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The Winter King (The Arthur Books #1) Paperback – April 15, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 442 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Warlord Chronicles Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Essentially this is a modern political thriller, told in flat American diction. Narrated by Derfel, an ordinary, likable man who rises through the ranks to become Arthur's friend and advisor in peace and war, the story doesn't follow the traditional patterns. Mordred is Uther's infant grandson, the legitimate king; Arthur is one of Mordred's guardians, sworn to hold the kingdom against the Saxon warlords until Mordred comes of age. Warfare is incessant. Arthur's dream of peace and unity seems unattainable. Derfel's own story--his strange origin, his love for Nimue, his worries and his triumphs--parallels Arthur's as he fights for and beside him.

Bernard Cornwell downplays the magic that enlivens the traditional stories, depicting it more as a combination of superstition and shrewd wits. I recommend this with reservations; though it's absorbing to read, the emphasis on battles and politics means that this will greatly appeal to some fantasy readers, but disappoint others.

From Publishers Weekly

Arthurian literature may be a worldwide cottage industry, but Cornwell, author of the Sharpe series of historical military adventures (Sharpe's Battle, etc.) stands out from the crowd with this exemplary kickoff to a trilogy about the legendary warrior-king. Cornwell's Arthur is fierce, dedicated and complex, a man with many problems, most of his own making. His impulsive decisions sometimes have tragic ramifications, as when he lustfully takes Guinevere instead of the intended Ceinwyn, alienating his friends and allies and inspiring a bloody battle. The secondary characters are equally unexpected, and are ribboned with the magic and superstition of the times. Merlin impresses as a remarkable personage, a crafty schemer fond of deceit and disguise. Lancelot is portrayed as a warrior-pretender, a dishonest charmer with dark plans of his own; by contrast, Galahad seems the noble soldier of purpose and dedication. Guinevere, meanwhile, no gentle creature waiting patiently in the moonlight, has designs and plots of her own. The story of these characters and others is narrated forcefully and with dry wit by Derfel Cadarn, one of Arthur's warriors, who later becomes a monk. Cornwell knows his history?the battle scenes are particularly fine?but not once does it get in the way of people of flesh and blood meeting on a darkened field of combat. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 433 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (April 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312156960
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312156961
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (442 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have read most of the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. I have mostly found them a good read being a fan of historical fiction. I was hesitant to read a book on "Aurthurian England" for I have found the hackneyed legends sorrounding Aurthur's myth tiresome. But WOW this is an incredible novel that brings to life a possible historical basis of this sparsely documented time in British history. It is a rich and exciting portrayal of Arthur and plausible explanations of the people and events that brought about the legend of Excalibur. I must say it is the best of his novels I have read so far and am excited about continueing with the series. I have found that those who have not enjoyed this book have been looking for a fantasy novel of a traditional sense about Avalon etc. This is not it.
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Forget knights in shining armor performing chivalrous deeds for damsels in distress; forget Camelot and massive castles with gleaming stone turrets and round tables. Bernard Cornwell's "The Winter King" rips a bleak and gritty tale of the legendary Arthur, a realistic rendering of life in Briton's 5th Century, a period of history described as "The Dark Ages" for good reason.

As always, Cornwell's fiction based-in-history is well researched and fast moving. And while the evidence of Arthur is inconclusive, his faithful depiction of Briton's warlords fighting each other, even while the dreaded Saxon's occupy the eastern half of the island, is fact. The ancient Pagan religion vies with the emerging Christianity for mind share of the populace, while Druids and Christian Priests intermingle with no love lost. It's been a couple of generations since the Roman's packed up and left, taking with them, it seems, any semblance of civilization, leaving the natives in awe of their knowledge. The once great Roman roads and cities have drifted into disrepair, and rival tribes raising armies and taxes to battle their brethren drain the land. In this war torn land, Cornwell's Arthur returns from service across the sea in Armorica (France). Arthur is not a king, but a noble and loyal leader sworn to protect the infant and crippled King Mordred, heir to the recently deceased Uther Pendragon, Briton's high king. While admittedly anachronisms, the author includes familiar figures from the legend: Merlin, Galahad, and Excalibur, but Lancelot is a cowardly fraud and Guinevere is a shallow and witchy seductress who inadvertently leads the courageous but naive Arthur into war that never should have been.
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Format: Paperback
I've read my share of Arthurian themed books. The first ones I read, and the ones I still maintain are the best, were those by Mary Stewart. Since reading those I really haven't found any series that I liked.
Until I read this. My freind recommended this to me, saying "The Druids hop around on one foot in this book!" And that got me. (They actually do, in parts)
This book is highly imaginative. And while it does use parts of the later legends that irritate me in books that are marketed for their historical accuracy (yeah right), there is so much creative imagination in this book. The author sticks to the legends, but not so artificially that it's the same as any other series you've read.
Example one that I love:
We know very little about the Druids. But many authors take this fact and either 1)don't include a worthwile description of them or 2)just use a few simple facts that we do know over and over.
Instead, the author uses his knowledge as a scholar to invent some really strange but wonderful things, still managing to keep it realistic.
Another thing I loved in this book was the portrayal of the main three characters: Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenievere. So often you see them as these beautiful, shiny happy people. Not so in this book. They are dynamic individuals. Arthur is still his down to earth self, but he is selfish and rash. Lancelot is beautiful but a total flake and a jerk (the way I always thought he was). And Guenievere. The most dynamic of all. All she wants is to see the world at it's most beautiful, but you can tell that underneath it all is a layer of cold intelligence, a hard iron will.
Anyway, this book was unlike any other I've read. It was completely compelling.. I read it in 3 days.
I'll definetly recommend it over Steven Lawhead, Jack Whyte, Marrion Zimmer Bradley, and most of the others.
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Format: Paperback
This is not your traditional King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur isn't a king, there are no knights and there is no round table. On the other hand, this is a well-written tale of late 5th century Britain. The Romans have gone and chaos reigns politically, socially, and religiously. What real historical record actually exists suggests that a warlord actually lived who led the fight of the celtic Britons against the invading Angles and Saxons. Was this Arthur? We'll probably never know, but Cornwell has taken elements of the traditional Arthur and combined it with what little is known of the period to produce an engrossing and plausible story. Some aspects may disappoint fans of the traditional Arthur. For example, Lancelot is not exactly the great warrior of legend. The book is a page-turner, though. It will hold your interest all the way through. It held mine, anyway. As historical fiction, this is some of the best I have come across. I recommend it highly: 5 stars.
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