The Winter King

Bernard Cornwell

St. Martin's Press. $24.95
(trade paperback $14.95)

The Winter King is yet another King Arthur novel. The winter king himself is the infant Mordred; Arthur is a warlord sworn to defend Mordred's throne against invading Saxons and the rebellions of lesser British kings who would claim the seat of High King. This story is narrated by a monk who once served as one of Arthur's war chiefs; in his old age he finds that already the myth of Arthur is tangling with the truth.

The mutability of myth, of course, is why King Arthur continues to be a favorite, and often successful, subject for authors. Bernard Cornwell's setting is the Dark Ages, a Britain poised between the retreat of the Romans and the invading Saxons. He makes Guinevere conniving and manipulative; Merlin is a Druid most conspicuous by his absence; Lancelot is a malicious coward fostering an image of bravado at others' expense. Arthur, who is otherwise reasonable and capable, willfully sacrifices the peace of the British kingdoms to marry Guinevere.

The Winter King is entertaining enough while you're reading it, with interesting twists of the legend, but never seems to add anything outstanding to the general myth. Perhaps this is because Cornwell, known for his historical novels of the Napoleonic Wars, has tried too hard to create a plausible historical Arthur.


The Warlord Chronicles:

The Winter King. St. Martin's Press, 1996
Enemy of God. St. Martin's Press, 1997


This review copyright 1997 by Wendy Morris
Information last updated March 22, 1998

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