Bernard Cornwell


A Plume of Smoke
May 10, 2004
The Road
Having read his Grail Quest Trilogy, which was absolutely fantastic, I am now reading his Warlord Chronicles Trilogy. The Warlord Chronicles is about King Arthur, but paints a much more realistic picture of Arthur, Britain and the times. The book is quite slow moving but the sheer depth of detail that Cornwell conjours places you in Britain 400 hundred or so AD. Once you are there, you really don't want to leave.

Has anybody else read any of Cornwell's works? I of course, like many of you, watched Sharpes Rifles - starring Sean Bean - many moons ago. It is strange that it has taken me so long to read his work.
I've read books 1 and 2 of the Warlord trilogy, and can't wait to get my hands on the last one...I love the idea that it wasn't all chivalry, shining knights and tournaments :)

And the actual characters themselves...I actually prefer this Lancelot to the tormented and true friend of Arthur's...I really like someone I can despise from the bottom of my black little heart.
I haven't read anything but his Sharpe series and another couple of stand-alones (all of which I very much enjoyed). The only reason I haven't read his others is that our library doesn't carry them for some odd reason. I never saw the screen version of the Sharpe series, was it any good? I do like Sean Bean even though he isn't the type I imagine when reading about Sharpe.
Sean Bean was excllent. "It's a gift!" :)
I haven't come across Lancelot yet, but Nimue is fantastic.
Oooooh, I won't spoil it for you any more then, enjoy yourself...The first book plodded along at the start but by the time I was a third into it I couldn't put it down...
Yeah, I discovered these books (the Warlord Chronicles, that is) in the late nineties, after my sister read Cornwell's books set during the American Civil War and recommended him. Gotta say they are three of my all-time favourite books. Read them all in about four days flat, just couldn't put them down, and since then I reread them almost yearly. Superbly written, the detail is great, the characters are fantastic - I agree with the Lancelot comment, big fan of Galahad, and - of course - Culhwch, and Lace, you ain't seen nothing yet with Nimue, but I'll say no more... Gritty and realistic and touching. I think they would be just about the truest representation of the Arthur legend around. In fact I was really really annoyed when the recent King Arthur film came out claiming to be the 'true story' behind the legend - in my mind Cornwell had already told that story. Plus, the film was really really bad....

The Grail Quest I thought started really strongly, but the writing quality seemed to degrade as the series went on. I have his new one, The Last Kingdom I think it's called, on my shelf (somewhere in those teetering piles...), and I have been told it is a return to Warlords form, so I am looking forward to getting into that one soon.
The Starbuck series is set during the civil war, but I haven't read them yet.

I am fairly sure of what is in store for Nimue because I am quite well versed in Arthurian law and Derfel also hints at what is to come. Nimue aka Vivien, Eviene, Viviane, Nineve, Nina, Viviene or Niniane, according to most sources trapped Merlin in a cave for eternity. They were lovers but Nimue did not love Merlin and only wanted to learn his art. Merlin on the otherhand was absolutely smitten with Nimue.

The Grail Quest books were very good and the hero, Thomas, was fantastic. Sharpe, Starbuck, Thomas of Hookton, Derfel and Uhtred are all extremely gifted soldiers placed into various historical backdrops. I think that Cornwell's ability to create the 'soldier' is his true talent and are amongst my favourite fictional characters.
Just you keep reading...I thought I knew a lot about Merlin and Arthur, this is totally different...there are some similarities but it's a lot more complicated...
Oh and Lancelot is hideous. I await him committing further acts which will make me despise him more. Derfel is such a fantastic hero, you're reading the book all the while thinking how does this young warrior become a priest? I guess I won't find out until the end.
Read the Warlord Chronicles and the Grail Quest. Out of the two I personally prefer the ones about Arthur but they are both great. I have The Last Kingdom sitting on the shelf but I am guessing it is one book of many so I am waiting for the rest of them!
I read the first book, Rebel I think it's called, and it was good, but it didn't grab me. But then, I'm not really into the American Civil War in literature - though I loves a good flick... My sister did read them all, and from memory loved them, but she has been besotted with the Civil War since first laying eyes on one Rhett Butler. (Wait, was that his name? You know, the 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn' guy...). But yeah, Rebel had all the Cornwell trademarks - likeable hero, tight writing, astonishing detail, plenty of action. Definitely worth a go if that period floats your boat.
Culhwch said:
she has been besotted with the Civil War since first laying eyes on one Rhett Butler. (Wait, was that his name? You know, the 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn' guy...).

Clark Gable...One of my all-time favourite actors, from that role to most of his other stuff...

They don't make them like that any more...:(
I really enjoyed the Arthurian series, I liked the way it reflected the pagan aspects of the story and the different interpretations of the usual characters. The descriptions were really interesting to with all the emphasis on the brutality of the time and the, well, dirtyness of everything. It felt well reserched and was exciting to read, more so than I expected when a friend (who is a fan of Cornwell) recomended them.
Yeah, it certainly wasn't a romantic portrayal of the myth, and that's where its strength lies. I also liked the fact that Cornwell sort of left a question over the magic aspects of the tale - was it magic, or tricks, or are the tricks magic... I don't know, I can't remember too accurately, but I remember Derfel and Nimue talking about this after she scares off Gundleus.

Am almost finished The Last Kingdom, and while it doesn't stack up against The Winter King, it is really quite good. The hero Uhtred does remind of Derfel quite a bit, though. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
I am nearly finished now. What a fantastic book! Perhaps the best series of books I have read in a long long time. I will definitely read these books again in the future.

Nimue tells Derfel that sometimes druids rely on tricks because they are never sure if they will receive a godly intervention. However, there are times in the book that you feel that some of the magic is real.
But is there no godly intervention because people have stopped believing, or because there are no gods, and never have been. Or are there no gods because people stopped believing. Always with the questions...

Cornwell seems very interested in and is very skilled at discussing religion. I feel at times - specially while reading The Last Kingdom, that he has a very dim view on Christianity. He certainly makes paganism sound more fun.

Just for clarification and so I don't ruin anything for you - are you nearly finished book one, or the entire series?
The entire series.

He changes my opinion throughout the book with regards to religion. He also managed to change my mind about Guinevere, which I thought would have been impossible. The pagan religion is not shown in a very good light either. I think that the likes of Arthur who did not seemed to be concerned about either religion were shown in a better light. Perhaps Cornwell hates religion in general, I know that I do.

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