The Winter King (Warlord Chronicles Series #1)

The Winter King (Warlord Chronicles Series #1)

by Bernard Cornwell

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312156961
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/15/1997
Series: Warlord Chronicles Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 80,134
Product dimensions: 6.29(w) x 9.06(h) x 1.17(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

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

Read an Excerpt

The Winter King

The Warlord Chronicles: I A Novel of Arthur


By Bernard Cornwell

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1995 Bernard Cornwell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01736-9



CHAPTER 1

Part One

A Child in Winter


Once upon a time, in a land that was called Britain, these things happened. Bishop Sansum, whom God must bless above all the saints living and dead, says these memories should be cast into the bottomless pit with all the other filth of fallen mankind, for these are the tales of the last days before the great darkness descended on the light of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are the tales of the land we call Lloegyr, which means the Lost Lands, the country that was once ours but which our enemies now call England. These are the tales of Arthur, the Warlord, the King that Never Was, the Enemy of God and, may the living Christ and Bishop Sansum forgive me, the best man I ever knew. How I have wept for Arthur.

It is cold today. The hills are deathly pale and the clouds dark. We shall have snow before nightfall, but Sansum will surely refuse us the blessing of a fire. It is good, the saint says, to mortify the flesh. I am old now, but Sansum, may God grant him many years yet, is older still so I cannot use my age as an argument to unlock the woodstore. Sansum will just say that our suffering is an offering to God who suffered more than all of us, and so we six brethren shall shiver in our half-sleep and tomorrow the well will be frozen and Brother Maelgwyn will have to climb down the chain and hammer the ice with a stone before we can drink.

Yet cold is not the worst affliction of our winter, but rather that the icy paths will stop Igraine visiting the monastery. Igraine is our Queen, married to King Brochvael. She is dark and slender, very young, and has a quickness that is like the sun's warmth on a winter's day. She comes here to pray that she will be granted a son, yet she spends more time talking with me than praying to Our Lady or to her blessed son. She talks to me because she likes to hear the stories of Arthur, and this past summer I told her all that I could remember and when I could remember no more she brought me a heap of parchment, a horn flask of ink and a bundle of goose feathers for quills. Arthur wore goose feathers on his helmet. These quills are not so big, nor so white, but yesterday I held the sheaf of quills up to the winter sky and for a glorious guilty moment I thought I saw his face beneath that plume. For that one moment the dragon and the bear snarled across Britain to terrify the heathen again, but then I sneezed and saw I clutched nothing but a handful of feathers clotted with goose droppings and scarcely adequate for writing. The ink is just as bad; mere lamp-black mixed with gum from apple-bark. The parchments are better. They are made from lambs' skins left over from the Roman days and were once covered with a script none of us could read, but Igraine's women scraped the skins bare and white. Sansum says it would be better if so much lambskin were made into shoes, but the scraped skins are too thin to cobble, and besides, Sansum dare not offend Igraine and thus lose the friendship of King Brochvael. This monastery is no more than a half-day's journey from enemy spearmen and even our small storehouse could tempt those enemies across the Black Stream, up into the hills and so to Dinnewrac's valley if Brochvael's warriors were not ordered to protect us. Yet I do not think that even Brochvael's friendship would reconcile Sansum to the idea of Brother Derfel writing an account of Arthur, Enemy of God, and so Igraine and I have lied to the blessed saint by telling him that I am writing down a translation of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the tongue of the Saxons. The blessed saint does not speak the enemy tongue, nor can he read, and so we should be able to deceive him long enough for this tale to be written.

And he will need to be deceived for, not long after I had begun writing on this very skin, the holy Sansum came into the room. He stood at the window, peered at the bleak sky and rubbed his thin hands together. 'I like the cold,' he said, knowing that I do not.

'I feel it worst,' I responded gently, 'in my missing hand.' It is my left hand that is missing and I am using the wrist's knobbly stump to steady the parchment as I write.

'All pain is a blessed reminder of our dear Lord's Passion,' the Bishop said, just as I had expected, then he leaned on the table to look at what I had written. 'Tell me what the words say, Derfel,' he demanded.

