Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
red snow

Bernard Cornwell - warlord chronicles and beyond

Recommended Posts

Just finished the Warlord Chronicles and I have to admit I was blown away by it. I recall asking the forum for recs on King Arthur several years ago and this was the most popular. However, I felt that I wasn't looking for a "realistic" take on the legend and was wanting the anachronistic knights in armour and magic. Then again I've learned not to ignore the voice of the literature forum and put it on my "to read" list. Turns out this was the Arthur book I didn't know I wanted and to be honest the next Arthur book will probably have its work cut out to top this. I loved this down to earth take and Cornwell's approach to magic was an eye-opener for me. Not only do I like his magic as merely being a mix of "clever people using knowledge as magic" and "the power of superstition" but it's given me a potential new insight into how magic and gods worked in ancient times - something I've always had trouble grasping.

I also liked how Derfel as the narrator still had many flaws despite him not acknowledging them fully himself. He clearly did a poor job

raising Mordred and also made a poor ruler of his kingdom/territory choosing to spend more time with Arthur than try and address issues

. A brilliant soldier but a poor salesman.

There were parts of the book where I was frustrated at how Arthur's honour system essentially allowed his enemies to thrive and I do feel like the tragic ending is a classic case of "evil just needing good men to do nothing" but it fits with the legend of Arthur and his knights. There were also moments in the last book where the magic felt genuine and couldn't be explained by "real" things

how Derfel was able to break the curse on his wife by cutting off his hand. Although I guess his wife may have been poisoned and that Morgan knew the cure once she knew the curse. The severing of the hand could have just been a case of pointless superstition. However, I can't find a plausible explanation for how the killing of Merlin could have caused the storm. Maybe it was dramatic license using coincidence or Nimue was just been harsh and was a good weather forecaster and Merlin was for show?

. Beyond those minor issues the series was a great success for me.

The TV adaptation has been optioned and in development for several years now. I'm left scratching my head at how "the last kingdom" was made first. Surely Arthur grabs attention better? Maybe the fact there are more instalments of "the last kingdom" made it more appealing for TV? Or maybe "the last kingdom" is as good? I don't know but this would make a great TV show and needs to be made.

I thought I'd start the new thread as the old one was archived after 4 years of inactivity. The gist there seemed to suggest that the Grail series and Agincourt were probably the best options with Cornwell's other books. Given how much I enjoyed this series it'd be a surprise/shame if his other work doesn't reach similar levels of quality. On the other hand I'm not sure I'd want to diminish my appreciation of the author if the other books are vastly inferior. I'm guessing his books set in later time periods don't feature the magic which I think was a big element of my enjoyment of the warlord chronicles. That said I've heard his Stonehenge book is a bit trippy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

His other books dont live up to the warlord chronicles imho.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Saxon Stories are pretty good, I'd probably consider reading those next. Not quite up there with Warlord Chronicles, but no Cornwell is. It's kind of similar (at least at the beginning) to WC, in that both are essentially about a king (Arthur, Alfred) from the POV of one of their trusted warriors (Derfel, Uhtred), although Saxon moves beyond Alfred eventually. Cornwell's limitations as a writer do become more apparent, however (they do no matter what else of his you read). He's very formulaic. There's a lot of standing around in shield walls. If you're looking for awesome battle scenes you're in the right place. Deep characters and interesting thematic developments? Not so much. But he's pretty consistently enjoyable, for me anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, matt b said:

The Saxon Stories are pretty good, I'd probably consider reading those next. Not quite up there with Warlord Chronicles, but no Cornwell is. It's kind of similar (at least at the beginning) to WC, in that both are essentially about a king (Arthur, Alfred) from the POV of one of their trusted warriors (Derfel, Uhtred), although Saxon moves beyond Alfred eventually. Cornwell's limitations as a writer do become more apparent, however (they do no matter what else of his you read). He's very formulaic. There's a lot of standing around in shield walls. If you're looking for awesome battle scenes you're in the right place. Deep characters and interesting thematic developments? Not so much. But he's pretty consistently enjoyable, for me anyway.

