Top 5 King Arthur Series

I really struggled with this post, I was feeling rather uninspired. Anyways, I have read a lot of retellings of the King Arthur Legend. Some retellings are fantastic and others fall a little flat. This is my list of the series I consider to be on the fantastic end of the spectrum. 

  1. The Pendragon CycleStephen R Lawhead

I love thithe-pendragon-cycles series because it is phenomenal and was the first Arthur saga I read. The Pendragon Cycle was Lawhead’s first major breakthrough in the fantasy genre. The historical context is based around the   Mabinogion, the History of the Kings of Britain, the writings of Taliesin, Gildas, and Nennius. On one hand, retelling a legend is easy because the audience is already familiar with the setting, characters, and basic story progression. The difficult part is trying to put a new spin on an already established story. Lawhead distinguishes his retelling by adding the myth of Atlantis into the Arthurian legend. Some reviewers consider this element to be “hokey” or out-of-place, but I think it adds an interesting dimension to an often told tale. Bringing a new dimension into a legend is incredibly difficult and is bound to meet with either backlash or welcome. The Cycle is also heavily influenced by Christian Theology. This is a nice inclusion since 5th/6th Century Europe was on the verge of a religious showdown between paganism and Christianity. This religious divide greatly influenced the political and societal direction of British civilization. The religious overtone is rather clunky in Taliesin, but is integrated much better in the later installments. This series alternates between action and prose, a couple of the books are heavy on the prose. However, The Pendragon Cycle is a well-written and fully developed retelling of an ancient legend with an original twist.

Reading Order:

  • Taliesin
  • Merlin
  • Arthur
  • Pendragon
  • Grail
  • Avalon: The Return of King Arthur
  1. Avalon SeriesMarion Zimmer Bradley & Diana L Paxson

The Mists of Avalon was rather revolutionary when it first came out. Bradley402045’s book was different because it tells the Legend of Arthur from the perspective of the women behind the throne. Instead of casting Morgaine, also known as Morgan le Fay, in a villainous light, she is cast as the main heroine. Morgaine is a Celtic Priestess who is fighting to save her culture and belief system from the spread of Christianity that is threatening to wipe out paganism.  Unlike some of the other retellings, Avalon is driven by relationships. The typical battles, quests, and feuds of King Arthur’s reign act are secondary subplots to the women’s lives. The storytelling is phenomenal and the characters are well-developed. Though the feminist overtones can be a tad distracting at certain points in the story. Bradley does a good job balancing between characterization and action. However, King Arthur and his knights are given the short end when it comes to development. They are exceedingly two-dimensional and this stands out sometimes due to the three-dimensional female characters. I would have liked a little more developed Arthur. Anyways, The Mists of Avalon was so popular that Bradley collaborated with Diana Paxson to expand the book into the Avalon Series. While the other books do an excellent job with fleshing out the Land of Avalon, I think The Mists of Avalon is the best book. I do not think the other installments will achieve the same amount of critical and popular acclaim.

Reading Order:

  • The Mists of Avalon
  • The Forest House (also published as The Forests of Avalon)
  • Lady of Avalon
  • Priestess of Avalon
  • Ancestors of Avalon
  • Ravens of Avalon
  • Sword of Avalon
  1. The Warlord ChroniclesBernard Cornwell

I picked up this series after reading a slew of rather bad warlordchroniclesArthurian stories. The Warlord Chronicles are told in a more militaristic and realistic style. Which is not surprising since Cornwell is also known for his series about Napoleonic Wars rifleman Richard Sharpe. The storytelling and dramatic development is similar to the Sharpe Series. The Warlord Chronicles focuses on the societal hardships faced in a Post-Rome Britain. The native Britons face both external threats and internal conflicts that threaten to tear society apart. Cornwell also focuses on the friction between the Druidic religion and Christianity. Also Cornwell does not add in fantastical elements, the narrative is grounded in the original Welsh Legends and only includes the appropriate technology, warfare techniques, culture, and attitudes. Merlin and Lancelot do not appear until later in the narrative. This is not a whitewashed version, Cornwell graphically describes the brutality of war, the hardship of life in the Dark Ages, and the influence of the Roman mystery cults. Some of the characters are cast in rather unfamiliar roles, Cornwell peeled back a lot of the mysticism and latter additions to take the legend back to its rough roots. One drawback is the pacing is a little slow in some parts, there were a few sections I truly struggled to read. While the writing is create, the prose is sometimes a little ponderous. I do not think the narrative moved as quickly as it could have. However, Cornwell is a great storyteller and does not leave any loose ends. Each of the books have a solid ending and do not end with cliffhangers.  This is a realistic retelling and is a solid addition to the Arthur Legend lexicon.