'I am writing,' I lied, 'the story of the Christ- child's birth.'

He stared at the skin, then placed a dirty fingernail on his own name. He can decipher some letters and his own name must have stood out from the parchment as stark as a raven in the snow. Then he cackled like a wicked child and twisted a hank of my white hair in his fingers. 'I was not present at our Lord's birth, Derfel, yet that is my name. Are you writing heresy, you toad of hell?'

'Lord,' I said humbly as his grip kept my face bowed close over my work, 'I have started the Gospel by recording that it is only by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and with the permission of His most holy saint, Sansum' – and here I edged my finger toward his name – 'that I am able to write down this good news of Christ Jesus.'

He tugged at my hair, pulling some free, then stepped away. 'You are the spawn of a Saxon whore,' he said, 'and no Saxon could ever be trusted. Take care, Saxon, not to offend me.'

'Gracious Lord,' I said to him, but he did not stay to hear more. There was a time when he bowed his knee to me and kissed my sword, but now he is a saint and I am nothing but the most miserable of sinners. And a cold sinner too, for the light beyond our walls is hollow, grey and full of threat. The first snow will fall very soon.

And there was snow when Arthur's tale began. It was a lifetime ago, in the last year of High King Uther's reign. That year, as the Romans used to reckon time, was 1233 years after the founding of their city, though we in Britain usually date our years from the Black Year which was when the Romans cut down the Druids on Ynys Mon. By that reckoning Arthur's story begins in the year 420, though Sansum, may God bless him, numbers our era from the date of our Lord Jesus Christ's birth which he believes happened 480 winters before these things began. But however you count the years it was long ago, once upon a time, in a land called Britain, and I was there.

And this is how it was.

It began with a birth.

On a bitter night, when the kingdom lay still and white beneath a waning moon.

And in the hall, Norwenna screamed.

And screamed.

It was midnight. The sky was clear, dry and brilliant with stars. The land was frozen hard as iron, its streams gripped by ice. The waning moon was a bad omen and in its sullen light the long western lands seemed to glow with a pale cold shimmer. No snow had fallen for three days, nor had there been any thaw, so all the world was white except where the trees had been windblown free of snow and now stood black and intricate against the winter-bleak land. Our breath misted, but did not blow away for there was no wind in this clear midnight. The earth seemed dead and still, as if she had been abandoned by Belenos the Sun God and left to drift in the endless cold void between the worlds. And cold it was; a bitter, deadly cold. Icicles hung long from the eaves of Caer Cadarn's great hall and from the arched gateway where, earlier that day, the High King's entourage had struggled through drifted snow to bring our Princess to this high place of kings. Caer Cadarn was where the royal stone was kept; it was the place of acclamation and thus the only place, the High King insisted, where his heir could be born.

Norwenna screamed again.

I have never seen a child's birth, nor, God willing, will I ever see one. I have seen a mare foal and watched calves slither into the world, and I have heard the soft whining of a whelping bitch and felt the writhing of a birthing cat, but never have I seen the blood and mucus that accompanies a woman's screams. And how Norwenna screamed, even though she was trying not to, or so the women said afterwards. Sometimes the shrieking would suddenly stop and leave a silence hanging over the whole high fort and the High King would lift his great head from among the furs and he would listen as carefully as though he were in a thicket and the Saxons were close by, only now he was listening in hope that the sudden silence marked the moment of birth when his kingdom would have an heir again. He would listen, and in the stillness across the frozen compound we would hear the harsh noise of his daughter-in-law's terrible breathing and once, just once, there was a pathetic whimper, and the High King half turned as though to say something, but then the screams began again and his head sank down into the heavy pelts so that only his eyes could be seen glinting in the shadowed cave formed by the heavy fur hood and collar.

'You should not be on the ramparts, High Lord,' Bishop Bedwin said.

