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Sword at Sunset

(The Dolphin Ring Cycle #5)

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,711 ratings  ·  139 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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4.06  · 
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 ·  1,711 ratings  ·  139 reviews

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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
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
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 of
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 -
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
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.
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
Points for ditching Lancelot.
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-favorites
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
Zena Ryder
Jul 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rosemary Sutcliff retells a well known tale in this novel. However, what makes it different from all others (and to my opinion infinitely better than any other interpretation) is that she looks at the Arthurian legends as something that could have actually happened.
What I like best about this book is her characterisation of those involved, Artos, his companions, Bedwyr, Guenhumara, Ygerna.... Avoiding to make them plain heroes or villains, she rather explores the reasons why they act as they do,
Oct 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Simply the most moving retelling of the Arthurian legend I have read. The romance of the hero's desperate stand against the fading of the light of his civilization is made grittily real without introducing any mundanity or ugliness. It's impossible not to feel deeply for the hapless Guinevere but Sutcliffe's portrayal of the bond between Arthur and Bedwyr is matchless in literary fiction. She takes it beyond friendship, brotherhood, sex and cOnventional portrayals of love to a place beyond words ...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
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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

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
“Presently I went back to my Companions, and slept under the apple trees, wrapped in my cloak and with my head on Cabal's flank for a pillow. There is no pillow in the world so good as a hound's flank.” 2 likes
“It is lonely never to have been loved, only devoured.” 1 likes
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