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The Winter King: A Novel of Arthur

(The Warlord Chronicles #1)

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  38,516 ratings  ·  1,774 reviews
Uther, the High King, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos - threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade, As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the enemy at the gates, Arthur is embr ...more
Kindle Edition, 518 pages
Published April 15th 1997 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1995)
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Bryan Forsyth The 'magic' is purely in the minds of the characters. Its source is superstition, irrationality, ignorance, and religion.

You will not see thunderbolts…more
The 'magic' is purely in the minds of the characters. Its source is superstition, irrationality, ignorance, and religion.

You will not see thunderbolts fly from staffs or supernatural healing of deadly wounds.(less)
Dan Pepper Nope. This is the beginning of a trilogy, followed by The Enemy of God and Excalibur. Unrelated to anything else Cornwell's written.…moreNope. This is the beginning of a trilogy, followed by The Enemy of God and Excalibur. Unrelated to anything else Cornwell's written.(less)

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Average rating 4.26  · 
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 ·  38,516 ratings  ·  1,774 reviews

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Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical fiction & Arthurian fans
Recommended to Petrik by: John Gwynne
4.5/5 Stars

Depending on the rest of the trilogy, this could be the most original and the best Arthurian legend retelling of all time, out of all medium.

A little background before I start my review; this is my first dive into Bernard Cornwell’s work and only my second time reading a historical fiction, so this is totally out of my comfort read but I’m delighted with my decision to go out of my usual read. I’ve heard of the name Bernard Cornwell several times until now, all pretty much claimed he’
Apr 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: see review
I really can't say enough about this book. There are a lot of reasons to enjoy books and this one scores highest in so many categories. It is just very fun to read.

Who would I recommend this book to?
If you loved The Lord of the Rings but the smallest part of you that doesn't care about poetry kind of wished it had a little more action . . .
If you loved watching the movie Braveheart but wish it was a little more accurate historically . . .
If you were excited about the 2004 movie King Arthur, whi
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The tale of King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Galahad and his quest for the Holy Grail, Excalibur, Merlin and his sorcery, and the age of chivalry are the ingredients of medieval fantasy and folklore. Bernard Cornwell writes his account which feels the most authentic version I’ve encountered and turns many of these former images on their head. The resulting novel creates an imagined tale that feels legitimate and historical.

The story is told in the
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, historical
Full review now posted!
Original review can be found at Booknest.

Here lies a book that didn’t enthrall me, but somehow fascinated me. I wasn’t filled with longing to pick it up and continue reading, but every time I did I was given incredibly interesting theories and historical information. This was likely the most probable telling of the Arthurian legend that I’ve come across. The mythos of Arthur and Merlin and Excalibur and Camelot has always intrigued me, but it’s always remained in the realm
Sean Barrs
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nobody does this quite as well as Bernard Cornwell. He is quite literally the master of this genre. He creates a vivid warrior culture time and time again, and I will never get bored of it. This is saying a lot because Bernard Cornwell has written a huge amount of novels over the years and a few are similar in ways, but I don’t care because they’re just so good. This time Bernard Cornwell tells the story of Arthur, though not from the perspective of Arthur; he tells it from the point of view of ...more
Daniel Ionson
This is my favorite Cornwell series (it's Cornwell's too), for it covers my favorite historical era--that mysterious gap in between the Roman departure and the Saxon Invasion. This retelling of Arthur works so well because it's divorced from Mallory.

I love BC's ability to pull me into the muddy, primitive Dark Age Britain world. He's one of the very best at avoiding anachronisms, a skill which gets so little praise. None of his characters feel like modernistic men and women dressed up in 5th Ce
The horn sounded a third time, and suddenly I knew I would live, and I was weeping for joy and all our spearmen were half crying and half shouting and the earth was shuddering with the hooves of those Godlike men who were riding to our rescue.

For Arthur, at last, had come.


Presenting a saga so epic it needs three pages to list the characters, two pages to mention the places and another two pages of maps! And you know what? The story was so involving, I never once glanced at any of th
William Gwynne
My BookNest review -

“The bards sing of love, they celebrate slaughter, they extol kings and flatter queens, but were I a poet I would write in praise of friendship.”

If you love stories consisting of memorable characters you love and despise, fantastic storytelling, stunning action sequences and moral lessons, then you will adore this historical telling of the chronicles of Arthur
Bionic Jean
Jun 06, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
Why is this written in such a dry, boring narrative style? Bernard Cornwell's books can be exciting and full of period detail that really engage the reader. This one is sadly not like that. There is a helpful list of characters and places (and map) at the front of the book, for those of us unfamiliar with all the Welsh names. I dutifully consulted this every time a new name was mentioned but after 50 pages was just so very bored by it all. Where's the action? All reported. Where's the conversati ...more
Joy D
“Our whole line surged forward and scarred swords hammered at the enemy with a new energy. The silver horn, so pure and clear, called again and again, a hunting call to the slaughter, and each time it sounded our men pressed forward into the branches of the felled trees to cut and stab and scream at the enemy who, suspecting some trickery, glanced nervously around the vale as they defended themselves.”

