warlord Chronicles Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The third novel in the Warlords Chronicle, Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur immerses the reader in the Britain of the Dark Ages. Merlin, the greatest of the Druids, believes that the ancient gods are deserting Britain, and that the invading Saxons can't be defeated without the gods' help. Mordred reigns with a brutal hand, and Arthur sees his dreams of peace evaporate. The author provides exciting descriptions of swordplay and battles, interspersed with somewhat gruesome depictions of ordinary life in those days--greasy, waist-length beards serving as napkins, lambs bloodily sacrificed before festivals, and rampant lice.

But at the heart of Excalibur--what makes the Arthurian legends eternally fascinating--is the larger-than-life company of heroes, from Sagramor the warrior to Taliesin the bard, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Arturus Rex himself. Cornwell treats them all with warmth and dignity, revealing their human qualities without unnecessarily reinventing them. This three-part saga of magic and bloodshed will grip readers from the first page of The Winter King, through Enemy of God, to the last page of Excalibur. --Blaise Selby

From Publishers Weekly

Readers of Mallory and other sources of Arthurian lore may be struck by their conflation of bloody savagery and Christian pieties. In his new Arthurian novel, Cornwell (The Winter King) dramatizes the confrontation of Christianity?here depicted as the political tool of self-righteous brutes, opportunists and hypocrites?with the old religion of the Druids. Chief among the Druids are Merlin and his nemesis, Nimue, who cast spells and preside over rituals of fire and human sacrifice in order to bring about a return of the old gods, saving Britain from the Saxons. Priestess Nimue wants to sacrifice Arthur's son Gwydre to this end, but Merlin resists, as do Arthur and his warrior friend Derfel: for this they suffer terribly. The tale is told by Derfel, now an old monk in the service of an illiterate and sadistic bishop who would punish Derfel if he knew what he were writing. This frame works well to flavor and deepen the whole. The book is a military tale?alliances, strategies, battles, betrayals?and is stirringly told as Arthur routs the treacherous Lancelot and his Saxon backers. It is also the tale of the reconciliation of Arthur, honest to a fault and tortured by his wife's betrayal, with Guinevere, extraordinary in her bravery, wisdom and forthrightness. Equally central is Derfel's devotion to his mate, Ceinwyn, for whose life he sacrifices his shield hand, averting Nimue's curse. 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. Ways of ancient ritual, battle and daily life are laid out in surprising detail. One feels the element of fantasy only in the incredible integrity of Derfel and Arthur, men who sacrifice all for a vow?but our reluctance to believe may be only a sign of our times.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: Warlord Chronicles
  • Hardcover: 435 pages
  • Publisher: St Martins Pr; American ed edition (June 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312185758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312185756
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (216 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 - a 'warbaby' - whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain's Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years. He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government - and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars - and so the Sharpe series was born. Bernard and Judy married in 1980, are still married, still live in the States and he is still writing Sharpe.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Cornwell's interpretation of the Arthurian mythos is compelling and superbly written. He breathes new life into the legends by presenting the well-known characters as realistic figures, neither saints nor demons. Few of his villains are without some kind of redeeming feature, and none of his heroes are without flaw. Arthur, a bastard by birth, is generous and kind but ruthless and vain; Gorfyddyd, a tyrannical ruler bent on overlordship of all Britain, is a loving and doting father and Merlin, the inveterate trickster, is never without some surprise up his sleeve but is ultimately human and filled with doubt in the gods and in himself.

Many of the integral parts of the mythos (the Grail quest, Merlin's magical prowess, the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere) are retold in an utterly plausible manner.

Cornwell's Britain is not a utopian Camelot but a patchwork quilt of loosely affiliated kingdoms warring with one another and fighting off Saxon marauders who themselves are divided into different warlords' followings. His description of religious conflict is one of two faiths, Christianity and Celtic paganism, at times vying for supremacy, at times seeking to co-exist, and always plagued by internacine rivalries and differences of doctrine and ideology.