Uther waved a gloved hand as if to suggest that Bedwin was welcome to go inside where the fires burned, but High King Uther, the Pendragon of Britain, would not move. He wanted to be on Caer Cadarn's ramparts so he could gaze across the icy land and up into the middle air where the demons lurked, but Bedwin was right, the High King should not have been standing guard against demons on this hard night. Uther was old and sick, yet the kingdom's safety depended on his bloated body and on his slow, sad mind. He had been vigorous only six months before, but then had come the news of his heir's death. Mordred, the most beloved of his sons and the only one of those born to his bride still living, had been cut down by a Saxon broad-axe and had then bled to death beneath the hill of the White Horse. That death had left the kingdom without an heir, and a kingdom without an heir is a cursed kingdom, but this night, if the Gods willed, Uther's heir would be born to Mordred's widow. Unless the child was a girl, of course, in which case all the pain was for nothing and the kingdom doomed.

Uther's great head raised itself from the pelts that were crusted with ice where his breath had settled on the fur. 'All is being done, Bedwin?' Uther asked.

'All, High Lord, all,' Bishop Bedwin said. He was the King's most trusted counsellor and, like the Princess Norwenna, a Christian. Norwenna, protesting at being moved from the warm Roman villa in nearby Lindinis, had screamed at her father-in-law that she would only go to Caer Cadarn if he promised to keep the old Gods' witches away. She had insisted on a Christian birth, and Uther, desperate for an heir, had agreed to her demands. Now Bedwin's priests were chanting their prayers in a chamber beside the hall where holy water had been sprinkled, a cross had been hung over the birth bed and another put beneath Norwenna's body. 'We are praying to the blessed Virgin Mary,' Bedwin explained, 'who, without soiling her sacred body by any carnal knowledge, became Christ's holy mother and -'

'Enough,' Uther growled. The High King was no Christian and did not like any man attempting to make him one, though he did accept that the Christian God probably had as much power as most other Gods. The events of this night were testing that toleration to the limit.

Which was why I was there. I was a child on the edge of manhood, a beardless errand-runner who crouched frozen beside the King's chair on the ramparts of Caer Cadarn. I had come from Ynys Wydryn, Merlin's hall, which lay on the northern horizon. My task, if ordered, was to fetch Morgan and her helpers who waited in a pig-herder's mud hovel at the foot of Caer Cadarn's western slope. The Princess Norwenna might want Christ's mother as her midwife, but Uther was ready with the older Gods if that newer one failed.

And the Christian God did fail. Norwenna's screams became fewer, but her whimpering more desperate until at last Bishop Bedwin's wife came from the hall and knelt shivering beside the High King's chair. The baby, Ellin said, would not come and the mother, she feared, was dying. Uther waved that last comment aside. The mother was nothing, only the child mattered, and only then if it was a boy.

'High Lord ...' Ellin began nervously, but Uther was no longer listening.

He tapped my head. 'Go, boy,' he said, and I twisted out of his shadow, leaped down to the fort's interior and raced across the moon-shadowed whiteness between the buildings. The guards on the western gate watched me run by, then I was sliding and falling on the ice-chute of the western road. I slithered through snow, tore my cloak on a tree stump and fell heavily into some ice-laden brambles, but I felt nothing, except the huge weight of a kingdom's fate on my young shoulders. 'Lady Morgan!' I shouted as I neared the hovel. 'Lady Morgan!'

She must have been waiting, for the hovel door was immediately flung open and her gold-masked face shone in the moonlight. 'Go!' she screeched at me, 'go!' and I turned and started back up the hill while around me a pack of Merlin's orphans scrambled through the snow. They were carrying kitchen pots which they clashed together as they ran, though when the slope grew too steep and treacherous they were forced to hurl the pots on ahead and scramble up behind. Morgan followed more slowly, attended by her slave Sebile who carried the necessary charms and herbs. 'Set the fires, Derfel!' Morgan called up to me.

'Fire!' I shouted breathlessly as I scrambled through the gateway. 'Fire on the ramparts! Fire!'

