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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Winter King - A Novel of Arthur by Bernard Cornwell

The legend of Arthur in during the Dark Ages in Britain is a tale that has never been proven to truly exist due to the sad lack of writings from that period, hence the name Dark Ages. In his Notes at the end of the book, Cornwell gives a synopsis of the historicity of the legend of Arthur some of the characters of his story.

The Winter King is a story written from the point of view of Derfel, a Christian monk who, in the guise of re-copying passages of the New Testament (for his Bishop cannot read), is writing the tales of Arthur as he experienced them as Arthur's warrior and friend. Derfel's story begins with the birth of Lord King Uther's son and heir to his throne. Mordred is born crippled and Uther is old. The rulers of the factions of southern Britain make pacts to ensure the prince's upbringing is safe.

But when Uther dies, we find how brittle the peace was during his reign is Lord King, for kings begin to fight amongst themselves and sweeping battles and barbaric executions commence.

Conspicuously missing so far are Arthur and the lordly Druid, Merlin.

Arthur soon arrives on the scene and he befriends Derfel, who is really the main character in this story. Derfel goes from being one of the outcasts of Tor, Merlin's lair, to being one of Arthur's battle commanders.

Merlin enters the scene in a most unexpected time and place but the Druid is an odd pagan in that he has no interest in the politics and war and skirmishes of Britain. His only interest is in the Knowledge of Britain, which are possession that will allow Britain to return to the pure Druid nature that existed before the Romans and Christians entered.

The main pivot for the story happens when, as a show of peace, Arthur is betrothed to the fair Ceinwyn, princess of a rival piece of a Britain. But at the the betrothal, Guinevere enters. Arthur is completely taken with her and abandons his betrothal to Ceinwin and goes off to marry Guinevere. What follows are years of bloody war between the factions of Britain, all caused by a broken betrothal.

Bernard Cornwell's vision of Arthurian Britain is a fantastic story filled with bravery, tragedy, love and gore and is an excellent read. He gives a gritty mural of life in the Dark Ages, a time of much death, superstition and violence.

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