The Winter King

By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of The Winter King

Book description

Uther, the High King of Britain, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos - threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready…

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Why read it?

7 authors picked The Winter King as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This trilogy presents a clever reimagination of the Arthurian legend which I found delightful, of irreverent. It presents Arthur as a talented warlord protector of the infant King Mordred. Successful at first, Arthur devolves into an anti-hero when he is betrayed by power-hungry Guinevere and Lancelot, and again when Mordred comes of age. Merlin’s magic appears as a combination of plausible manipulation of the physical and the metaphysical with a healthy dose of credulity among the populace.

The pure creativity in this series makes it a keeper and I often refer to these pages for inspiration when writing. The author…

Cornwell is the godfather of modern historical fiction. And his masterful Arthurian trilogy, which begins with The Winter King, is the finest of his many fine works. This was the series that inspired me to become a historical fiction writer, along with many others. I was moved to tears by his tragic tale of the doomed warlord Arthur, a Welsh-speaking Briton, trying to bring peace and justice to a strife-torn 5th-century England, while fending off the encroaching alien culture of the Saxons. The names of the characters are all Welsh, which takes some getting used to, but the story,…

From Angus' list on Dark Ages and Vikings.

Another era of history. Britain after the Roman occupation, during the Saxon invasion. It’s a retelling of the Arthur myth, from the point of view of an old Briton warrior who recounts the battles Arthur led against the Saxons. Historical fiction at its best, I love this series so much. It depicts an England before it was England, with a people struggling to recover their identity after centuries of Romanization. All the characters are there, Arthur, Merlin, Nimue, but they are all different. And nothing is as you thought. The author shows a world that could have been the origins…

From Ulff's list on to help deconstruct tropes.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, then you probably don’t need me to tell you to read Bernard Cornwell. If you’re not a fan, this book might well make you one. Cornwell is great at narrating the bloody heroism and terror that occurs when two shield walls meet, but what sets him apart are his insights into how people thought, like when a Saxon warrior is sent to scout the enemy and runs into trouble because he can’t count past ten because, well… the Middle Ages. The Winter King is probably the least historic of Cornwell’s novels – mixing…

Bernard Cornwell is the undisputed master of the shield wall. What makes The Winter King special is its painstaking detail into early medieval weaponry and tactics, wrapping intimate duels, raids, and outright battle into a fabulous retelling of King Arthur.

The Battle of Lugg Vale, however, is what sets the standard of battle fiction. Meticulously foreshadowed, the reader can picture the movements of the Dumnonian Army across Dark Age Britain, but maintain focus on a narrow front of shield wall by our protagonists. Lugg Vale is a hopeless last stand, equal parts poetry and carnage. You can feel the exhaustion…

Bernard Cornwell is best known for his Sharpe series and, more recently, the seemingly never-ending Last Kingdom collection, but The Winter King is, in my opinion, his crowning achievement, the first in a trilogy that attempts to set the stories of King Arthur into an authentic Dark Age historical context. Cornwell does the job brilliantly, re-telling the Arthurian legend through the recollections of an ancient Christian monk, Derfel Cardarn (a Saxon no less) who in his youth was a warrior in Arthur’s retinue, a member of his Round Table. Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the rest of the Arthurian host…

From Stephen's list on early English history.

When this came out I was only just discovering historical fiction. I was in my very early twenties and was already quite familiar with the legend of King Arthur but this truly brought it to life in a realistic, yet immersive and exciting way. I was completely drawn into this world of heroes, legends, and magic and amazed that ‘real’ people could be so exciting without the author taking it into the realms of fantasy (wizards shooting fireballs from their fingers or turning people into toads or whatever). The Winter King, and the other two books in the series, are…

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