Bishop Bedwin protested at Morgan's arrival, but the High King turned on his counsellor in a rage and the Bishop meekly surrendered to the older faith. His priests and monks were ordered out of their makeshift chapel and told to carry firebrands to all parts of the ramparts and there pile the burning brands with wood and wattle torn out of the huts that clustered inside the fort's northern walls. The fires crackled, then blazed huge in the night and their smoke hung in the air to make a canopy that would confuse the evil spirits and so keep them from this place where a princess and her child were dying. We young ones raced around the ramparts banging pots to make the great noise that would further dizzy the evil ones. 'Shout,' I ordered the children from Ynys Wydryn, and still more children came from the fortress hovels to add their noise to ours. The guards beat their spear-shafts against their shields, and the priests piled more wood on to a dozen flaming pyres while the rest of us screamed our noisy challenges against the evil wraiths that had slithered through the night to curse Norwenna's labour.

Morgan, Sebile, Nimue and one girl child went into the hall. Norwenna screamed, though whether she cried aloud in protest at the coming of Merlin's women or because the stubborn child was tearing her body in two, we could not tell. More screams sounded as Morgan expelled the Christian attendants. She threw the two crosses into the snow and tossed a handful of mugwort, the woman's herb, on to the fire. Nimue later told me that they put iron nuggets into the damp bed to scare away the evil spirits already lodged there and laid seven eagle stones around the writhing woman's head to bring the good spirits down from the Gods.

Sebile, Morgan's slave, put a birch branch over the hall door and waved another over the writhing body of the hurting Princess. Nimue crouched in the door and urinated on the threshold to keep the evil fairies away from the hall, then she cupped some of her urine and carried it to Norwenna's bed where she sprinkled it on the straw as a further precaution against the child's soul being stolen away at the moment of birth. Morgan, her gold mask bright in the flamelight, slapped Norwenna's hands away so she could force a charm of rare amber between the Princess's breasts. The small girl, one of Merlin's foundlings, waited in terror at the foot of the bed.

Smoke from the newly set fires blurred the stars. Creatures woken in the woods at the foot of Caer Cadarn howled at the noise which had erupted above them while High King Uther raised his eyes to the dying moon and prayed that he had not fetched Morgan too late. Morgan was Uther's natural daughter, the first of the four bastards the High King had whelped on Igraine of Gwynedd. Uther would doubtless have preferred Merlin to be there, but Merlin had been gone for months, gone into nowhere, gone, it sometimes seemed to us, for ever, and Morgan, who had learned her skills from Merlin, must take his place on this cold night in which we clashed pots and shouted until we were hoarse to drive the malevolent fiends away from Caer Cadarn. Even Uther joined in the noise-making, though the sound of his staff beating on the rampart's edge was very feeble. Bishop Bedwin was on his knees, praying, while his wife, expelled from the birth-room, wept and wailed and called on the Christian God to forgive the heathen witches.

