My first modern literary encounter with Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot and the rest came when I read The Pagan King by Edison Marshall back in the dark ages. Over the years I have also read the Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart and Firelord by Parke Godwin. In all of these books, the legend of Arthur is presented more or less as we think of it. Arthur is the hidden child, Lancelot is the flawed knight, Merlin is the great magician and all work together to build a kingdom of peace. This book is a completely new vision of all the characters and their possible place in history.
The story is told by Derfel, once a great warrior who fought beside Arthur and in this story Arthur is a grown man who fights to preserve the kingdom of the infant Mordred. In this story Lancelot is a coward and a braggart and Merlin, though painted as a great Druid priest is not a strong presence. This story is a heart stopping story of love, betrayal and a thirst for revenge that threatens to destroy everything in its path. Cornwell is excellent at recreating sixth century Britain. While the other 'Arthur' works center on character, 'The Winter King' also gives the reader a very strong sense of time and place. The battle sections of this book are so well written that I could almost feel myself slipping in the mud, fighting for higher ground with nothing but a wooden spear for protection, and I am a pacifist. Last word on this, if you liked John Boorman's movie ‘Excalibur’ or the movie 'Braveheart'. You will like this.