I didn’t so much read Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Chronicles as devour it. Wanting more, I discovered his Warlord Chronicles (THE WINTER KING, ENEMY OF GOD, and EXCALIBUR), a retelling of Arthurian legend. I normally don’t go for Arthur stories, as the basic legend is overly familiar, but wow! Cornwell did again. He made the characters larger than life, made the legend feel like history, and interpreted the legend in a fresh and exciting way.
The story is told in first person by Derfel, now old and a monk living in a British kingdom under threat by a fresh Saxon invasion in the 500s. His reminisces cover all of Arthurian legend from his perspective as a young man who becomes one of Arthur’s most valued friends and warriors. Through him, we meet Arthur, a warlord who is unbeatable in battle but idealistic to a fault; Merlin and Nimue, who are seeking to restore the Old Gods of Britain; Guenevere, who is clever and beautiful but ambitious; Lancelot, a prince of Brittany who is revered but vain; Mordred, the malevolent child king who grows up to become a monster; and more.
Their Britain is under constant threat from political and religious disunity and the Saxon invaders, and Arthur’s mission is to unite them all in a kingdom ruled by peace and fair justice. But its real ruler and threat is passion–love, vanity, and spite. The result is a riveting retelling of Arthurian legend that is both magical and believable. “Of all the books I have written, these are my favorites,” Cornwell said of this series, and no wonder.