Sunday, January 20, 2008

Books: The Warlord Chronicles

A friend of mine sent me The Winterking, the first of The Warlord Chronicles a few weeks ago. After finishing it, I promptly ordered the rest of the series. Actually, this is the second series I've gotten into because of this particular friend, the other being A Song of Ice and Fire (which I've been waiting for the fifth part to come out for a while now). The Warlord Chronicles, a series of three books, is yet another rewriting of the Arthur legend. I read The Mists of Avalon when I was younger so I've always been rather partial to that version, but I enjoyed The Warlord Chronicles quite a bit. While The Mists of Avalon focuses more on the mystical side of things and courtlife (obvious an oversimplification but it's been a while since I last read it), The Warlord Chronicles has quite a few more battle scenes and though Merlin, of course, is a character, the "magic" is mostly explained through tricks so Cornwell goes more for the historical fiction rather than fantasy route. I really liked some of the decisions Cornwell made with his version of the story - Lancelot was basically just a pretty boy who paid the bards well, Guinevere was a very clever woman whose sex prevented her from reaching her full potential (in The Mists of Avalon, she was pious, shy, scared and weak) and Arthur was a pagan rather than a great Christian king. Also, the Grail Quest was actually a search for a druidic cauldron. I also thought the portrayal of the conflict between the old and new religion was rather well done, and even though the Christians tend to be portrayed in a more negative light, both sides had their fanaticals. Cornwell explains some of his choices in his afterwords, and his arguments are sound. For example, when discussing the grail/cauldron quest, he references old Celtic stories about cauldrons, and it wouldn't be the first time that Christianity had taken old traditions and revamped/incorporated them while converting others. I also took a Celtic Myth class a long time ago, and something similar occured in some of those stories - at points, the stories are rather pagan with a variety of gods and at other points, Christ suddenly shows up.

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