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?

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

This book forms the first of a trilogy by Cornwell, re-telling the Arthurian legend, but setting it in the gritty, muddy, dangerous world of 6th Century Britain.

All the major characters are here; Merlin, Lancelot (brilliantly described as a narcissistic, scheming coward) and of course, Arthur. However, Arthur is not really the main character in the novel. It is told, instead, by one of Arthur’s warriors, Derfel. And it’s with Derfel that we get the usual Cornwell hero, seen in characters such as Richard Sharpe and Cornwell’s Saxon hero Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

Derfel is a likable, skilled soldier, and it’s…

I chose this because this is how historical adventure is done. Cornwell brilliantly creates authentic characters, setting, dialogue, plot, and conflict.

The Winter King is the first book of the Warlord Trilogy, which is the best retelling of the Arthur legend I’ve ever encountered, but this could be about any of his novels and series. He’s written about the Stone Age, the Dark Ages, Henry V, Alfred the Great, and the Napoleonic wars. He even took on Shakespeare with Fools and Mortals.

Cornwell’s battle sequences are the best in the business, his storylines are compelling, his characters are memorable, his…

Cornwell’s The Winter King immerses readers in a thrilling Arthurian adventure, set in a medieval world.

The author is especially talented at describing accurate settings, such as castles and landscapes. Real historical figures are seamlessly woven in with figures of legend, adding depth to the story as Cornwell’s knowledge of medieval society takes form through evocative prose.

The Winter King more than lives up to the standard I hold for medieval-based fiction.

Another book by Bernard Cornwell, and this one is a bit of cheat as it's set more in Dark Age Britain than the Viking Age, but the Saxons antagonists are painted as Vikings of a fashion.

This is a version of the Arthurian legends. It is the first of the Warlord Chronicles, followed by Enemy of God, and Excalibur. I was blown away by this book when I first read it, the description of the period feels so authentic and is totally different to any other novel about Arthur. The characterization of Merlin and Nimue are stunning, as are the…

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 S. J.'s list on early English history.

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