Excalibur (Warlord Chronicles Series #3)

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In this final volume of The Warlord Chronicles, Cornwell tells the story of Arthur's desperate attempt to triumph over a ruined marriage and the Saxons' determination to destroy him. When Merlin and Nimue embark on a dangerous quest to summon the Gods back to Britain, they unleash forces that will lead to a last desperate battle on the sands of Camlann, where it seems that Arthur must fail unless Merlin's final enchantment can avert the horror.
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Excalibur (Warlord Chronicles Series #3)

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In this final volume of The Warlord Chronicles, Cornwell tells the story of Arthur's desperate attempt to triumph over a ruined marriage and the Saxons' determination to destroy him. When Merlin and Nimue embark on a dangerous quest to summon the Gods back to Britain, they unleash forces that will lead to a last desperate battle on the sands of Camlann, where it seems that Arthur must fail unless Merlin's final enchantment can avert the horror.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (July)
Library Journal
In a compelling finale, historical novelist Cornwell concludes his three-part retelling of the Arthurian legend (The Winter King, LJ 5/15/96; Enemy of God, LJ 7/97). Despite the rather misleading idealized jacket cover, Excalibur portrays not romantic Camelot but a nasty, brutal fifth-century Britain in which heads and other body parts literally pile up. Indeed, this novel is even more graphic than its predecessors in its depictions of gore and violence. Although Arthur temporarily halts the invading Saxons at the battle of Mynydd Baddon (during which Lancelot meets a coward's death and Guinevere is reconciled with her husband), his dream of a unified Celtic kingdom is doomed. Thwarting him is the vicious Mordred who makes a pact with Nimue to bring back the old Druid gods and destroy the new Christian deity. Cornwell's attention to historical detail, his penchant for lively storytelling, and his vivid characters make this a good choice for all collections.--Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
This completes Cornwell's well-received Warlord Chronicles, an Arthurian trilogy (The Winter King, 1996, and Enemy of God, 1997). And, yes, this is the same author who wrote the wonderfully entertaining Sharpe series of 18th-century military adventure. Here, a revisionist Cornwell moves away smartly from Malory's Morte d'Artur (not to mention John Boorman's magnificent film Excalibur), which is all Frenchified romance and not sixth-century British history, which itself is very sketchy. Cornwell's Guinevere has betrayed and left Arthur, while Lancelot too departs as both coward and traitor. In this last of the series, Arthur strives to unite Britain under one throne, while Merlin and Mordred bring down upon him the Druidic gods, who can be stopped only by Arthur's baptism into Christianity. Splendid, white-hot storytelling.
From the Publisher
"Medieval times burst to life in Cornwell's canny retelling of the King Arthur myth." —People

"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." —Publishers Weekly on Excalibur (starred review)

"The best Arthurian since Gillian Bradshaw, if not Mary Stewart herself." —The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction on Enemy of God

"The strength of the tale lies in the way Cornwellflesh-and-blood tells it through the creation of fesh-and-blood players who make a historical period come magically alive." —The Washington Post on The Winter King

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140232875
  • Publisher: Penguin UK
  • Publication date: 11/27/2007
  • Series: Warlord Chronicles Series, #3
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 480

Meet the Author

Bernard Cornwell, who was born in Britain, is also the author of numerous international bestsellers, including the Sharpe series. He lives with his wife in Cape Cod.

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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, July 23rd, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Bernard Cornwell to discuss EXCALIBUR.

Moderator: Good evening, Bernard Cornwell, and welcome to the Auditorium! How are you this evening?

Bernard Cornwell: Hot -- we have a power outage and we're sweating, but we are here.

lmhoskins from Canada: How would you compare your book to others written on Excaliber?

Bernard Cornwell: I'd say mine was better, but then I would, wouldn't I? On the whole I would suggest mine is more rooted in a fairly horrid reality -- that of fifth and sixth century Britain, rather than in a fantasy world where the sword has magical powers.

Paul from Canada: How long did it take you to complete this book?

Bernard Cornwell: I can't remember -- the book was published in Britain well over a year ago, so was finished a year before that, but I don't recall it as being a long time. Some books come easily, others hard, and the whole Arthur trilogy almost wrote itself. I always think that's a good sign -- but to answer your question, I'd be surprised if it took longer than five months.

