>

The Warlord Chronicles Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,069
My take on The Warlord Chronicles series by Bernard 'Sharpe' Cornwell.

And yes, it is fantasy, for all of its 'realistic' trappings, there is at least one act of pure OTT magic that firmly places it in-genre.

Britain, at the close of the 5th Century. The Romans are gone and the Britons are seeking to unite themselves under one ruler, but factional infighting and squabbles between the individual kingdoms are diverting them from the encroaching threat of the Saxons, who have landed on the east coast and made headway into the interior. The High King Uther Pendragon of Dumnonia is determined to drive them off the island, but he is old and dying and his son, Mordred, is but an infant. When Uther's death triggers a bloody war, his bastard son Arthur returns from Armorica with his hand-picked warriors to ensure that Mordred makes it to his majority and takes the throne. But the great druid Merlin is embarking on a great quest to unite the lost treasures of Britain in the hope of restoring the old gods, and his quest will bring Britain to its knees...

The Warlord Chronicles is Bernard Cornwell's take on the Arthurian epic. Published between 1995 and 1997, these books represented a major departure from Cornwell's established role as the author of the phenomenally successful Sharpe series of historical adventures set in the Napoleonic Wars, although the same eye for detail and combat is present. The Warlord Chronicles features greater emphasis on character-building and it is to Cornwell's credit he avoids the cliches. His Merlin isn't quite the same Merlin we've seen a hundred times before on film and in TV series, and his Guinevere, Lancelot and Arthur are all similarly well-defined, retaining some of their traditional characteristics whilst being imbued with greater depth and motivation.

This is a big, complex story, but Cornwell keeps the page-count down by making it a first-person story narrated by the great warrior Derfel Cadarn from his retirement at an abbey many years after Arthur's death. To a certain extent this limits the action as an enormous number of events, some of them pivotal, occur off-page at battles or meetings where Derfel is not present. However, this keeps the action cracking along at a fiendish pace, and Derfel's viewpoint allows Cornwell to illustrate elements of 5th/6th century society that other takes on the legend gloss over, such the fanatical inter-faith squabbling between Christians, Druids and even the followers of the Roman gods who established a foothold in Britain during the conquest. Military tactics are present realistically as well. No Arthur strutting around a London-sized Camelot in full plate armour, for example. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages, with the knowledge and wisdom accumulated by the Roman Empire over seven centuries crumbling into nothingness along with the ruins of its great towns and cities. This sense of a truly great civilisation being lost is one of the most stunning achievements of the books, and is unrivalled by anything else I've read with the possible exception of Lord of the Rings' evocation of the once-mighty landmarks of Gondor and Numenor reduced to a few ruins. In the Chronicles, however, it is given greater pathos by being true.

There is also a quite amusing reference to the traditional Arthurian legend as Derfel watches his careful, accurate historical account being taken away and translated by an interpreter who decides his work is a bit dull and makes various unfotunate changes which we can tell are the beginnings of the rather unhistorical myth as we know it today.

The Warlord Chronicles (****) consists of The Winter King (1995), Enemy of God (1996) and Excalibur (1997) and is highly recommended.
 

Culhwch

Lost Boy
Staff member
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
Messages
7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
I've moved this to Reviews...

I'm a huge fan of these novels, and truly they are what got me into fantasy in the first place. I'll very enthusiastically second the recommendation.

There is also a quite amusing reference to the traditional Arthurian legend as Derfel watches his careful, accurate historical account being taken away and translated by an interpreter who decides his work is a bit dull and makes various unfotunate changes which we can tell are the beginnings of the rather unhistorical myth as we know it today.
I've read these books a few times, but not for awhile, so perhaps my memory is hazy... I recall Derfel suspecting throughout that as the pages were being transcribed Igraine's scribe would change it to come in line with the myths that were already being born, but discovered towards the end when the scribe (Dafydd?) came in Igraine's place that Igraine forbid him from changing a single word.
 