I agree with the above statement for the most part. I also think the Warlord Chronicles are by far Cornwell's best work. The extra layer added by the magic pulls the whole work up to another level for me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I thought Cornwell did an exceptional job at showcasing the beliefs of these societies. I've always felt that "the magic" in these books was deliberately left to the interpretation of the reader. 

The Warlord Chronicles is probably his best work, though I haven't read anything else, besides the Saxon Tales series and the first book in the Holy Grail series. That one is a bit weaker, but his description of the battle of Crecy is among his finest battle sequences I've read.

1 hour ago, red snow said:

The TV adaptation has been optioned and in development for several years now. I'm left scratching my head at how "the last kingdom" was made first. Surely Arthur grabs attention better? Maybe the fact there are more instalments of "the last kingdom" made it more appealing for TV? Or maybe "the last kingdom" is as good? I don't know but this would make a great TV show and needs to be made.

I think The Last Kingdom came at a time when there was renewed interest in vikings, mainly thanks to the Vikings series. Also, while overall the Saxon Tales does get formulaic after a few books, (but gets interesting again in later books) Cornwell essentially created this series to write a fictional account of the creation of England as a unified nation. The main character, Uthred, who is quite similar with Derfel, is used as a witness to many of the pivotal events of the late 9th and early 10th centuries. I find the series fascinating because of this aspect.

1 hour ago, Derfel Cadarn said:

His other books dont live up to the warlord chronicles imho.  

For some reason, I think this opinion is highly biased. :P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the main issue with the Warlord Chronicles is that Arthur is a public domain story, so why bother optioning a novel when you can just base your story on the (free) legend? I think the fact that we got several crappy Arthur movies in a row finally convinced Bad Wolf to pick up the rights to a good book take instead.

The Saxon series got optioned first because it's an original story with a strong original character and because there's lots more books, meaning it can go on for a long time, whilst Warlord would be maybe-three seasons and done (if not shorter).

I also think the focus makes Warlord work really, really well. It's a single epic story, unlike the Saxon and Sharpe books which are long, ongoing series which dip into formulaic repetitiveness very easily, despite being individually very enjoyable.

If you enjoy these, definitely worth checking out Flashman (which inspired Cornwell, to a certain extent) and Gaunt's Ghosts (Dan Abnett is very much the SF version of Bernard Cornwell, with perhaps a better ability to shift gears and write in different tones and genres).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Werthead said:

I think the main issue with the Warlord Chronicles is that Arthur is a public domain story, so why bother optioning a novel when you can just base your story on the (free) legend?

For me, one of the main selling points of Cornwell's take on the story is the absolute fucking state of Lancelot. Nobody's done that before.

 

Edited by Spockydog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, red snow said:

Just finished the Warlord Chronicles and I have to admit I was blown away by it. I recall asking the forum for recs on King Arthur several years ago and this was the most popular. However, I felt that I wasn't looking for a "realistic" take on the legend and was wanting the anachronistic knights in armour and magic. Then again I've learned not to ignore the voice of the literature forum and put it on my "to read" list. Turns out this was the Arthur book I didn't know I wanted and to be honest the next Arthur book will probably have its work cut out to top this. I loved this down to earth take and Cornwell's approach to magic was an eye-opener for me. Not only do I like his magic as merely being a mix of "clever people using knowledge as magic" and "the power of superstition" but it's given me a potential new insight into how magic and gods worked in ancient times - something I've always had trouble grasping.

I also liked how Derfel as the narrator still had many flaws despite him not acknowledging them fully himself. He clearly did a poor job

  Hide contents

raising Mordred and also made a poor ruler of his kingdom/territory choosing to spend more time with Arthur than try and address issues

. A brilliant soldier but a poor salesman.