Reading Order:

  • The Winter King
  • Enemy of God
  • Excalibur
  1. Queen of Camelot TrilogyNancy McKenzie

In a similar vein to The Mist of Avalon, the Queen of Camelot is told from the perspective of a female protagonist. Only this time Queen_of_Camelot_book_coverthe female is the much maligned Queen Guinevere. A lot like Morgan le Fay, Guinevere is often cast in a villainous light due to her adultery with Lancelot. McKenzie tries to explain Guinevere’s actions by developing a sorrowful backstory. However, part of the narrative backfires and makes Guinevere seem incredibly shallow and petty. Part of the problem is the childish rivalry between Elaine and Guinevere, which really makes Guinevere come across as an entitled brat. After a while it is like,well, you had your fate coming. I do not understand why some authors include petty and cattish fights in order to create a “strong” female character. The narrative in the first books is really hampered by this problem. When McKenzie focuses on the male characters, the narrative runs much more smoothly. Grail Prince, the second book, focuses on Galahad and suffers from a similar problem. Instead of being petty, Galahad is incredibly sanctimonious and this makes part of the narrative difficult to read. Of the three, Prince of Dreams-a retelling of Tristan & Isolde, is the best book. Despite the negatives, I like this series because the character interpretations are original and the world building is great. The narrative moves quickly and no loose ends are left hanging. This trilogy is not as well fleshed out as the other series on this list, but I found them entertaining. Every now and then it is nice to read a less complicated version of the Arthurian Legend. Even if Guinevere is off putting for the majority of the first book.

Reading Order:                        

  • The Queen of Camelot
  • The Grail Prince
  • Prince of Dreams
  1. The Camulod ChroniclesJack Whyte

This series is also published as A Dream of Eagles. Unlike the other series514YvFq8I2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_, Whyte envisioned Arthur as a descendant of a Roman Centurion. The series begins when the Romans departure Britain and ends during the settlement of Britain by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. Instead of retelling the legend, Whyte tries to set a historical framework to explain the origins of the legend. The narrative moves quickly and the characterization is excellent. I like the originality of the series and the plot had the right amount of drama and action. However, this series has the downside of being overly erotic at some points. Whyte has an extremely well developed romantic subplot that sometimes overwhelms the main narrative arc. While I am not opposed to romantic tension, I do not think some of the love scenes are necessary to the plot. This series would have been stronger if Whyte had toned down the erotic and focused more on the action aspect. The Camulod Chronicles are similar to The Warlord Chronicles in that the narrative is very realistic and grounded in historical fact. Whyte is an excellent world builder and these were the best scenes in the series. 5th Century Briton really jumps off the page and makes you feel like you are walking in the mud alongside the main characters. This really saves the series from drowning underneath superfluous subplots and poorly paced romance. Of all the series on this list, The Camulod Chronicles is my least favorite. However, I include it because the majority of the storytelling is excellent and the Roman angle is a good twist. I would have liked it better without the “romance”.

Reading Order:

  • The Skystone
  • The Singing Sword
  • The Eagles’ Brood
  • The Saxon Shore
  • The Fort at River’s Bend
  • The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis
  • Uther
  • The Lance Thrower
  • The Eagle

 

4 Comments on “Top 5 King Arthur Series

  1. I was obsessed with King Arthur in one of my high school lit classes. It’s been a while since I’ve read or seen anything Arthur-releated. I may have to check some of these out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Week in review, week ending 11/30/14 | Random thoughts of 210Darryl

Life of Chaz

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Life of Chaz

Welcome to My Life

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

What's She Reading?

Because the only thing better than reading is more reading.

Unabashedly Poetic

A blog about life

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