But the witchcraft worked, for a child was born alive.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell. Copyright © 1995 Bernard Cornwell. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Winter King 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 116 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you love good action, strong characters, unusual plot twists, and a historical setting, then Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian trilogy is for you. His books are not for the timid--especially if you still hold the old ideals of Camelot. I felt I discovered a real, almost factual, telling of this classic legend. Cornwell is the writer I dream of becoming. Just a little tease, in the second novel, Enemy of God, there is a wedding scene I had to read twice to make sure I was visualizing it right. But, don't jump ahead, read Winter King first or you will be lost. And, make sure you read the final novel, Excalibur, to see what happens to all the characters you will grow attached to.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The power vacuum left when the Romans retreat from Britain, had been filled by kings and warlords who not only fight amongst themselves but also fight off invading Saxons and Irish warbands. One king, Uther, manages to cobble together a group of kingdoms. But he's dying, and leaves behind him only one legitimate son, Mordredd, born with a club foot. He gets a promise from one of his allies, that he will marry Mordredd's mother, Uther's queen, and act as regent until Mordredd, then only a baby, comes of age. When Uther dies, the king betrays his promise and attacks, killing Uther's widow and attempting to kill Mordredd. But Merlin's band of Druids and outcasts manages to save and hide the future king. Into that tableau comes Uther's bastard son Arthur, who had been banished to Amorica and who is now a warlord of great renown. Arthur promises to protect Mordredd and hold the kingdom for his half-brother. Following the actual historical record (what there is of it), the tale is unlike all the other Arthurian books I've read. There's little brightness in the world of the Dark Ages. It is full of betrayals and endless wars and there are few men of honor to be found. Even Arthur is flawed and despite his desire to war for peace, he's foiled at almost every turn if not by his own flaws, then by betrayals and impossible odds. An amazing book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bernard Cornwell takes you on an interesting journey to a time when magic and mystery ruled the land. His interpretation of the King Arthur legend is both refreshing and entertaining. He has a unique way of intermingling the charectors and story line, that holds your attention and makes you eager for the next chapter in this capitvating tale of the dark ages of England.
Drake_Mordant More than 1 year ago
This book is exceptional. Bernard Cornwell does more than just do the story of Arthur justice. He presents it in such a way as to make it "shiny and new" again. He breaths life back into Arthur, Merlin, and all the rest of the characters of the legend. In his book they become again, the living three dimensional people that they once were; not the stilted caricatures that they have been turned into over time by un talented hacks. So if you want to read a stunning and bold re-telling of the legend of Arthur, written by an exceptional author; this is the trilogy for you.
Marco1tx More than 1 year ago
Cornwell can get a little carried away with descriptive prose but in this book he sticks to an action packed storyline and wanders very little ! Set in the middle ages, this book is captivating from start to finish. Recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
MrDowney on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
I enjoyed this book. Well-written, interesting characters, but I was a little disappointed in the handling of magic and King Arthur's character. It's logical, but not much fun. Merlin is cool, though. And my copy of this book had atrocious typesetting.
vre2010 on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
Fantastic spin on the Arthurian Legend.
HeidiDenney on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
This book came as a recommendation when I was looking to expand beyond my usual reading genre. It is certainly well written. It just didn't hold my attention. Too much battle and politics, not enough love and life. A man's book.
Joycepa on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
First book in The Warlord Chronicles (Arthurian) trilogy.Cornwell is a first-rate writer of historical action-adventure stories. He¿s also extremely creative in the ways he uses his historical material. I always enjoy reading the historical notes at the end of his books, because they give fascinating details about the site, usually, of the action and, of course, when he deviates from historical accuracy.But in this series, about the legendary Arthur, Cornwell outdoes himself. Sticking as he usually does to historical facts, Cornwell is left with very few verifiable ¿facts, indeed--including whether or not Arthur really existed. Not to worry--he uses what can be surmised and for which there is evidence--and completely tosses the usual Arthurian story, based on Sir Thomas Malory¿s Le Morte d¿Arthur, out the window. Instead he creates a story based on the historical time period in which Arthur probably lived--the 5th century C.E. No knights in shining armor--there were no such things as knights the, and men fought--usually in a shield wall--in leather armor. No Round Table, no glamor--just the realities of what would be called the Dark Ages. Christianity was by no means settled