Carol Ann from Wilmington, DE: I'm wondering if you got a chance to catch the miniseries "Merlin" on NBC. What were your opinions of it? To me, it seemed all glam and no substance...

Bernard Cornwell: I didn't. I haven't watched any television, except the World Cup, for 15 years and I'm a much better person because of it.

George Parks from Cape Hatteras: Will you be doing any sailing this summer?

Bernard Cornwell: I wish I was out there now -- I've had the boat in since May, but it's been an odd season. May was good, there was no wind in July, and this week it's been all thunderstorms. I went out yesterday and it was hairy, but with any luck I'll finish the book I'm now writing at the end of July and spend the whole of August sailing. It's a tough life.

Barrington S. from Peekskill, NY: Is Derfel a character from another telling of the King Arthur legend, or did you invent him for your story? What made you decide to have the story narrated through his eyes?

Bernard Cornwell: Derfel is one of the oldest characters in the Arthur story, but over the years he dropped out of sight and was replaced by newcomers like Lancelot. In the oldest versions of the stories, mostly Welsh, Derfel is an important character, though we know nothing about him except that he became a monk. So I picked him up from the old stories and used him. I do like him, but I got a letter from a nutcase in England who claimed to be Derfel reincarnated and telling me I'd got it all wrong. Oh well.

J. Poroit from Newton: What version or which portrayal of the characters in your Warlord Chronicles do you most disagree with?

Bernard Cornwell: It has to be Sansum. I resent what the Christian church did to the Arthur cycle of stories -- replacing the classic Celtic cauldron quest with the Holy Grail search -- so my depiction of Sansum is my revenge.

Janine Markson from Louisville, KY: I think Guinevere is such an intriguing character, and everyone seems to have a different take on her role in the Arthur stories. Could you give us a little taste of how you see her character?

Bernard Cornwell: I adore her. Even now, in Welsh-speaking Wales, a woman who is "no better than she ought to be" is described as a "regular Guinevere." She's a powerful, politically frustrated woman, and hugely sexy.

Jane Milton from San Diego, CA: I am interested in what you said in your Q&A about the REAL King Arthur. What do we know about who he most likely was?

Bernard Cornwell: We know nothing -- or almost nothing. The earliest source we have was written at least 200 years after Arthur might have lived and describes him as a dux bellorum, leader of battles. He was a warlord, his enemies were the Saxons (the sais, the English) and he made a great name for himself -- that's about it -- and some historians, academics, and bores insist he did not live at all, but, as usual, they're wrong.

Joe from Sparta, NJ: Will there be other books in the series? Perhaps focusing on other characters?

Bernard Cornwell: Alas no, it's finished, but I'm planning a similar sort of series, but set later. No details will be given yet.

Paul from NJ: How has your idea of the legend of Arthur evolved, having spent so much time with the characters and the story?

Bernard Cornwell: That's a hugely good question, and I'm not sure the answer can be given very quickly, but I'll try. I suspect that we all have Arthur wrong -- that he was a ghastly fifth century warlord, just as the early Welsh saints' lives (that don't like him) suggest -- or as an early manuscript says in a marginal gloss -- "he was cuel from childhood." But we now want him to be magical, so I kept that charisma. I think he was a great Welsh hero who gave the English a deal of grief.

Millie from Athens, OH: How has writing The Warlord Chronicles compared to writing your other books?

Bernard Cornwell: It was much more fun. I really enjoyed Derfel and Ceinwyn, and was sorry to see the trilogy end.

Mary from Bucyrus, Ohio: I love your series. How much research did you do for your Arthurian books?

Bernard Cornwell: A huge amount! I slaved for years. Actually there isn't that much you can do once you've read the usual sources (Nennius, Gildas, etc.), but what I did do was to immerse myself in a great deal of early Welsh poetry (and some prose), much of which I had translated by a friend in Powys, and some of which I translated myself with the help of a grammmar and dictionary, and that made Arthur's world magically alive.

Craig Milton from Illinois: I am a big fan of your series, and I can't wait to read this latest. But I am worried about what to read next! What is your favorite King Arthur book or series, other than your own?