We view all these people and conflicts through the eyes of Derfel, a Saxon-born slave who fights his way to the top of Post-Roman British society, allowing us to see the legend from a unique and rarely-explored perspective. The result is a spellbinding journey through war and peace, faith and folly, in a three volume work that, but for its recent publication, would no doubt be regarded as a great classic of Western literature.

This last volume left me wanting more. What do you say, Mr. Cornwell? Once more unto the breach?
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The tale of Arthur has been told many times since the middle ages, each telling bringing something new to the story, but hands down, The Warlord Chronicles is the absolute best version of the modern era. Gone are the romantic elements that have permeated the story since the middle ages and replaced with an absolute reality and profound humanity that is not present in any other Arthurian novel.
Bernard Cornwell is one hell of a writer and is best known for his successful Richard Sharpe series, historical novels of the Napoleonic Wars, so you know you're in good hands as you read this book. Cornwell takes his liberties with the tale, yes, but he knows just how far he can go with the characters and events to keep things always interesting. Even if you've read many other Arthurian novels, I guarantee it, this one will surprise you.
Excalibur is the final book in the Warlord Chronicles trilogy, and I'm tempted to say the best one, but you MUST read the first two in order to fully appreciate this tale. Here one learns of the final fate of all the characters, the idealistic Arthur, his faithful man-at-arms Derfel, the treacherous Guinevere, the slimy Lancelot and of course Merlin who is single minded in his ploy to bring the Old Gods back to Britain. The Warlord Chronicles are destined to become classics of modern literature and the standard by which all other Arthurian novels will be judged. Not to be missed.
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Format: Paperback
I must admit, the only reason I did not give the two previous books in this trilogy five stars is because the final book in the series was SO good I had to reserve it the best rating possible. It is very rare that I feel strong emotion when reading a book, or for me to become emotionally attached to the characters, but in this case, both occurred. Excalibur builds upon the solid foundations of the last two books, developing characters and plot to even further. The author still manages to surprise you, even if you know your Arthurian trivia. Most importantly, the conclusion was spectacular. Some might find it frustrating, but now I couldn't imagine it ending any other way. I won't give any more away.... Mr. Cornwell, if you are reading this, I beleive this could be a very successful film/series of films. The old Excalibur set the mould for the Arthur of the Romances, but this takes "The King" in entirely an new direction. This could become (unfortunately with much simplification) the definitive Dark-Age Arthur film. Anyway read the first two novels, then read this one... I practically didn't sleep until I finished it. Wonderful... I HIGHLY RECCOMEND!
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Format: Paperback
Bernard Cornwell did not disappoint with his final entry in the Warlord Trilogy. Just like the first two, the reader is treated to prosaic language that revels in its poetic beauty, mingled with the blunt, pragmatic realism of the soldier who is narrating the story.

As the book opens, we find ourselves back in war-torn Dumnonia, which Arthur has just unified after Lancelot's rebellion. Merlin is preparing to summon the pagan gods of Britain in an endeavor that could split the country in two. And Arthur and Derfel prepare for the inevitable spring invasion of the Saxons. It is in this book that the climactic Battle of Mount Badon is brilliantly realized, the battle between the Britons and Saxons for which the real Arthur (if he ever existed) was certainly responsible for.

Those familiar with the previous two books in the series, "The Winter King" and "Enemy of God" know that Cornwell has taken a bold step with his take on the legend of King Arthur by giving the tale a new, more realistic approach. But unlike its predecessors, this book tends include real magic, whereas in the previous two novels, genuine magic was substituted for clever tricks that preyed on a superstitious people. Merlin was therefore portrayed more as a sardonic trickster than as the genuine and powerful wizard he is more commonly shown to be in other variations of the legend.

Many have complained that the book tended to confuse them due to the large amount of characters, most of whom have difficult-to-pronounce Welsh names (Culhwch, Caddwg, and Hygwydd come to mind). In Cornwell's defense, the Welsh names are very realistic and they reflect the fact that this Arthur story is set in post-Roman Britain, rather than the Anglo-Saxon England of the 11th century.
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