Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Winter King (Book #72)

I came to Bernard Cornwell's work through his 19th century stories--the Napoleonic-era Sharpe series and the Civil War Starbuck Chronicles (which he really needs to get back to writing soon, because I don't want it to become one of those eternally unfinished series). Since I know the Civil War as well as any self-respecting American history geek, and I'm obviously turning into an expert on the Napoleonic Wars, I'm very at home in Sharpe's and Starbuck's worlds.

Unfortunately, however, I've read all of their books, so I'm now venturing out into Cornwell's series that are set outside my "home" eras. I still enjoy them, but I'm not quite as passionate for them.

This week I read The Winter King (1995), the first in his Arthurian trilogy. This Arthur belongs solidly in the realm of historical fiction rather than fantasy, full of the internal feuds of 5th century Britons too busy fighting among themselves to unite against the encroaching Saxons. There have been quite a few realistic Arthurs in the past two decades or so, which I mentally divide into Yay Christians! stories and Yay Pagans! ones. This is decidedly a Yay Pagans! variation, but Cornwell doesn't make the pagan British out into idealized egalitarian proto-feminists who lived in a Utopia until the Christians came along and ruined EVERYTHING. For which I, as a Christian reader, feel compelled to thank him. I'm first to admit that my co-religionists have done their fair share of evil down through the generations (power has this way of corrupting the Church), but I get a trifle annoyed when Christianity is the Bad Religion, while the others are somehow immune to the temptation to use power to exploit those under their influence or control.

Anyway, this is a long book, and a rather episodic one, but I liked the protagonist, the young slave-born warrior Derfel, and for the last 150 pages or so I couldn't put it down. It's not quite Sharpe or Starbuck, but I'll be reading the second book soon.

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