The Winter King, by Bernard Cornwell

First of a trilogy about Arthur. Narrated by Derfel, now in his old age but remembering his time as one of Arthur's spearmen. In this book we find out that Arthur is the illegitimate son of Uther, and is sworn to defend the kingdom until Uther's grandson Mordred comes of age to take the throne. Arthur is trying to bring peace to the land of Britain, and to unite the warring kingdoms in defending the country against the Saxons.

Cornwell makes several unexpected changes to the standard tale: Merlin is a druid who is using Arthur in his attempt to banish Christianity from the land; Guinevere is selfish and ambitious, Arthur never becomes king, and Lancelot is a liar and a coward.

The book was interesting, but too long, at over 20 hours listening time. As in the Sharpe books, there were interesting insights into military strategy and the warfare of the time (shield walls etc.) but while the story came to life in the battle sequences, these were relatively infrequent. Perhaps this book sets the scene for the next two - there was a lot of background information - and they will be more pacey. But I'm not that bothered about reading them straight away.

There was a lot of spitting in the book.

The reader, Edmund Dehn, has a nice voice, but I think he got it wrong for the women - they nearly all sounded shrill or coarse. Maybe this was OK for Nimue (what a fantastic name) but I think Guinevere should have sounded a lot more alluring.

Completed : 16-Mar-2005 (audiobook)

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