This is one of the best books I have read on Arthurian legend. It is epic in scope, and contai
Amanda Hupe
“I learned that the joy and the fear are the exact same things, the one merely transformed into the other by action…”

Tales of King Arthur have been told for over a thousand years. Everyone knows the tale. This last summer I tackled as many King Arthur stories as possible. All of them had an element of fantasy in them. Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King takes on a more historical approach. The tale is told by Derfel, a man who served under Arthur. He desperately wants to write the
4.5 stars

The legend of Arthur has been told time and again over the centuries. From ancient British folk tales to 5 season of 'Merlin', from 15th Century French verse to 'The Mists of Avalon'. With this book Cornwell has left his mark on that tradition. He's taken a tale examined from almost every angle and made it his own. Most of all he's written a story filled with complicated characters, visceral battles and ambitious intrigues in a brutal, immersive setting.

The protagonist of this story i
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
Firstly I'd like to thank Craig for an awesome first buddy read and for putting up with me in general. I look forward to reading with you again, if you'll have me.

The Winter King is a tremendously well written book. Cornwell is an amazing author and I can't wait to give some of his other books a go. Looking at you Last Kingdom!

This one gets a 3 star rating from me. I think 3 stars adequately represents my overall enjoyment of the book. I liked the story, loved the writing. But found it hard to
Not oft, actually hardly ever, do I read a second series by an author set in a diffo historical period for fear of more of the same but jus a diffo setting (its happened with others) but here I am giving Bernard Cornwell a go with his Arthurian saga – Its only a short series & having heard many good things, I’m intending to bang the lot of in one go (3 books) to complete my Summer read.

It’s also one of my favourite legends so I hope he does it justice!

The story begins with a scribe (Derfel) at a
This is a mix of legend and History, and, King Arthur will probably always be that way since there's so much info. missing.

In this tale the focus is open the original Britons fighting the influx/invasion of Saxons and dealing with the petty British kingdoms. All want to rule and there are a number of very detailed and well-written battles.

First person POV.

The typical cast isn't what it appears to be. For instance, Lancelot is a coward and villain whose bards paint him differently.

The int
These are the tales of Arthur, the Warlord, the King that Never Was, the Enemy of God and…the best man I ever knew.

What I loved about reading this tale for the first time is that I had no expectations. Of course, I did have a little knowledge of Arthur, but nothing that would give me an impression of who he should be. I knew he was a king and possibly a Christian (not in this version). And I had also heard of Galahad, Lancelot, Merlin and Camelot, but basically, this was all new to m
5 Stars (Amazing)

What can be said about the perfect historical fiction book about one of Brittain's most beloved heroic character?

The Winter King: A Novel of Arthur was a brilliant first series into the world of warlord Arthur. I learned about Cornwell's masterpiece from fellow GR friends, and frankly I've never read any previous Arthur legends- as I was never that thrilled into a character piece about Brittain. Yet, something about the vivaciousness and excitement of the reviews about this se
Scott  Hitchcock
A different take on the tales of Camelot and Arthur. Book one deals with the early struggles to start building the kingdom and bringing the Britons together. I enjoyed this darker version which made me think Lancelot or some relative of his must have pissed in one of Cornwell's relative's Cheerios once upon a time. He and Guinevere definitely take a battering in this version. This version makes more sense in many ways than the more romanticized version of the tale.