in Britain, and it had very little resemblance to what we know as Christianity today. Arthur was a warlord, who united the petty kingdoms (or tried to) against the Saxon invasion. No quest for the Holy Grail--just the desperation of beating back one of the many invasions that shaped the current people known as the English.Many of the old familiar names are present--Guinivere, Lancelot, Bors, Geraint, Excalibur, Merlin, Nimue, Pellinore, Morgan and many more. But they are hardly recognizable in the brand-new, yet far more authentic tale that Cornwell weaves.I happen to love the usual Arthurian tales; I think they are some of the best fantasy ever written. But at least in this first book, I really like what Cornwell has done with this material. It¿s a whacking good story, fast-paced and well written--typical Cornwell strengths.There¿s one minor almost-caveat, however. The story is told by Dervel Cadarn, a spearman in Arthur¿s army. He works very well as a narrator, and lends a very personal touch to the story. Cornwell is a prolific writer, and has written other series. I am currently reading The Last Kindom, the first book in his trilogy, The Saxon Tales, which is set about four centuries later than The Warlord Chronicles. Britain is again facing an invasion, this time of Danes. Again, one king, Alfred the Great, will try to unite the British against the invaders. Again the story is narrated by a fighting man, Uhtred. It¿s easy to see how such a story structure and especially the device of such a narrator works well. But if you read both series, they will have a familiarity, because character development is not one of Cornwell¿s strong suits nor does it necessarily have to be, given the genre.But taken by itself, The Winter King is a remarkably good story told very, very well. highly recommended.
MrsLee on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
This is a tale about King Arthur, but not with the typical romantic trappings which were created in the 1500s. This is the story of the Arthur who may have been, set in the early fifth century Britain. It is a fascinating look at a perilous time in the history of Britain, a time when cultures and religions are clashing and there is no certain outcome. The setting alone made this book worth the read for me. The author has illuminated the Dark Ages and made them come alive. The narrator of the tale was a warrior with Arthur and in his old age has become a monk. I am interested to see how he got there, because in the story he is a dedicated pagan and was raised by Merlin. One of the aspects of this story which I found most interesting was the description of the various religions and how the followers of each perceived each other. I look forward to finding and reading the sequels to this story. If I were to pick at anything, it might be that at times the story is repetitive. That didn't bother me enough to slow me down.
hjjugovic on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
I'm a huge fan of Arthurian literature - I've probably read over 50 books on the topic since I was a teenager - and I wasn't sure how I would feel about Cornwell's take on the subject. I've always felt the myth was more important than the history when it comes to Arthur, and I knew Cornwell would at least strip the work of most of the usual anachronisms. He actually did more, transforming even the most basic of relationships and events, until only his adherance to the most basic themes of Arthurian legend allow this book to be considered part of the genre.At first it upset me. I couldn't see what the benefit was of having a character called Elaine only to make her Lancelot's mother. But as I read on, I saw the appeal. As any lover of the genre will tell you, almost nothing is known about a historical Arthur; even his existance cannot be verified, and so everyone who writes an Arthur book changes things to suit their point.So why not change things drastically? Cornwell has this story dictated by one of the knights to a Queen who wants a more glamourous story than the one the knight is telling. He knows she is probably changing it in the translation process before the books are even done. Cornwell gives us a deliberately different Arthur, but one in which we can see how and why the story would have been twisted as it was passed down.Arthurian legend has always been a mash-up of history and myth, and Cornwell makes that the theme of of his version. This first book in the series is really great, and can stand alone without its two sequels. Cornwell's great launguage, evocative and spare descriptions, and effortless characterization are here, as are what is most important in Arthur stories: the dream of a golden age that rises above the men and women who inspired it.
alabraham on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
I have read many books about King Arthur. I really liked Bernard Cornwell as an author because of the detail and the imagination. It gave the reader a more realistic idea of what it might have been like to live in the Arthurian era. At the end he establishes how little is historically know about King Arthur and gives a brief history of who King Arthur might be based on in the historical past. I found this book to be fascinating and look forward to reading more by this author.
DaddyPupcake on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
I remember the story as a whole...not which events happened in each book. After saying that just let me say that these three books are my absolute favorite story. Arthur is shown in a way that could have been real. Its not the same old Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. The only problem I have with Cornwell's writings is that the main character is always pretty much the same. That¿s the case in the books that I have read by him anyway. Thomas, Saban, and especially Uhtred are very much like Derfel.
