Firelord Mass Market Paperback – May 1994
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Top Customer Reviews
one thing i feel compelled to add, this is the version of Trystan that i fell in love with, now i'm a bit of a Trystan junkie. How can any woman resist that screaming harp like the sea?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Now, if you are reading this, I presume you are considering reading/purchasing/obtaining Mr. Godwin's novel. Let me give you a bit of advice. It is simply the best retelling of the Arthurian legend I have come across. Moreover, it is not only one of the best novels I have read, but one of my favorites. I rank it along with Herbert's Dune, McCullogh's The Grass Crown, Steakley's Armor, Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Forester's Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Niven's Ringworld, and LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea--all old time favorites.
To be sure, others may have a different view. But let me give you more to think about.
You should note that this book has received a number of awards--though I am unable to name a single one at this time. You will discover their identity when you get your copy of the book.
I have read this book every two years since I first picked it up in the early 1980s. While my copy is regrettably quite dog-eared and now mysteriously lost, it maintained a proud place in my library.
My knowledge of the Arthurian legend stems from what I consider to be an extensive review of literature on the genre. I even took a class on the subject way back when in college through my alma mater's Arthurian studies department (yep, they actually had such a thing--though I pursued aero/astro engineering). It was the only book the professor recommended, which gave me a rewarding feeling for I had already read it several times before hearing such.
I rank this book as an exceptional novel and give it my highest recommendation. It is a rare find indeed.
Arthur himself narrates, and while his voice and sensibilities may strike some as too modern and cynical, he fits the portrayal of a chaotic, Romanized society awaiting its inevitable doom. Arthur also provides an immediate hook into the story, which contains some of the most recognizably human characters I have yet found in an epic. Finally the knights are real, the whole bloody lot of abrasive, pigheaded men torn between loyalty to their clans and to the whole of Britain. Finally the women are real; Morgana is a very interesting twist on a Faerie queen, and Guinevere, long cast as a scheming adulteress or a weepy deadweight, at last stands as Arthur's equal and his most worthy opponent. As Arthur says, most kings have wives, but he had a queen. (Btw, if you like her here, read "Beloved Exile.")
The tale is a bit nonstandard, in that Arthur's father Uther is merely a Romanized noble, not the king of Britain; Arthur suceeds Ambrosius directly. Merlin is mostly absent, as is any overt magic, and when he does appear is anything but a bearded old man. Religion is largely a catch-as-catch-can issue in the complex, often self-destructive British society; there is also no Grail.
Instead, we get a look at a gritty, tumultuous period in the history of Britain through the eyes of a flawed, ambitious man who develops vision and compassion while stumbling towards true nobility. I cannot speak for historical accuracy, but the way things fall apart is stunning in its subtle inevitability; the characters react to each other and their environment in ways that seem natural, not forced by a preordained plot. Arthur and Guinevere's last effort to redeem themselves and patch things together has such desperate, moving potential that I find myself pleading with fate each time the story marches, naturally and relentlessly, to Camlan, where Modred fulfills his destiny.
And the ending is priceless.
At the heart of it is Arthur, a man above men but still a human. His narration is full of wit and of regal bearing. Here's an Arthur who could lead men but who is someone we'd want as a friend. The best elements of the old legends are in him, with only a touch of the modern "feet of clay" that too many writers insist on giving him.
This is probably the best retelling of Arthur since Tennyson, and is a must-read for Arthurians, for English history buffs, and for those who love a good yarn.