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Monday, January 14, 2008

Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell

It's been a while since I've finished a book with the holidays being as busy as they are, but I finally finished this one tonight, so here goes.

Excalibur is the final book of the Warlord trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, a historical fiction look at the Arthur legend. Once again, we are led through story in the eyes of Derfel, friend and warlord of Arthur. Britain is in disarray as Mordred, the subject of the title of the first book (The Winter King), is now grown and is as vile aj young king as the imagination can conjure. The Saxons are temporarily beaten back by a furious battle from a mountaintop. Through the shield walls and sword battles, Derfel and his companions endure triumphs and tragedies of Dark Age political and military life.

The famed sword, Excalibur, is the title of this book and that is tied to it being one of the magical Druid artifacts that Merlin attempts to use to bring back the Druid gods to reclaim Britain from the Saxons and the invading Christian societies started by the monks.

One of the suspenses that builds to a climax in Excalibur is that of how Derfel loses his hand. As sections begin in the book, Derfel is a Christian monk writing his memoirs long after his friends and family are dead. It is mentioned that he has no left hand. So the reader is always wondering in the back of their mind how it happened. At least I did. At one point, past halfway in the book, Derfel is captured by a character that he had cut the hand off of in the second book. So the suspense really rose at that point. I'm occasionally squeamish with the blood and gore, so I had to put the book down for a couple of days to avoid that bit of unpleasantness, but once I resumed reading, I found that the reader was in for a surprise as to how he finally loses the hand.

Some authors just have "it". "It" is a talent for writing realism, a waxing and waning of tragedy and triumph, and weaving love, war, politics and real world issues into a fine work of art. Bernard Cornwell has done this with the Warlord trilogy. As in his first two books, after the story, he explains some of the documented history of the battles and some of the writings surrounding the myth/legend/history of Arthur. Historian cannot agree to much about this period due to lack of evidence. That is why it is called the Dark Ages. But Cornwell does a fantastic job of speculating for us in a way that is romantic and heart wrenching. I highly recommend this series.

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