Galahad on the other hand come
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read many King Arthur novels and together with the High Queen series by Nancy McKenzie this is the one I liked best. It is also my favourite Bernard Cornwell novel. Set in the sixth century, after the Romans have left Britain Celtic Britain is threatened by Irish tribes from the West and Saxons from the East, as well as civil strife. Seen from the yes of the warrior Derfel, who serves Arthur. Arthur is regent to the crippled boy king, his nephew Mordred. Rich in cast of characters and fas ...more
Mar 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
TWK The Winter King (The Arthur Books, #1) by Bernard Cornwell is easy 5 stars for bringing this oft-told tale to us in a completely new (and I do mean new) way. WARNING! Do Not read this book if you like your Arthur legend gauzy, frilly, magicky and cheesy. All previous Arthurian tales pale in comparison to Mr. Cornwell’s version. All of the usual suspects are present here but you will not see many of them portrayed in the standard ways. You will also meet a host of new companions and enemies. It is safe to say that you will never look at Lancelot ...more
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I haven't read all of Cornwell's books but from what I've read this is my absolute favorite so far. It's a fantastic vision of what Arthur's life might have really been like. The typical idea that seems to stick in people's heads is of this romantic story with gallant knights, fair maidens and all that boring stuff but when you think about it, there really was no room in the post-Roman Dark Ages Britain for that kind of shit. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of heroism in this book but it's mo ...more
Kate Quinn
May 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hands down the best King Arthur fiction ever written. "The Winter King" begins Bernard Cornwell's trilogy of Arthur, the king who may have lived in early Britain, driven back the invading Saxons, and inspired a legend. Interestingly enough, Arthur is not the central hero of the book - that role falls to Derfel, a Saxon boy who escapes a Druid death pit to be raised by Britons and eventually become Arthur's right-hand man. Derfel is a very old man when the story begins, a monk in a Christian mona ...more
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent novel. Cornwell has truly taken the Arthurian legend and made it his own. All the old names are here, but often in much different forms than expected.

This tale is told by one of Arthur's warriors, Derfel. In his old age, Derfel has become a monk. While serving as such, he is writing the story of Arthur, who he knew personally.

Cornwell's Arthur is a delight. While maintaining a degree of the larger-than-life qualities we come to expect of this character, Cornwell makes him human. Gives
Mr. Matt
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simply one of the best historical fiction reads out there. A unique retelling of the Arthur legend as it may have really happened. Arthur is a Celtic warlord in a post-roman Britain. Merlin is a druid, but his magic is more of he slight of hand variety. The story takes place against a ripe backdrop of change - Romano-Celts versus invading Saxons and Angles and the new Christian God against the Old Gods. Great stuff. Highly recommended.
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Arthur.
Actual review: 4.5

“But fate, as Merlin always taught us, is inexorable. Life is a jest of the Gods, Merlin liked to claim, and there is no justice. You must learn to laugh, he once told me, or else you'll just weep yourself to death.”

This was absolutely fantastic!

We meet the same characters we’ve known through countless stories, re-imaginings and movies, and we see them in a world based in reality. The concept is one that many have attempted but none have pulled off satisfactorily…. until now.

Wick Welker
An absolute masterpiece of characterization and story telling.

Ok... Whoa... This is one of the best books I've read in a really long time.

The tl,dr is that you should move this book up your queue immediately and get ready for some of the best story telling you'll ever experience. Cornwell pulls off a masterful balance of characterization, plot development, pacing, lore and world building. Cornwell achieves that coveted perfect balance of a story that is both driven by plot and characterization
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bernard Cornwell is one of my favorite writers of historical fiction. Thus, I was surprised to see him write a book about Arthur. I am certainly glad that I picked this up. It is a very strange book in that it technically belongs on my "fantasy" shelf, but the accuracy of the settings and weapons makes it a weak "historical fiction" as well. Mr. Cornwell admits as much, in the notes, when he points out that the monk Gildas's "De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae" (written during the 540s) about th ...more
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

It took a while for me to get into this, I was overwhelmed with the amount of names thrust at me from the off. From the start you've learnt more characters names in the first few pages than most series will have in their entire run only for the majority of these to be killed off before you've remembered who they are! Luckily, things steadied after a while and you had a core group and things became more focused and the story was able to really progress.

I guess the story of King Arthur and M
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of a trilogy in a magnificent telling of the Arthurian legend. Yeah, that one: Arthur, Merlin, Uther Pendragon, Guinevere, Morgan, Mordred, Lancelot, Galahad — the whole cast, as far as I know (well, Morgause appears to be missing).

I haven’t read any of the others Arthurian books, so I can’t comment on any linkages between this and the agglomeration of other tellings. My knowledge of this history/legend/mythos comes mostly from what I’ve picked up here and there, with a heavy d
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Play Book Tag: [Flurries] The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell - 5 stars 3 15 Dec 17, 2020 04:44PM  
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Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother, who was English, a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his birth mother's maiden n ...more

Other books in the series

The Warlord Chronicles (3 books)
  • Enemy of God (The Warlord Chronicles, #2)
  • Excalibur (The Warlord Chronicles, #3)

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“But fate, as Merlin always taught us, is inexorable. Life is a jest of the Gods, Merlin liked to claim, and there is no justice. You must learn to laugh, he once told me, or else you'll just weep yourself to death.” 234 likes
“I do understand that you can look into someone’s eyes,” I heard myself saying, “and suddenly know that life will be impossible without them. Know that their voice can make your heart miss a beat and that their company is all your happiness can ever desire and that their absence will leave your soul alone, bereft and lost.” 89 likes
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