justabookreader on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
Quick disclosure --- I adore Arthurian legend and will read almost anything that promises a story with Arthur and the knights of the round table. I have to admit, this book did not disappoint.The Winter King is narrated by Derfel, a Saxon born ward of Merlin and a warrior in Arthur's army. He tells the tale for Igraine, Queen of Powys, who is his patron. He begins the long tale at the Tor, Merlin's home, when Mordred is born, the grandson of Uther Pendragon and the eventual leader of Dumnonia. Years of invasion, fighting, and suffering follow which he describes in detail. As a child, Derfel yearns to become a warrior and, years later, is granted his wish by Arthur. After proving his worth and loyalty, Derfel finds himself serving directly under Arthur. He travels across Britain fighting for the peace Arthur believes he can bring to the land. He eventually finds himself titled Lord Derfel and disagreeing with many of Arthur's ideas, yet, he fights anyway in the hope that the much wished for peace will come. It is also his friendship and admiration for Arthur that keeps him fighting, if for nothing else.Cornwell brings to life the dramatic fights, the grisly life, and spoils and indecency of war. He does not shirk from the brutality and blood and, if you happen to be squeamish, he may not be the author for you. I mean that in a very good way. He brings you into the fight, you hear the clanging of swords, smell the men, and feel the pain. He holds nothing back from the way he describes the lifestyles of the individuals, the rituals of the numerous religions, and the fighting itself. It is brutal, disgusting, and above all, fantastic.What I truly enjoyed about this book was the fact that it was told from an observer's point of view. I know Arthur and his tale, but to hear it from Derfel makes it fresh and interesting. I feel sometimes that I have read the same story over and over and this one felt very different. In fact, it made me want to read books two and three in the series. I want to listen to Derfel finish his tale and I want to know more about these brutal people.One drawback, there is an incredibly long list of characters in this book. Sometimes it can be hard to keep them straight but that didn't take much away from the story for me. Although, at times, it can be confusing since many of the spellings are similar. After you get into the story, the traits make each character unique, plus there is a list in the front of the book that is useful when you need to remember who someone is.
theforestofbooks on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Incredible. A story so brutal and so realised I felt I was standing in the Dark Ages and at times wishing I was stood alongside Arthur. This is a retelling of the Arthurian legend told through the eyes of a monk, Derfel, who looks back on his life and reveals the truth of Arthur as he witnessed it. For this to work, Derfel becomes a central character, one who you believe in and one you accept was there as events unfolded. This could easily feel contrived, yet it works seamlessly. The first 80 pages are slow, and be warned confusing, as a list of characters and places had me constantly referring to the character list and map in the front. Yet it is a measured build up, and with a beautiful piece of misdirection (which having read the book before still fooled me.) When Arthur eventually appears (and I¿m not ashamed to admit the hairs on the back of my neck stood up) the narrative takes hold. Yet this isn¿t just a tale of battle after battle, there are some poignant character interactions which just adds to the layers of the story. All of the characters feel real, from Merlin¿s sarcastic wit and his attitude towards the affairs of man, to Arthur¿s honourable yet essentially flawed traits. As someone who loves the Arthurian mythology and has pagan tendencies anyway, this book is always going to be difficult to dislike. My knowledge of the mythology and the religion of the times is greater then when I first read this ten years ago, but which just makes me appreciate and love this book even more. The level of detail is breathtaking. It is not an exaggeration to say you can almost smell the smoke from the woodfires and feel the chill from the night air. Anyone with even a slither of interest in the mythology of Arthur, needs to start here. Read it, then await his return...
Cait86 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Bernard Cornwell's The Winter King is the first in his trilogy of books dealing with the story of King Arthur. Our narrator, Derfel, is a Saxon orphan who was adopted by Merlin, a one of Arthur's confidantes and chief fighters. The story opens when Derfel is in his old age; he has become a monk, and is engaged in writing down Arthur's story. He tells it to his queen, Igraine, and their conversations interject the main narrative of Arthur's rise to power.Cornwell makes his Arthur not a king, but a warlord entrusted with the life of the infant king Mordred. Arthur's goal is to unite the tribes of Britain under one peaceful ruler, and to hold back the Saxon invaders. Meanwhile, the mysterious Merlin is searching for the Treasures of Britain, thirteen objects that will allow their possessor to summon the British gods, and restore Britain to its rightful place.I've read a fair amount of Arthurian literature, and I have to say, Cornwell's version of the story is far from my favourite. Derfel is a lifeless narrator, with little