Culhwch

Lost Boy
Staff member
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
Messages
7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
On what evidence? To be honest that thought never occured to me - I think it instead showed the genuine affection that Igraine developed for Derfel and his story, despite the fact it didn't meet her expectations. It seems to me Cornwell intended these books as a lost text found, rather than an original text altered. That the tales were already warped is probably the point here - they are the source of the literature to follow, not Derfel's text. Instead perhaps it was put aside, dismissed as the ramblings of an old man, or else dismissed as not exciting or mythical enough...
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
I hope this is a good series. I have got Winter King from the library. I enjoy any good historical Fiction/Historical Fantasy.

I was far from impressed by the way he told the story in The Last Kingdom.
 

Culhwch

Lost Boy
Staff member
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
Messages
7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
These books are far superior to any he's subsequently written, I think. The series about the archer was a big letdown for me, and while the new books are good, they have never reached the heights of the Warlord Chronicles...
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
Reading Winter King i see clearly it is alot better than Last Kingdom.

The first person POV isnt as annoying,bad as in LK.

I wonder though why he must keep writing Historical Fiction in First person. Third person has been proven to be perfect for stories in this genre.

Its not really good foreshadowing what will happen in a historical fiction. It spoils alteast half the fun.

Also i have read almost 100 pages, i think sometimes is this book even about King Arthur cause i havent seen him :p
 

Culhwch

Lost Boy
Staff member
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
Messages
7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
It is about Arthur, but it's more about Derfel, and Arthur's Britain, I think. Certainly Arthur is a major character, but Derfel is the heart of the story. Though generally I'm not drawn to it I like the first person in this instance; written in the third person this seies would have far less of an impact. It would be a totally different book. And actually I think the majority of his work isn't first-person, though I could be wrong. Certainly the archer series wasn't, nor the Starbuck books, and though I haven't read them I have a sneaking suspicion the extensive Sharpe series isn't either. You might just have hit upon the couple that are.
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
It is about Arthur, but it's more about Derfel, and Arthur's Britain, I think. Certainly Arthur is a major character, but Derfel is the heart of the story. Though generally I'm not drawn to it I like the first person in this instance; written in the third person this seies would have far less of an impact. It would be a totally different book. And actually I think the majority of his work isn't first-person, though I could be wrong. Certainly the archer series wasn't, nor the Starbuck books, and though I haven't read them I have a sneaking suspicion the extensive Sharpe series isn't either. You might just have hit upon the couple that are.
My bookstore had only the first Saxon book so i really had no choice. Couldnt read the later Sharpe books. Winter King is from his best series according to fans so.

Derfel is alright. I like that its about britain of that time. It why i read Historical fiction. Its cause of the time and its people. Its not cause i like Ceasar,Arthur etc Its just that i want to see more the world. So far its only about Derfel in Merlin's land. Which is why i dislike first person in Historical Fiction. He has already given away that Derfel will join Arthur and become famous warrior. You cant wait for that thanks to foreshadowing.

The priests of christ in the book give me the creeps. Cause i dont like how timelike it is in that. "We must kill everyone that isnt of the true faith " Its like the first time i heard about that in history class about those days.

Religious madmen,killers of any religion makes me uncomfortable.
 

Culhwch

Lost Boy
Staff member
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
Messages
7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
So far its only about Derfel in Merlin's land. Which is why i dislike first person in Historical Fiction. He has already given away that Derfel will join Arthur and become famous warrior. You cant wait for that thanks to foreshadowing.
You wouldn't read it if it was about Derfel the farmer who maybe once saw Arthur riding across a hill in the distance. At least, you wouldn't keep reading it, not after nothing happens in the fist book or two. First-person or no, you're more than likely going to go into a book like this pretty much knowing it's about Arthur -whether it be from the cover, the blurb, a recommendation, a review, whatever - and therefore that the main character is eventually going to get tangled up in his story. That he becomes a famous warrior isn't the story - it's how he becomes one that matters. For mine the narrative framework is very well executed. Perhaps it doesn't come into its own for a little while, but give it time...
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
You wouldn't read it if it was about Derfel the farmer who maybe once saw Arthur riding across a hill in the distance. At least, you wouldn't keep reading it, not after nothing happens in the fist book or two. First-person or no, you're more than likely going to go into a book like this pretty much knowing it's about Arthur -whether it be from the cover, the blurb, a recommendation, a review, whatever - and therefore that the main character is eventually going to get tangled up in his story. That he becomes a famous warrior isn't the story - it's how he becomes one that matters. For mine the narrative framework is very well executed. Perhaps it doesn't come into its own for a little while, but give it time...
Trust me i have read HF about nun mytic or famous historical character.

