Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Lancelot" by Giles Kristian - a review..

Now usually I'm not a one for putting up reviews of fiction on the main blog, as that's what the book reviews are for in the sidebar (to the left for the current one's and click on the link above for a link to the years archives) but I thought this one was good enough that it merited a little bit more publicity, and besides, it's been a while since I posted...

Funny old premise (?? background?) to this one..  cast your mind back some and you'll remember the Bernard Cornwell series on Arthur ("The Winter King" / "Enemy of God" / "Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur") - I seem to remember it was pivotal at the time and triggered a whole load of wargaming type activity, either way it was far morw pivotsal for the author who having decided to becoman an author, and having dropped out of univerisity at the time the books came out was very much insopired buy them to start writing his own historical fiction...

From my perspective I know him best for the two English Civil War novels he wrote concerning a family divided on itself by the war, with one son for the King and one for Parliament, but he is perhaps better known for his Viking books...  this one however is his salute to Cornwell, and boy, is it a salute..

So it's a return to the post-Roman Britain world, where Lancelot, a young teenager living in France, and a prince, is soon ejected from his comfortable life by his fathers traitorous brother who conspires to have his brother killed so as to take the kingdom. Lancelot then flees with the rest of his family and the remains of their retainers, only to be massacred when they think they are safe, by forces allied to his uncle..

Lancelot manages to escape again, though to be honest or is almost kidnapped, by the mysterious lady (Nimue) who governs her own kingdom on an island off the south coast of Britain (Ictis - a real island mentioned in the chronicles, but which no one is still certain as to where it is/was - but probably St Michael's Mount in Cornwall) and there he grows to manhood, trained by the Ladies soldiers, and where they discover his god-given skills in war and sword/spear fighting..

The Lady acts as an intermediary between the many kings of England, who also send her their daughters to be trained, so it is that Guinevere arrives on the island, but not before her ship is sunk in a storm and Lancelot rescues her..  cue the age old story.

Lancelot bears Guinevere away.
Illustration from "The Book of Romance",
which can be found at Project Gutenberg.
Merlin then arrives (he is portrayed as one of the last of the Druids who were largely destroyed by the Roman's) and requests that Lancelot is sent as part of the party representing the Lady at the death bed of Uther Pendragon - it is here that Lancelot is inveigled into swearing an other to support Arthur, Uther's son, and so the friendship that most of us have read about is formed, and only (almost) broken when it transpires Arthur is to marry Guinevere..

I'm not going to spoil the rest of the story, but Giles Kristian has done an excellent job of translating the Arthurian legends to a historical context - it's a real page turner - the battle descriptions, and how he describes Excalibur being found are very realistic - you can see how the legends grow from what are almost every day events (and by the way the lady of the lake sounds like a hotty.. )

No downsides per se, though as a salute to the Cornwell series his writing sometimes sounds more like Cornwell than Cornwell does at times - imitation being the sincerest form of flattery perhaps?

Recommended - 9 out of 10 from Steve the Wargamer (and if you are lucky Tesco in the UK were doing the book for a fiver in hardback!)


  1. Thanks for the review. It looks like Im going to have to spend my pension money again. I thought Cornwall did a cracking job of the Arthur story so will give this one a try.Thanks again.

  2. Worth it Robbie - especially for a fiver..