Excalibur – Bernard Cornwell
Excalibur is the final book of the Warlord Chronicles trilogy and it maintains the excitement, intrigue, conflict and wonderful narrative the first two books led us to expect. The Arthurian legend has never been better told.
The land is divided into kingdoms and Arthur continues his quest to unite the Britons and repel the Saxons. His mission is noble and is tied to his oath to Uther.
“Mordred should be King, we took an oath to make him King, and if we beat the Saxons, Derfel, I’ll let him rule.’”
For Arthur to achieve his goal he needs all his cunning in political manoeuvrings and tactical subtlety to orchestrate victory. Meanwhile, his Saxon opponents, Cerdic and Aelle, are continuing to increase in strength and many of the other players want to ensure they end up on the winning side. Arthur needs to divide his opposition and unite potential allies.
“‘If we can divide our enemies one more time,’ Arthur said, ‘then we still have a chance. If Cerdic comes on his own we can defeat him, so long as Powys and Gwent help us, but I can’t defeat Cerdic and Aelle together.”
Arthur can never be faulted for his strategy but he can’t control the dealings of his alleged allies and does he actually have the resources to win? The array of machinations, hidden agendas, personal vendettas and ideology is mesmerising. Cornwell is a true master in this warring historical fiction genre and it is difficult to let a page escape your attention.
The women in the story play a huge part with Guinevere, Nimue and Ceinwyn having a massive impact in both positive and negative ways. Derfel states at the outset of this book
“… it took both a man and a woman to bring Britain low, and of the two it was the woman who did the greater damage. She made one curse and an army died, and this is her tale now for she was Arthur’s enemy.”
This teasing suggestion adds to the suspense, who will be the destructive catalyst against Arthur. The conflict between the beliefs and followers of the old Pagan Gods and Christianity is hugely important as Christianity continues to grow and Druids like Merlin and his priestess Nimue, remain powerful but are losing their believers.
Many will read the ending and appreciate that there was no other way for this epic story to finish, while others will be left wondering and wishing it could continue and resolve some of the finer issues.
The weaving threads of lubricious politics, war tactics, religious conflict, history, magic and amazing characters are so impressive and they never lose the momentum of this captivating storytelling. This trilogy is amazing and will assuredly sit on my favourite’s shelf forever. I highly recommend reading this book and trilogy. Five glorious stars.