Bernard Cornwell: T. H. White -- THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. Read it, it's terrific!

James from Queens, NY: How does it feel to end the series? I know I will miss the books, but how does it feel for you? It must be very rewarding...

Bernard Cornwell: It's horrible -- I really liked those characters, and I miss them.

Joe from Sparta: Do you think that you might want to take on any other topics of British history, such as William the Conqueror or other great figures?

Bernard Cornwell: I've got some ideas -- but not William the Conqueror. I'm pretty busy with Richard Sharpe, am supposed to be writing a novel of Stonehenge next, and then want to do my trilogy that will have a similar feel to the Arthur trilogy, but I ain't saying what it is because I don't want anyone else to pinch what is a good idea.

Mary from Bucyrus, Ohio: Now that you're done with Arthur, what's your next project going to be, and when will it be published?

Bernard Cornwell: Hello again -- I sort of answered you in the last answer, but I'm presently finishing off the books about Richard Sharpe in early 19th-century India and then, I think, I'm going to write a novel about Stonehenge -- my construction novel -- which will offer a similar mix of magic, religion, and politics (and romance) as the Arthur trilogy.

Andy from Allentown, PA: My mother and I really enjoyed "Sharpe's Soldiers," the series that ran on PBS. Were you involved in that in any way? What did you think?

Bernard Cornwell: My wife's relatives all come from Allentown. No, I didn't really have anything to do with the TV series, other than give it my blessing. It differs from the books, of course, because it has to. But Sean Bean was terrific.

Joe from Sparta, NJ: Do you think that Merlin had any real mystical powers, or was he just a wise, cunning old priest/druid?

Bernard Cornwell: The latter, I'm sure. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Regina from Bennington, VT: Could you tell us a bit about your history as a writer? How did you get your start?

Bernard Cornwell: It was all a dreadful, romantic mistake. I was a perfectly happy television producer in Northern Ireland when I met this American woman and fell hopelessly in love. She couldn't live in Belfast (she was, and is, lumbered with an inconvenient family, some of whom are doubtless reading this) so I had to come to the States. Trouble was I couldn't get a green card, so I had to do a job that did not need the U.S. government's permission -- so I said, airily, "I'll write a book." I did, it was published, and I've been doing it for 18 years - and am still married to the lady with the inconvenient family, thank God.

Matt S. from South Carolina: Do you think writing the Warlord series has caused a change in your writing style? Did you adapt your voice to the time and characters and place you were writing about? What's it going to be like to write about something else, now?

Bernard Cornwell: I suspect the change in writing style emerges from the subject -- I wasn't aware of trying to change, but was very aware that the voice was different. I couldn't really write Arthur and Guinevere like Sharpe!

Bob from Hartford, CT: Mr. Cornwell, do you have any sage advice for a young writer?

Bernard Cornwell: Remember, as the great Dr. Johnson said, only a blockhead doesn't write for money. There is no such thing as writer's block. It's a great life, go for it. Look for a gap on the bookshelf and fill it -- i.e., don't imitate what someone else is doing well, but find your own specialty.

Maura from Hicksville, NY: What did you think of the musical "Camelot"? How does the plot of that movie compare with your books?

Bernard Cornwell: Dear Maura, I loved it, I can say no less as I am married to the greatest lover of musicals in North America, but it has about as much to do with my books as, say, Braveheart had to do with Scottish history. I.e., nothing.

Mark from Chapel Hill, NC: As a British-born author living in America, do you feel a stronger inclination to write about British history or American history?

Bernard Cornwell: British, I guess because it's in the bone. And because I hear British voices more easily than American ones (in my head).

Jennifer from Georgetown: Do you think you will ever write any contemporary novels?

Bernard Cornwell: Dear Jennifer, what a treat is in store for you. I already have, five of them, and all bestsellers in Britain, from whence they may be bought. Their titles are WILDTRACK, SEA LORD, CRACKDOWN, STORMCHILD, and SCOUNDREL. They're all sailing novels, and OK.

Vic from Victor99@yahoo.com: I have heard that you are a fan of Bill Bryson. Have you read A WALK IN THE WOODS?

