Bernard Cornwell, who was born in Britain, is also the author of numerous international bestsellers, including the Sharpe series. He lives with his wife in Cape Cod.
Readers of Mallory and other sources of Arthurian lore may be struck by their conflation of bloody savagery and Christian pieties. In his new Arthurian novel, Cornwell (The Winter King) dramatizes the confrontation of Christianity‘here depicted as the political tool of self-righteous brutes, opportunists and hypocrites‘with the old religion of the Druids. Chief among the Druids are Merlin and his nemesis, Nimue, who cast spells and preside over rituals of fire and human sacrifice in order to bring about a return of the old gods, saving Britain from the Saxons. Priestess Nimue wants to sacrifice Arthur's son Gwydre to this end, but Merlin resists, as do Arthur and his warrior friend Derfel: for this they suffer terribly. The tale is told by Derfel, now an old monk in the service of an illiterate and sadistic bishop who would punish Derfel if he knew what he were writing. This frame works well to flavor and deepen the whole. The book is a military tale‘alliances, strategies, battles, betrayals‘and is stirringly told as Arthur routs the treacherous Lancelot and his Saxon backers. It is also the tale of the reconciliation of Arthur, honest to a fault and tortured by his wife's betrayal, with Guinevere, extraordinary in her bravery, wisdom and forthrightness. Equally central is Derfel's devotion to his mate, Ceinwyn, for whose life he sacrifices his shield hand, averting Nimue's curse. The action is gripping and skillfully paced, cadenced by passages in which the characters reveal themselves in conversation and thought, convincingly evoking the spirit of the time. Ways of ancient ritual, battle and daily life are laid out in surprising detail. One feels the element of fantasy only in the incredible integrity of Derfel and Arthur, men who sacrifice all for a vow‘but our reluctance to believe may be only a sign of our times. (July)
In a compelling finale, historical novelist Cornwell concludes his three-part retelling of the Arthurian legend (The Winter King, LJ 5/15/96; Enemy of God, LJ 7/97). Despite the rather misleading idealized jacket cover, Excalibur portrays not romantic Camelot but a nasty, brutal fifth-century Britain in which heads and other body parts literally pile up. Indeed, this novel is even more graphic than its predecessors in its depictions of gore and violence. Although Arthur temporarily halts the invading Saxons at the battle of Mynydd Baddon (during which Lancelot meets a coward's death and Guinevere is reconciled with her husband), his dream of a unified Celtic kingdom is doomed. Thwarting him is the vicious Mordred who makes a pact with Nimue to bring back the old Druid gods and destroy the new Christian deity. Cornwell's attention to historical detail, his penchant for lively storytelling, and his vivid characters make this a good choice for all collections.‘Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
"Medieval times burst to life in Cornwell's canny retelling of the King Arthur myth." --People "The action is gripping and skillfully paced, cadenced by passages in which the characters reveal themselves in conversation and thought, convincingly evoking the spirit of the time." --Publishers Weekly on Excalibur (starred review) "The best Arthurian since Gillian Bradshaw, if not Mary Stewart herself." --The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction on Enemy of God "The strength of the tale lies in the way Cornwellflesh-and-blood tells it through the creation of fesh-and-blood players who make a historical period come magically alive." --The Washington Post on The Winter King