Its the writers fault that Arthur and co dominate.

Im not even fan of arthurian legend. Im ONLY read this book cause its famous book of Cornwell who is huge in HF. I would like read to Sharpe more who isnt famous historical character but i didnt find the books when i wanted them.

I wouldnt mind if Derfel was the only main character if the story was good. Its first person tech im struggling with, not having Arthur who i couldnt careless of really.

Im fan of certain times. Ancient Greece,Cartage,Rome etc
Im not fan of historical characters in this genre except, Ghengis,Hannibal,Napoleon.

Just so you know.
 

Culhwch

Lost Boy
Staff member
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
Messages
7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
Its the writers fault that Arthur and co dominate.
It's not Cornwell's fault, it's his purpose. It's not like he set out to write a romance novel and this is what came out, just by accident...

But on the rest - fair enough. I've meant no disrepect, mind. It's just good to have an opportunity to talk about these books - doesn't often happen.
 

nj1

monkey is magic
Joined
Nov 28, 2007
Messages
769
Although the warlord trilogy is based on the legend of arthur, the majority of the tale is based on Derfel and his opinions of Arthur and the events that ocurr in that time. It's BC's take on the legend that was intriging for me, not what you expect on the Legend of (king) Arthur.
Winter King IMO is the weakest of the three which I found a bit hard to get through, it's not till the second book that things generally pick up story wise.

I only wish that BC had written more books on Derfel's character after the events of Arthur. Derfel is one of my fav characters in BC's books and you know that he had a few more adventures after the third book cos he's writing as an old man.
 

Culhwch

Lost Boy
Staff member
Joined
Feb 4, 2005
Messages
7,588
Location
Brisbane, Australia
I only wish that BC had written more books on Derfel's character after the events of Arthur. Derfel is one of my fav characters in BC's books and you know that he had a few more adventures after the third book cos he's writing as an old man.
Not necessarily. As much as he may have disliked it he had pledged himself to Sansum, and he was nothing if not honourable. A quiet life with Ceinwyn, (sort of) devoted to the Christian God, with perhaps a longing for the glory days of Arthur's Britain haunting him. I think that is what awaited him.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,069
Derfel Cadrn is actually in the Arthurian legendarium. He's not as front-and-centre in the legend as Lancelot or Gawain or Merlin, for example, but he is there in most versions of the legend (although he's not quite so constant a figure in more recent interpretations). Also, the first-person viewpoint is essential in these books. I think if BC went to third-person, he'd want to cover everything and would end up with a ten-book series. Using the first-person approach forces him to move quickly and to skip events happening off-screen (other than acknowleding they happen).

I'd say the greatest success in this series was in the character of Guinevere (the most well-executed character-reversal since Jaime Lannister in A Storm of Swords), whilst Lancelot was an excellent inversion of the stereotypical legend. I was disappointed with Nimue's character arc though.
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
It's not Cornwell's fault, it's his purpose. It's not like he set out to write a romance novel and this is what came out, just by accident...

But on the rest - fair enough. I've meant no disrepect, mind. It's just good to have an opportunity to talk about these books - doesn't often happen.
Heh i didnt mean fault but its the writers that choose to write about mythic heroes and military leaders in this genre.

Im actually pleasantly surprised Arthur isnt the main character of the story. That its about Derfel's POV of the time,legend,characters.

I just dont like people assuming i like historical fiction cause i like only famous heroes and military leaders. Reading about Ceasar's in Iggulden's famous series, i liked the side characters,people that history forgets more than the famous military leader.

I want more historical fiction like HBO's Rome. That focus on the little guy, the normal people. Soldiers and other people the legendary people rode on the backs of to become the legends they are today.

