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Sword at Sunset (The Dolphin Ring Cycle #5)

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,189 ratings  ·  91 reviews
This brilliant reconception of the Arthurian epic cuts through the familiar myths and tells the story of the real King Arthur: Artos the Bear, the mighty warrior-king who saved the last lights of Western civilization when the barbarian darkness descended in the fifth century.

Artos here comes alive: bold and forceful in battle, warm and generous in friendship, tough in pol
Paperback, 498 pages
Published March 1st 1997 by Tor Books (first published 1963)
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The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer BradleyThe Once and Future King by T.H. WhiteMary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy by Mary StewartLe Morte d'Arthur by Thomas MaloryThe Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
Best Arthurian Fiction
40th out of 367 books — 1,243 voters
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer BradleyThe Once and Future King by T.H. WhiteMary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy by Mary StewartLe Morte d'Arthur by Thomas MaloryThe Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
The Arthurian Legend Retold
24th out of 394 books — 647 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,647)
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I didn't think I was going to like Sword at Sunset as much as I typically like Rosemary Sutcliff's books, even though it was surely combining two of my favourite things -- Sutcliff's writing and realism, and Arthurian myth. It began slowly, I think, and it was a surprising change of tone for Sutcliff -- her books are mainly written for children (of any age!), but this book had decidedly adult themes, with the incest and more explicit references to sexuality than I'd expected. It's also unusual f ...more
Reread for my dissertation -- and all the more bittersweet this time because I knew how everything would play out. It's beautifully written, and it pretty much exemplifies Rosemary Sutcliff's usual shtick about male friendships (and a sepulchral voice that sounds like my dissertation supervisor whispers the words "homosocial bonds"...), to the point where there is actually an explicitly gay couple in the story, and Arthur and Bedwyr's relationship is deep and intense -- perhaps not sexual, but t ...more
Martin Lake

I borrowed Sword at Sunset from my local library in my youth and thought it wonderful. Many years later I found it in paperback and settled down with much anticipation to read it. I put it down after half a chapter, unable to read further because of the densely packed lines, poor paper and blurry print. It was a sore disappointment.
Recently I saw it was available on Kindle and immediately bought it.
Once again I settled down to read it. Again I put it down after one chapter.
Sue Bursztynski
This is, for me, the definitive historical version of the Arthur story, although I do have other favourites - Mary Stewart, Parke Godwin, Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell. Rosemary Sutcliff's Arthur is believable. If he existed, this is how he would have been - a Romano-British leader who is passionate about saving the world he lives in, keeping the light going before the dark sets in. For him, this is the Roman way, even after the Romans have gone from Britain. His Companions are very likely the or ...more
Of course I'd read Thos. Malory as a child. But when I found "Sword at Sunset" at sixteen or so, I knew that this was the version of Arthur that I needed. All those people who loved "Mists of Avalon" or "Once and Future King" just...baffled me. Sutcliff's post-Roman Britain was the only Arthurian version I could imagine at all. Spare, harsh, austere, dark...and that vision of the last lingering lights of civilisation and Romanitas being held aloft against the Saxon flood and the inevitable dark. ...more
Jun 13, 2011 SA rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
If I had read this book as a child, it would have fundamentally changed my life in the way The Dark is Rising did.

I'm not sure I can do credit to "Sword at Sunset." Sutcliff wrote this fundamentally realist version of the Arthur mythos in the fifties, and the degree to which it has apparently influenced all realist and semi-realist Arthurian narratives that follow it is vast. I've read a fair amount of these and other Arthurian books--not that I would call myself an Arthurian per se, more of a
Alex Telander
SWORD AT SUNSET BY ROSEMARY SUTCLIFF: The late Rosemary Sutcliff was a prolific writer from the 1950s through the 1970s, publishing a number of children's books, including the Eagle of the Ninth series and a series of Arthurian novels, as well as over twenty other children's books on historical subjects. She also penned nonfiction works and adult fiction, including Sword at Sunset, originally published in 1963 and re-released on May 1st of this year.

Sword at Sunset features an introduction by Ca
Ah, the beauty of a well-written book. While I was reading this, the characters stayed with me, so that as I went about my daily life, I was aware of them there in my mind, as real as the rest of the world around me. Sutcliff has a very powerful writing style; calm, quiet, yet full of strength. This is the story of Arthur fighting the Saxons in post-Roman Britain, yet it is a more realistic Arthur, without the trappings of medieval chivalry that distract us from the hardships of battle. This Art ...more
This is very simply a wonderful book. Rich in characterisation not only of Artos the Bear but also of his wonderful Companions.
It is Artos, warrior, horseman, leader of men who gave rise to the later more romantic, sanitised depiction of King Arthur.
We see a different side to Guenhemara, who he takes to wife.

