I haven’t exactly been an avid reader of historical novels. Apart from the odd dip into sci-fi (mainly the outer fringes – writers like Philip K. Dick) I’m not a big fan of “genre” fiction. I wasn’t particularly inspired by the “Sharpe” TV series either, so the works of Bernard Cornwell have pretty much passed me by. However, last year a wargaming friend suggested that I might like the Warlord Chronicles trilogy. I was sceptical, but I went out and bought a copy of the first instalment – The Winter King. I’ve been hooked ever since, and I’m currently half-way through the final book (so if you comment on this article don’t give the game away by telling me how it ends!!!).
Cornwell presents a unique take on the Arthur legend and on the Britain of that period. A gritty and detailed realism is interwoven with many of the characters from the mythos. He generally – though with some exceptions – presents them in their Celtic rather than French incarnations, sticking mostly to Welsh names. All the favourites are there – Merlin, Nimue, Guinevere, Mordred, and of course Arthur himself. The world they inhabit is riven by constant civil war, and the ever present threat of Saxon victory.
The story centres around the life and struggles of Arthur’s friend and warrior, Derfel Cadarn. Elements of the story we’ve all come to know from films and books are skilfully blended with a gripping account of the struggle for Britain. War, politics, and the minutiae of everyday life are described in convincing detail. Cornwell has described this trilogy as his favourite creation, and the writing is of a high standard throughout. Dark Age Britain fairly springs off the pages.
The trilogy is a veritable treasure trove for the wargamer, and would provide marvellous material for one or more campaigns. There is a wealth of material for both the historical gamer and for the adherent of rulesets like HoTT, which allow for semi-historical armies where Heroes fight alongside the Shieldwall. I would highly recommend these books to anyone who hasn’t already discovered them.