Its good for me to talk about this too. HF forum is pretty dead.
 

thaddeus6th

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Sep 15, 2007
Messages
6,682
Location
UK, Yorkshire
Only saw one episode of Rome. Maybe I got a duff one by misfortune, but I wasn't impressed. I, Claudius is top notch though.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,069
The first season of Rome was pretty variable. The second season is probably the single finest season of television in the last decade, reaching all-time heights in the episode about the Battle of Philippi.
 

Mithfanion

Active Member
Joined
Oct 4, 2007
Messages
25
Just finished it. I thought it was absolutely phenomenal. I have an issue with how quickly he ended it though, it seems very out of keeping. Everything else in Derfel's life is described extensively, and by having the story be from Derfel's POV and ending it with the last battle at Camlann, he leaves out so much story which could easily have fitted into an epilogue. Were I his editor I would at least have advised to spend some time on tying that up properly. Too many questions unanswered. What happens to Guinevere, Galahad, Gwydre and the others on the boat for instance? Does Derfel ever meet them again? Where does he go to live with Ceinwyn and how many more years are they given? I understand that he wants to keep Arthur's final fate unknown, even though we can deduce from his never coming back that he did die, but the final chapter just doesn't seem right in how fast Cornwell goes about tying things up.

Other than that niggle about the unsatisfying ending, nothing but praise. Well almost. I thought the characterization was great, particulary for the secondary characters. He does a great job of building a big cast of characters in a way few authors can. Especially the group of Arthur's companions such as Sagramor, Culhwch, Galahad, Tristan. Derfel is the star of the show in this series rather than Arthur, whose portrayal I am ambivalent about. The same applies to Merlin, who has been portrayed better elsewhere ( Stewart). Merlin to me was too powerless, too vulgar. I understand he went for the Dark Merlin/Mad Merlin take but I don't think it fully worked, he is too diminished for my taste. Nimue was interesting, as was Guinevere. So many good enemies as well, Lancelot, the Saxons, Amhar and Loholt, Mordred, Nimue, the vicious twins Dinas and Lavaine that killed his daughter, so many weak men set off against strong ones, the story of Tristan and Iseult, the character of Gawain gets a completely different treatment,a great sense of melancholy for a lost reign. Wonderful how Cornwell gives us the story through the eyes of a man writing at the end of his life, excellent device. Actually a great romance between Derfel and Ceinwyn as well, touching.

His portrayal of magic in the story seems to shift at the end of the third book from how it has been portrayed up until that late point in the story however, and I found that quaint. After two and a half book of pretty much no magic and alternate explanations for everything that could be construed as magical, he does seem to want to make it plain at the end that there is some real magic being done.

Lancelot: one-dimensional. He's a total tool, bereft of good qualities, unlike Galahad who is his opposite and who Derfel calls his best friend.

The Saxons: not villains in the sense that they are just like the Britons, trying to gain land so continious flow of Saxons coming to the British shores can be accomodated. And enemy yes, but it depends on the POV. Nimue, the druid twins, Lancelot etc are more clearly defined as villains. Not to mention the guy that tries to kill Derfel so shcokingly at the Isle of the Dead.

Strange how Nimue turned out. From Merlin's best friend in youth to ally in maturity to cruel enemy at the end. Mordred was a truly terrible human being, rotten even as a boy.

Merlin's portrayal leaves too much to be desired here. As does Arthur's, who is lead around the nose too much by Guinevere in the first two books, something which is corrected in book 3. He is very human, but for me just a bit much and too flawed. Some of his decisions were just poor and as Derfel said, poor for all to see but Arthur.
Loved the companions. The bachelor Galahad, Christian knight of great prowess, coarse Culhwch, built like a bull, Derfel himsel with his marvellous life story, Sagramor the black demon. Tristan was a great character as was the brutal Lord Owain in book 1, I was sad to see him killed. Same for Aelle, Derfel's father.

In the end, a superb portrayal of Arthurian legends. The only Arthurian series that rivals it is the vastly different Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart. I've still yet to read Sword at Sunset though, which has no Merlin as I understand it. He puts a different hat on almost every character, and on many known events. He has great storytelling flair and displays great characterization abilities. He shows us battles, passion, romance and makes the Arthur story new to those had become tired of it.
9/10
 
Top