personality and even less insight into Arthur's character. He spends chapters talking about how Arthur's decisions resulted in war and grief, and that Arthur's defining trait is his ambition, but then remarks that Arthur was the greatest man he ever knew. To me, Cornwell's Arthur is an idiot - he marries Guinevere in secret and moans about how much he loves her, when clearly she is interested only in his power. Really, he is quite pathetic.Lancelot is another character who I dislike. In The Winter King, he is not a dashing soldier, but a lazy man who is scared of fighting. He is smug and haughty, and his good looks are his only positive feature.So, what about this book is good? Well, I suppose it is quite historically accurate. However, this means that it is rather unpleasant as well. Cornwell fills his pages with violence, rape, descriptions of urination and filth, and makes Britain altogether unattractive. Realistically, it probably was fairly horrible, but for me, this didn't make for good reading. The descriptions of battle were well done, and I enjoyed the sections where Derfel discusses tactical strategies and the soldiers' religion of Mithras. However, these sections were few and far between, and as a result, this book took me weeks to read. Even though my OCD personality will flinch as I write this, I know that I will never read the other two books in this trilogy. This Arthur is not my Arthur, and it disappointed me - so much, in fact, that it may be time for a reread of The Mists of Avalon.
virginiahomeschooler on LibraryThing 3 months ago
It's the first in a trilogy of what the Arthur story would've been had it actually been true. It's completely believable - Bernard Cornwell has a true gift for writing historical fiction. From the narrator's unique perspective, to the lush descriptions of the landscapes and the people, to the fantastically gruesome battle scenes - it's all done in such a way that you feel a sort of voyeuristic pleasure at watching these people's destinies unfold. It wasn't easy reading, to be sure, but it was certainly entertaining.
BruderBane on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Another good solid story from Cornwell although not his best work. There were some parts, in this first chronicle, where the writing seemed stilted and repetitive. I will absolutely read the next chronicle because although this may be his weakest book I've read, Mr. Corwell's overall writing has proven to be stupendous. I expect things to pick up in the next book.
lweddle on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This is the first book in Bernard Cornwell's "Warlord Trilogy." The series tells the tale of Arthur and Corwell has said that it is his favorite series of all that he has written. It is easy to tell that when reading it. Cornwell has put so much work into describing post-Roman Britain and its inhabitants that I was pretty overwhelmed during the first third of the book. The author's enthusiasm and dedication inspired me to keep going, and I'm glad I did!Midway through the book, the hero, Derfel Cadarn - one of Arthur's best warriors, finds himself on a quest that takes him to the Isle of the Dead. A place where the people of Britain would abandon their insane and their criminals. No one has ever returned from the Isle of the Dead, but Derfel is determined to save his friend (and lover), Nimue - a Druid priestess. This episode was some of the best writing I have read from Bernard Cornwell. It went beyond his historical descriptions, his always exciting battle scenes, and his slightly hokey love scenes. I was certainly impressed.
boundoriginals on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This has to be THE best book ever written. There is a line, about 100 pages in that reads "for at last Srthur had come" and iot never fails to bring racking sobs to my throat. How weird they must think I am ont he underground.
nesum on LibraryThing 3 months ago
The finest Arthurian novel I have read, I think. Cornwell weaves a compelling tale that is not necessarily true to the legend, but explains the legend in a manner that is truthful and intriguing. This first volume thrusts us into a world that seems strange to us, but Cornwell¿s writing makes us feel quickly at home. It is easy to get lost in this place, and after three volumes you can do nothing but wish there had been more.
BenjaminHahn on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This is some great escapist writing for me. Bernard Cornwell knows how to deliver the goods when it comes to high adventure. Probably not as historically based as the Sharpe series since there are so few sources on King Arthur but at least this story is a little more down to earth then say Marion Zimmer Bradley. Not so much high magic as more believable battle scenes. He does a good job of creating an intriguing cast of political characters and religious tension between the pagan/druids and the christian missionaries. I also love that Lancelot is complete coward and opportunist. I like to look up the names he uses to see any actual historical links. he has done a great job with the Welsh words so far as I can tell. I'm looking forward to reading the Enemy of God, the second of the series.
Ammianus on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Cornwell superbly captures the real Arthur in this work. He does a heck of a job carrying you to the battlefields and paints a chilling picture of Dark Age combat. Believable human characters act on a richly described stage.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Incredible. My favorite book series. Ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great reading. Looked forward ? To my time with winter king