September 2016
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Enemy of God and Excalibur, Bernard Cornwell

I’ve chosen to review these two books as one because it’s become extremely difficult to separate them in my mind.  Actually, even separating them from the first book is hard, but I already reviewed that one.

As the Saxons encroach upon British lands, Derfel and Arthur look to Merlin and the gods for help as they devise battle strategies and struggle with the constant feuding of the British lords.  An unexpected betrayal leads to unfortunate consequences in this struggle for survival.

I really enjoyed these books.  I liked Cornwell’s different take on the Arthurian legend.  He uses many of the typical elements, but in interesting and different ways.  For example,

(if you’ve read other Arthurian literature, this is not a spoiler, but if you haven’t, stop reading now!  Go read some and then come back!)

the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere is handled in a way that I hadn’t expected, and the woman Guinevere reminds me the most of is actually Eleanor of Aquitaine.  That may be partly because I’m reading Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman and Eleanor is in my head right now, but they’re both defiant women who deserve more authority than they are allowed because of their gender.  Guinevere is a great character here.  It’s easy to both hate her and love her, as Derfel does.  Speaking of our narrator, he’s very endearing and I think I like him the best out of the three Cornwell main characters I’ve read about so far.  He’s wonderful and his emotions really come out of the page; he’s fully fleshed out and probably too modern, but I love hearing these events through his voice.  Arthur is a superb hero while as always a flawed man.  Here, it’s easy to care about him, as it should be.

Again, Cornwell excels at what he does: his battles are exciting and intense and the book is at times full of testorone induced warring.  Perhaps I’ve got too much because I love to read about these battles.  Cornwell makes no effort to stay in line with history since we know so very little, but I think that actually made these books better because they are so full of imagination.  These are all legends anyway and it’s hard to follow history when you’re not even sure Arthur existed or that these battles actually happened.  His plots race along and these books never slow down.  I love the twists in the traditional characters.  It felt like I was reading something new that I could connect with stories more than a thousand years old.

In my opinion, this series is brilliantly done.  If you like historical fiction, Arthurian legend, or just a great tale, this trilogy is for you.  Give the first book 100 pages and you won’t look back.  I never did. Buy The Winter King, Enemy of God, or Excalibur on Amazon.

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