This is a gritty story, and for me a more plausible story of the rise of Arthur and brings him to life on the pages. It is a story that is vibrant and engrosing. I know that this review will
For those of you who have never read any of Rosemary Sutcliff's books you have missed out on a great youth writer of historical fiction and this in many's mind is her best book and my own personal 2nd best favorite of the Arthurian tales. Her books are about youth but they never write down to her audience. The are almost adult in every way. They all deal with morals and character development.
How can I ever say enough about this book. My star rating above is 4 1/2 stars...not 5 because although I did love the story, the writing, the voice, the characters, etc...there were times when I felt bogged down and other brief moments when I was a bit lost and not sure about the details. But overall, this book is fabulous!

I had never heard of Rosemary Sutcliff and had never heard of Sword at Sunset, originally published in 1963. Amazon recommended it as one I might enjoy and it was a perfect r
This is Standard Arthurian Legend without the Standard and the Legend; Sutcliff grounds her story in the real history and salts it with the grit and pain of real war. The characters' names may not be recognizable (other than Artos and Guenhumara, which are barely so) but the story is familiar. And even the standard story (Arthur betrayed by his son by his half-sister, and by his best friend) is really only a minor part of this story of one man's battle to unite Britain - the tribes and the remna ...more
Sword At Sunset is an a retelling of the Arthurian legend with the emphasis on realism. Arthur, or Artos as he is here known, is a warlord struggling to unite the disparate tribes of Britain against Saxon invaders.

The writing bears all the Rosemary Sutcliff hallmarks: detailed observation of nature, a powerful sense of location, and a poignant lyricism. However, the narrative is over-long and lacks the driving plot of its predecessor, The Lantern Bearers. In places it seems to get bogged down b
Alex Harrison
The Sword at Sunset by Mary Renault; in many ways it is almost a companion piece to the Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem (another of my very favourite novels).

Sword at Sunset, like the Eagle in the Snow deals with the very last waning of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, but this time, specifically in Britain. It is also my favourite version of the Arthur story / Arthurian legend.

I don't want to write too much about it and spoil anyone's future enjoyment, but this was one of Rosemary Sutcli
Wonderful story of the Celtic warrior that we know as King Arthur. This tale starts with Artos the Bear as a young calvary leader and ends with his last battle where he kills his traitorous son, Merdraut. The reader can very much feel the betrayal of Artos' friendship with the affair of Artos' wife, Guenhumara, and his best friend, Bedwyr (not Lancelot!). This story shows that King Arthur may not have been the very chivalrous and pristine knight that some writers pen him to be within their stori ...more
The best "modern" Arthur story I've read. Wish I'd read it forty years ago. About as close to a happy ending as you can hope for given how many of his close friends and relatives were betraying our protagonist.

Not to be confused with historically accurate, you understand, but that's never been a big consideration in Arthur stories. I can sum Rosemary's errors in one word: stirrup. Western Europe still didn't have stirrups when Charles Martel stopped the Umayyads at Tours in 732. Artos couldn't h
Lisa Van
I found this book at the library one afternoon, sitting lonely on a shelf. It was naked, with no dust jacket and no cover art - just a title. I love Arthurian legend, so I decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did. It's one of a handful of books I've read twice as an adult. I read it again just to remind myself how good it was. It's a look at Arthur how he really would have been chronologically. There are no pretty pennants blowing from gorgeous castles. It's dirty and grimy and takes you to ...more
4.5, rounded up.

Bittersweet coda to the Roman Britain series (though this is not YA), continuing Sutcliff's usual themes of standing against impossible odds, sacrificial leaders, and protagonists chasing after a past that can no longer be revived - this, as it takes place in sub-Roman Britain, makes Arthur/Artos's quest especially have that 'flickering candle in a storm' feeling. The light is almost gone on that world, but as Artos says, not yet, not today. Not so much a gritty retelling as a gr
The culminating book in a series on post-Roman Britain for young adults--pretty much; does that make me young?--but can also stand alone as a dead-on capturing of the real, difficult, scruffy truth that might have inspired the Arthurian legend. I first read this at 15, and again a couple of years ago. It was even more stirring and poignant through adult eyes.
I really liked this Book. Am a huge fan of historical fiction and this is one of the finest books of that genre I have ever read. Ms. Suttcliffe has a beautiful style of writing. You feel as if you have lived the story.
A lushly told and historically accurate telling of the Arthur tale, minus Merlin and the hand with the sword in the lake sort of thing. But then, of course, Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. So there's that.

