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Sword at Sunset

(The Dolphin Ring Cycle #5)

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,802 ratings  ·  159 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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Robert Paterson No - the book is actually outside the major cycle and was aimed more for an adult audience
Caddy First person from Artos's point of view.

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Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had not heard of this work or of Rosemary Sutcliff until I found this at a bargain charity shop, and I already had my favourite Arthurian novels and series : Nancy McKenzie's Guinevere books, the Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart , and Benard Cronwell.
Written in a style that needs concentration and focus to absorb it is nonetheless rewarding and enriching as it places Arthur firmly in the Romano-Celtic tradition dispensing with the anachronistic medieval knight and chivalry affair.
Sutcliff did her
Artos the Bear, the mighty warrior-king, saved the last lights of Western civilization when the barbarian darkness descended on Britain. The man behind the myth of King Arthur is brought to life. The Roman legions had left Britain undefended from her enemies. Now Arthur and his band of Companion warriors must protect his people.


Enemies surround Britain
"Everywhere the Barbarians press in; the Scots from Hibernia harry the western coasts and make their settlements in the very shadow of Yr Widdfa o
Charles  van Buren
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Arthur struggles to save Britain

Review of Kindle edition
Publication date: May 1, 2008
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Language: English
514 pages

This is a realistic, believable retelling of the Arthur legend as historical fiction set in a time after the Romans left Britain and the tribes again fragmented with no central unifying authority to lead them. As Artos the Bear (Arthur) becomes Count of Britain, the tribes are beset with invasion by the Saxons and raids by the Scots and Pic
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-my-books
I had not heard of this work or of Rosemary Sutcliff until I found this at a bargain charity shop, and I already had my favourite Arthurian novels and series : Nancy McKenzie's Guinevere books, the Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart , and Benard Cronwell.
Written in a style that needs concentration and focus to absorb it is nonetheless rewarding and enriching as it places Arthur firmly in the Romano-Celtic tradition dispensing with the anachronistic medieval knight and chivalry affair.
Sutcliff did her
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
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
An excellent read if you like historical novels. This is a fascinating long novel about the legendary King Arthur. The author purports to tell this version of the Arthurian legend as the 'true' record of Arthur or 'Artos , a story of the real King Arthur or Artos the Bear, the mighty warrior-king.
Arthur is seen here as brave and strong in battle in battle but a shrewd and wise king as a ruler. He is also shown as a warm and tender lover but "tragically tormented in love" Rosemary Sutcliff is a
Nov 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Martin Lake
Jun 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
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
Feb 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Alex Telander
May 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sally Ewan
Sep 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Jun 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
DNF at 4%. Ew. No. Incest in first person is not my scene.

Maybe I'll be back, when I'm ready to say goodbye to Sutcliff? Doubtful? But the cover (my cover, not this one!) is pretty gorgeous, and the concept of the plot is intriguing . . .


David Manns
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The legend of King Arthur is one that has been retold many times down the centuries. Most are rehashes of the original Morte D'Arthur. Some rise above the crowd and bring a new perspective. For me the best retelling of the classic "chivalrous" legend is TH White's The Once and Future King. But what Rosemary Sutcliffe does with Sword at Sunset is set Arthur (or Artorius as he is here) in a historical context, specifically post-Roman Britain at the time of the Saxon invasions. And it works brillia ...more
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I enjoyed this very much, despite it being a story that I knew and knew well how it ends. After all, how many books have been written about King Arthur?!

The tactical skill and maneuvers of the battles were my favourite. They were very satisfying, like the strategy in the battles in Ender's Game. Often when you read about large armies coming together, the focus is on mass confusion and disarray and frustrating incompetence, but not here; whether it was just Artos' instinct as a war leader, or so
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: king-arthur
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
Alex Harrison
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Lisa Van Gemert
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Aenea Jones
3.5 stars

I had a bit of trouble with the character of Artos here - the language Sutcliff gave him is too flowery and poetic for a 4th century war chief who spends most of his time swinging a sword.
However, I really liked Bedwyr.
And I liked the very gritty and realistic feel of the story, there were no fantastic elements of the Arthurian Legend like Merlin or magic or lake ladies... it's a good historical novel though if you want your Arthur with a bit more realism.
As for the emotional impact -
Apr 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nick Swarbrick
Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rena Sherwood
I read this to distract myself from my problems and it did for whole nanoseconds at a time. But on the whole, this was a disjointed and overly descriptive retelling of the King Arthur legend told by a dying Arthur (here called Artos). Just when Artos had the time to write or tell his incredibly lengthy and detailed tale while gasping his last, I don't know. This was one of those books that I don't know why I bothered finishing. The teeny-tiny print didn't help matters any, either.

Sutcliff tells
Lucy Barnhouse
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
"There will be more songs tomorrow." I loved this book for different reasons, reading it in my early 30s, than I did when discovering it in my teens. I still love it -- Sutcliff's descriptions of landscape and evocation of seasons are quite wonderful -- and the remarkably realized Arthur at its heart, an Arthur who tells his own story. Reading it in this particular life phase, I found it a very moving tribute to the uncertainty and loneliness of trying to craft a life's work, and the exhilaratin ...more
Book Wormy
I think I read this book at the wrong point in my life, it made me realise that what I love about the Arthurian Legends is exactly that- the legends.

While Sutcliff does a good job of imagining the historical context in which a leader like Arthur could exist the book lost all the romance of the legends. Sutcliff sticks to the key events in the life of Arthur (one noticeable exception is the sword in the stone and Merlin of course) however she does it in away that is technically possible without t
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Rosemary Sutcliff, CBE 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 once commented 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 father

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The Dolphin Ring Cycle (8 books)
  • The Eagle of the Ninth
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