Bernard Cornwell: I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson and I have read A WALK IN THE WOODS -- I'll read everything and anything he writes. I envy him!

Valerie from Portsmouth, ME: Any plans to make a film from The Warlord Chronicles? I think it would make a great epic...

Bernard Cornwell: There are supposedly plans from Scottish Television, but I suspect they are coming to nothing. A pity, but such is life.

Mike from Malvern, PA: What are the pluses and minuses of writing about events and persons that don't have as much verifiable historical detail as, for example, the Sharpe and Starbuck books, for which there exists plenty of contemporary documentation?

Bernard Cornwell: The great plus, of course, is that you can make things up with merry abandon and no boring academic/expert can tell you you've got it wrong. The minus is that you have to make everything up, which makes the work harder. But fun.

John from Cape Cod: Any ideas on why the Starbuck series has not done well?

Bernard Cornwell: It did remarkably well in Britain, where they all made the bestseller lists -- it was my fellow Americans who didn't buy it. Which is their privilege.

Joe from Sparta, NJ: Did you consider wrapping up the series by documenting the end of Derfel's or Sansum's days? I suspect Sansum came to a discomforting end!!!

Bernard Cornwell: I was never tempted to round it off like that, but I suspect Sansum died very painfully.

Stan from Farmville, NC: When will your next Sharpe novel be published here in the U.S.? Will it be paperback or hardback?

Bernard Cornwell: I think it will be published later this month -- it's called SHARPE'S TRIUMPH and is currently the number one bestseller in Britain, but here it will leak into the bookshops in a paperback.

Jack from Riverside, RI: Your battle scenes are very realistic. What do you draw on?

Bernard Cornwell: A malformed imagination.

Greg from Cape Cod, MA: I, too, love to sail -- and I love all your books. Can you recommend any great reads for people interested in sailing (other than your book in England, which I will definitely look up!)

Bernard Cornwell: Sam Llewellyn's thrillers (lots of them) are terrific -- he is also an avid sailor, and sails the same kind of boat as do I -- a Cornish Crabber. You've read "The Riddle of the Sands" by Erskine Childers? It's the great classic sailing novel.

Terrence from Massapequa, NY: Do you plan to write any historical novels about sailing?

Bernard Cornwell: I thought Sharpe might get tangled up in the battle of Trafalgar on his way home from India -- the dates fit -- but other than that I haven't anything planned.

Rissa from Rissa: I read that you grew up in one of the places described in your books -- first off, how do the geographical places you describe in your books differ from what they look like now? Any examples? In other words, if we were to visit England and were interested in Arthur, are there any places to visit that will give us a sense of the legend and times?

Bernard Cornwell: South Cadbury in Wiltshire -- which was probably the real Camelot; other than that there are very few -- though I suspect Little Solsbury Hill near Bath was the site of the Battle of Mount Badon.

Moderator: Thank you for joining us again, Bernard Cornwell, and enduring the heat at home... This was truly a pleasure. We wish you the best of luck with EXCALIBUR, and we hope you will join us yet again when your new book is released! Before you go, any last words for your online audience?

Bernard Cornwell: Thank you very much for some very good questions, and I hugely enjoyed the experience. Be well.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 37 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    If you like historical fiction, highly recommend the Arthur series by Cornwell

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book & the others in the series. My only complaint would be that the series is expensive. Each book is approximately 289 pgs & @ an average of $9.99 per nook book, that makes the complete story around $30 in a digital format. This is true of Bernard Cornwell's other historical as well.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Another great one

    As mentioned, if your image of the Arthurian legend is the romantic one and you want to keep it that way, do not read this trilogy. However, Bernard Cornwell retells the legend in a way that it probably would have happened if it were true. He strips away the romance and fair maids waiting to be rescued by their knight in shining armor and gives us King Arthur as he would have been during the Dark Ages. Told from the veiwpoint of Derfel, a Saxon who was given to the Britons when he was a child and who grew up to be one of Arthur's trusted leaders.