I wasn't sure who Lancelot was for quite awhile, since the name and backstory are very dissimilar from the norm, and when I did realize who it was, it was, "What? Really?" But then I've never been fond of that part of the tale a
I've read so many Arthurian retellings, that it's hard to read a new one and not compare it to the others. Sword at Sunset is gritty and stays away from the mysticism of many other tellings. Instead, it's firmly grounded in the historical setting of post-Roman Britain. I found this rather interesting, and it reminded me a bit of Mary Stewart's Merlin series.

Vivid descriptions of war strategy and death dominate the pages, but there's also lovely prose of the British country side. The theme of lo
One of her few adult books, although picks up on characters and events after the end of The Lantern Bearers. Her version of the story of King Arthur, and I found it in the library ages ago, but kept leaving it on the tbr pile and just renewing it. I was prompted to read it by one of the people in the Children's reading group, who loves RS's books anyway, and argued passionately for this being the greatest retelling of Arthur after we had a slightly disappointing version this month. And it was ma ...more
I feel like I ought to have liked this one more than I did. I do enjoy Arthurian fiction, although I don't read a lot of it, but on the face of it the historically-based story of Arthur as a British warlord just trying to hold the Saxons back is a great idea, and it should have worked for me. Certainly the book is wonderfully epic in scope, with Sutcliff's usual eye for description, and excellent characters. (Also, can I say how amazing it is that two of Artos' companions were in love with each ...more
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Katharine Harding
I really enjoyed this. It was beautifully written and very evocative of Britain just after the Romans. I also enjoyed the way that it followed on from some of the characters in the Lantern Bearers, which is one of my favourite Rosemary Sutcliffe books.

I'm a big fan of the Bernard Cornwell Warlord Chronicles, and this is equally good in a different way. It was interesting to see how the two authors had interpreted the same story in different ways.
Easily taken at first glance for a run of the mill historical novel, the author surprises with good grounding in actual events and well thought out suppositions. What lifts it far above the crowd is the gentle, lyrical writing that "takes you there" and brings home the people and events of that time.
Love this author.
Paul Guinnessy
Took a while to read this one as although I liked her earlier novels about roman Britain and the end of empire, this story of artos the bear dragged quite a bit. I think it was partly because it was hard to see the difference between The Britons and the Saxons.

Still, an interesting take on the Arthur legend.
"There will be more songs, but we will not be the ones to sing them." says Arthur at the very end. Even though you know it's coming, it is still the saddest ending ever. The whole book is written like you are listening to your grandmother weave a tale at bedtime, in the soft lilting tones of long ago. It took me forever to read it because at the end of each chapter I would put it down and think on it a few days, start another book, finish that book, then come back to it hungrily, wanting to live ...more
About 200 pages in to this one, I thought I'd be rating it a 2. It grew on me. How many times, really, can this one story be told fruitfully? I guess one more, anyway. What might it have REALLY been like in Arthur's day--some mystery, a little magic, but REALLY--what might it have been like? This is as good an answer as I've seen, by an author who has already made Roman Britain real. I'm a modern American woman, but even I got tingles up my spine when Arthur said "Not today, not today would Brit ...more
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Rosemary Sutcliff was a British novelist, best known as a writer of highly acclaimed historical fiction. Although primarily a children's author, the quality and depth of her writing also appeals to adults, she herself once commenting that she wrote "for children of all ages from nine to ninety."

Born in West Clandon, Surrey, Sutcliff spent her early youth in Malta and other naval bases where her fa
More about Rosemary Sutcliff...

Other Books in the Series

The Dolphin Ring Cycle (8 books)
  • The Eagle of the Ninth
  • The Silver Branch
  • Frontier Wolf
  • The Lantern Bearers
  • Dawn Wind
  • Sword Song
  • The Shield Ring
The Eagle of the Ninth The Lantern Bearers Black Ships Before Troy The Silver Branch The Shining Company

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