There were parts of the book where I was frustrated at how Arthur's honour system essentially allowed his enemies to thrive and I do feel like the tragic ending is a classic case of "evil just needing good men to do nothing" but it fits with the legend of Arthur and his knights. There were also moments in the last book where the magic felt genuine and couldn't be explained by "real" things

  Hide contents

how Derfel was able to break the curse on his wife by cutting off his hand. Although I guess his wife may have been poisoned and that Morgan knew the cure once she knew the curse. The severing of the hand could have just been a case of pointless superstition. However, I can't find a plausible explanation for how the killing of Merlin could have caused the storm. Maybe it was dramatic license using coincidence or Nimue was just been harsh and was a good weather forecaster and Merlin was for show?

. Beyond those minor issues the series was a great success for me.

The TV adaptation has been optioned and in development for several years now. I'm left scratching my head at how "the last kingdom" was made first. Surely Arthur grabs attention better? Maybe the fact there are more instalments of "the last kingdom" made it more appealing for TV? Or maybe "the last kingdom" is as good? I don't know but this would make a great TV show and needs to be made.

I thought I'd start the new thread as the old one was archived after 4 years of inactivity. The gist there seemed to suggest that the Grail series and Agincourt were probably the best options with Cornwell's other books. Given how much I enjoyed this series it'd be a surprise/shame if his other work doesn't reach similar levels of quality. On the other hand I'm not sure I'd want to diminish my appreciation of the author if the other books are vastly inferior. I'm guessing his books set in later time periods don't feature the magic which I think was a big element of my enjoyment of the warlord chronicles. That said I've heard his Stonehenge book is a bit trippy.

Because the series Merlin and Camelot -- especially with Camelot crashing and burning just as badly as it deserved to.

Also because Vikings rolling so well, let's find another take on that.

Because Martin endorsed the Last Kingdom books.

As you may have noticed, putting Arthur on the screen hasn't worked very well in these last decades.  What have we had beyond that awful Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and the Tristan and Isolde romance of 2006.  Excalibur had really good parts but even more really awful ones.  The Sword in the Stone was a kids' flick. 

Someone ranked Arthur movies here:

https://www.tor.com/2017/05/23/lets-rank-all-the-king-arthur-movies-to-find-the-true-once-and-future-king/

Nothing Arthurian has seemed to work for screen - stage, since Camelot.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The only Cornwell book I hated was Stonehenge. Everything else is great, though not as great as The Warlord Chronicles, but as others have stated it's his best work by far, and fuck it's easily in my top 3 series of all time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Zorral said:

Because the series Merlin and Camelot -- especially with Camelot crashing and burning just as badly as it deserved to.

Also because Vikings rolling so well, let's find another take on that.

Because Martin endorsed the Last Kingdom books.

As you may have noticed, putting Arthur on the screen hasn't worked very well in these last decades.  What have we had beyond that awful Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and the Tristan and Isolde romance of 2006.  Excalibur had really good parts but even more really awful ones.  The Sword in the Stone was a kids' flick. 

Someone ranked Arthur movies here:

https://www.tor.com/2017/05/23/lets-rank-all-the-king-arthur-movies-to-find-the-true-once-and-future-king/

Nothing Arthurian has seemed to work for screen - stage, since Camelot.

 

 

Well, other than the PBS show about the aardvark. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Warlord Chronicles have been optioned forever. So has Agincourt and I _think_ The Fort.

 

Edit: Also Excalibur is Legit one  of the most fucked up films ever made, double so when you consider Igraine is the Directors DAUGHTER.

 

 

Edited by Darth Richard II

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Derfel Cadarn said:

His other books dont live up to the warlord chronicles imho.  

Pfft, you would say that.  But you are also correct.  

@red snowThe Saxon Stories are very good too, but I would give it a bit of time in between the two because there are definitely similarities. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Werthead said:

I think the main issue with the Warlord Chronicles is that Arthur is a public domain story, so why bother optioning a novel when you can just base your story on the (free) legend? I think the fact that we got several crappy Arthur movies in a row finally convinced Bad Wolf to pick up the rights to a good book take instead.

The Saxon series got optioned first because it's an original story with a strong original character and because there's lots more books, meaning it can go on for a long time, whilst Warlord would be maybe-three seasons and done (if not shorter).