    Here is Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Galahad and Gawain, presented in a way like you've never seen before.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2007

    A fitting end to the Warlord Chronicles

    In the third and final episode of his Warlord Chronicles Cornwell wraps up all the loose ends, like what happened to Derfel¿s hand. He also returns to the more traditional telling to find his ending for the Arthur story. I found the ending of the Arthur portion of the tale very satisfying but was a little disappointed in the ending the Cornwell wrote for Derfel. In the end Derfel is a warrior again which is the way I am sure my friend would have wanted it but I really wanted Derfel to have one last glorious triumph to end his tale. I guess that would have been impossible as Derfel is the author of the story, life is inexorable. All in all a great ending to a wonderful and much more believable and satisfying retelling of the Arthurian legend. P.S. If you are looking for the Holy Grail, check out the ¿Archer¿s Tale¿ another great series by Cornwell.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2005

    Great New Take on Arthur

    I have read every book Bernard Cornwell has written and this series is my favorite. Since Arthur is a fictional character with very little known about the real him, if there was a him, Cornwell can weave a great story out of legend. I enjoyed this version because of the plausibility. I am not a big fan of romantic Arthurian legend simply because it all so historically wrong. This book is of course for entertainment, but hopefully it will peak your interest into the history of Britain that I love so much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2014

    Best one

    Best Arthurian trilogy, Excalibur concludes the trilogy started with Winter King.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2012



    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    Enjoyed this series.

    Liked all 3.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2009

    An Amazing Trilogy on Arthur

    First, this trilogy is just excellent, but if your are a king Arthur purist, you might not like it. What Bernard Cornwell does is research Arthur, in the old texts (This is obvious because of the notes at the end of each book). He then researches the life and battles of England at this time. He mixes this all together, with his slant on the legend and characters, and comes up with an excellent trilogy. While the books can be read individually, I highly recommend reading the whole trilogy starting with the Winter King. Bernard Cornwell is one of those authors who can transport you back in time. One other note, it is difficult to start the Winter King, the names are confusing and it is slow. But don't stop, because the reward is great.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2006

    Awesome Trilogy (If you want to call it that)

    I have read all three Warlord books and was blown away. They are such great reads. I have never cried in a book, but I cried when I finished this one, not because of the story, but because it was over!! LOL Call me sentimental.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2004

    Outstandingly Awesome!!!

    I read the whole trilogy of these books a couple years ago and they are a superb piece of writing. One of my favorites series I have ever read still all this time after! I totally recommend it to anyone who has interest in Arthurian legends!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2002

    Andy 'THE KING'

    Excalibur, is one of the best books I've read so far. The story is loaded with action but is spread apart to keep you wondering. This book is the kind of book that youpick up and dont put down. The narrartor, Derfel, is a perfect character to have telling the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2001

    Too good

    The best book I've ever read, impressive skills at describing war scenes, easily gets the image he wants into your mind. He continously adds new characters and stories to prevent the book from getting too dull.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2001

    i read all three

    i read all three books of this series. i cant say which one is better but wow! they were all great but by far this one has the best battle. people read all the books but start with the first. you grow with the characters. god i wish i could read them all again and have it be like the first time. better than stewart's merlin trilogy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2000


    wow, all i have to say is wow. ive read this book over and over again. This story is priceless and the author is amazing. I love this book and would recommend it to anyone

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2000

    Best Arthurian Series Ever Written

    Although this is perhaps one of the best books I've ever read, it did not live up to the first two in the series. Both The Winter King and Enemy of God were exceptional, believable, and realistic tales. I felt Excalibur abandoned the realism upon which the other 2 books were based, and instead told a more 'fantastic' tale. The end seemed a little rushed, as the descriptions of scenes weren't nearly as detailed as Mr. Cornwell had so eloquently conveyed in the first two books. However, as a series, these books are far and away the best ever written about Arthurian legend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2000

    The Best Story I've ever read

    This is perhaps the best story I have ever read. I am so overwhelmed with this writer I am now looking into his Sharpe¿s Series. If they are even a mere shadow of what this series told then they too will be outstanding.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2000

    A Great Book!!!

    I found this book by just skimming the shelves at barnes and noble. I like books about Arthur and Merlin, so I bought it. When I finished it, I was so shocked! The book was great! Too bad I read the last book of the trilogy. That just made me mad. So I bought the first two, and so far, they are great! The best books ever written on Arthur and his 'kingdom'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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