I also think the focus makes Warlord work really, really well. It's a single epic story, unlike the Saxon and Sharpe books which are long, ongoing series which dip into formulaic repetitiveness very easily, despite being individually very enjoyable.

If you enjoy these, definitely worth checking out Flashman (which inspired Cornwell, to a certain extent) and Gaunt's Ghosts (Dan Abnett is very much the SF version of Bernard Cornwell, with perhaps a better ability to shift gears and write in different tones and genres).

Good point regarding being able to make your own Arthur show/film without paying for it. Britannia almost sounds like it could have been warlord chronicle-ish with the Britons and druids but at an earlier point in history with Romans instead of Saxons.

I've only read Dan abnett's comics but they've always been decent. I should give his books a chance.

3 hours ago, RedEyedGhost said:

Pfft, you would say that.  But you are also correct.  

@red snowThe Saxon Stories are very good too, but I would give it a bit of time in between the two because there are definitely similarities. 

This seems like sound advice. I've enjoyed the TV adaptation so far so can see the similarities with warlord chronicles. I do like the thematic sequel of how warlord was about stopping Saxons invading, while the other is about Saxons stopping Vikings invading. Has Cornwell ever covered the battle of Stamford bridge and Hastings? Or is he using those as the end of his Saxon chronicles, presumably with a different protagonist but maybe featuring uhtred, son of uhtred, grandson of uhtred, great grandson of uhtred?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a fantastic series, one of the top 10 series I've read.

I've always wondered why they simply don't pull the trigger on the Warlord TV series. Especially since Last Kingdom really hit it off.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, red snow said:

Just finished the Warlord Chronicles and I have to admit I was blown away by it. I recall asking the forum for recs on King Arthur several years ago and this was the most popular. However, I felt that I wasn't looking for a "realistic" take on the legend and was wanting the anachronistic knights in armour and magic. Then again I've learned not to ignore the voice of the literature forum and put it on my "to read" list. Turns out this was the Arthur book I didn't know I wanted and to be honest the next Arthur book will probably have its work cut out to top this. I loved this down to earth take and Cornwell's approach to magic was an eye-opener for me. Not only do I like his magic as merely being a mix of "clever people using knowledge as magic" and "the power of superstition" but it's given me a potential new insight into how magic and gods worked in ancient times - something I've always had trouble grasping.

I also liked how Derfel as the narrator still had many flaws despite him not acknowledging them fully himself. He clearly did a poor job

  Hide contents

raising Mordred and also made a poor ruler of his kingdom/territory choosing to spend more time with Arthur than try and address issues

. A brilliant soldier but a poor salesman.

There were parts of the book where I was frustrated at how Arthur's honour system essentially allowed his enemies to thrive and I do feel like the tragic ending is a classic case of "evil just needing good men to do nothing" but it fits with the legend of Arthur and his knights. There were also moments in the last book where the magic felt genuine and couldn't be explained by "real" things

  Hide contents

how Derfel was able to break the curse on his wife by cutting off his hand. Although I guess his wife may have been poisoned and that Morgan knew the cure once she knew the curse. The severing of the hand could have just been a case of pointless superstition. However, I can't find a plausible explanation for how the killing of Merlin could have caused the storm. Maybe it was dramatic license using coincidence or Nimue was just been harsh and was a good weather forecaster and Merlin was for show?

. Beyond those minor issues the series was a great success for me.

The TV adaptation has been optioned and in development for several years now. I'm left scratching my head at how "the last kingdom" was made first. Surely Arthur grabs attention better? Maybe the fact there are more instalments of "the last kingdom" made it more appealing for TV? Or maybe "the last kingdom" is as good? I don't know but this would make a great TV show and needs to be made.

I thought I'd start the new thread as the old one was archived after 4 years of inactivity. The gist there seemed to suggest that the Grail series and Agincourt were probably the best options with Cornwell's other books. Given how much I enjoyed this series it'd be a surprise/shame if his other work doesn't reach similar levels of quality. On the other hand I'm not sure I'd want to diminish my appreciation of the author if the other books are vastly inferior. I'm guessing his books set in later time periods don't feature the magic which I think was a big element of my enjoyment of the warlord chronicles. That said I've heard his Stonehenge book is a bit trippy.

It's an excellent trilogy, and I'd agree with other posters that it's the best series he wrote (though I'd say that the first three Saxon novels run it close).

It's left ambiguous until the end whether or not magic works.  Merlin and Nimue do resort to trickery on occasions, or pass off superior knowledge as magic.

However, the storm that was raised by Nimue by killing Merlin can only be magic, as is the harm she inflicts on Ceinwyn at a distance.  It follows that both Morgan and Merlin can actually work magic, in Morgan's case, by defeating the spell on Ceinwyn, in Merlin's case, by falling into a death-like trance on the quest for the Cauldron, before recovering as soon as he was placed in it, and then causing the fog to cover their escape.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, SeanF said:

It's an excellent trilogy, and I'd agree with other posters that it's the best series he wrote (though I'd say that the first three Saxon novels run it close).

It's left ambiguous until the end whether or not magic works.  Merlin and Nimue do resort to trickery on occasions, or pass off superior knowledge as magic.

However, the storm that was raised by Nimue by killing Merlin can only be magic, as is the harm she inflicts on Ceinwyn at a distance.  It follows that both Morgan and Merlin can actually work magic, in Morgan's case, by defeating the spell on Ceinwyn, in Merlin's case, by falling into a death-like trance on the quest for the Cauldron, before recovering as soon as he was placed in it, and then causing the fog to cover their escape.

The storm and remote harming of Ceinwyn are the two things that seem almost impossible without being actual magic although I am wondering whether Nimue's agent had been poisoning Ceinwyn and that Morgan's cure was largely in the knowledge of what curse was at play. I imagine it would be easy to wrap the actual poison/antidote in other rituals that were inseparable even to the practitioners. The storm could only be explained by co-incidence though which may as well be magic if that's all it was.

What you say about the possibility of Merlin and Nimue being able to commit actual magic adds an added layer of tragedy to the tale though as it means Merlin's summoning of the gods may have actually worked if not for his sentimentality. Although as Arthur and Derfel mention would being ruled over by such vicious gods and their practitioners be any better than that of man?

Edited by red snow
added spoilers

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, red snow said:

 

  Reveal hidden contents

The storm and remote harming of Ceinwyn are the two things that seem almost impossible without being actual magic although I am wondering whether Nimue's agent had been poisoning Ceinwyn and that Morgan's cure was largely in the knowledge of what curse was at play. I imagine it would be easy to wrap the actual poison/antidote in other rituals that were inseparable even to the practitioners. The storm could only be explained by co-incidence though which may as well be magic if that's all it was.

 

What you say about the possibility of Merlin and Nimue being able to commit actual magic adds an added layer of tragedy to the tale though as it means Merlin's summoning of the gods may have actually worked if not for his sentimentality. Although as Arthur and Derfel mention would being ruled over by such vicious gods and their practitioners be any better than that of man?

I think that any deity that requires regular human sacrifice is unlikely to be benevolent.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, SeanF said:

I think that any deity that requires regular human sacrifice is unlikely to be benevolent.

Fair point :)

I guess it could have been interesting to get a little more on why the British gods were in such a state. I guess  Merlin blamed it on the influx of roman gods and others from that empire eg Mithras and Isis. That and the dwindling number of druids due to roman persecution meant the old gods probably were on the out.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, red snow said:

Fair point :)

I guess it could have been interesting to get a little more on why the British gods were in such a state. I guess  Merlin blamed it on the influx of roman gods and others from that empire eg Mithras and Isis. That and the dwindling number of druids due to roman persecution meant the old gods probably were on the out.

Come to think of it, Rosemary Sutcliffe wrote an excellent story about Arthur, Sword at Sunset.  Like the Warlord Chronicles, it's intended as a realistic depiction of Britain in the late Fifth Century, although she has no magic at all in it.  Merlin does not appear in it, and there are no elements of romance and chivalry. 

 

Edited by SeanF

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×