Updated: Jan 20
I was seventeen, at Gatwick airport browsing the shelves in Waterstones, waiting to board a flight to Cyprus when I picked up a book called Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell. I'd never been much of a reader, and at that point had never heard of the great man! I bought it, thinking it might alleviate the boredom of two weeks round the pool with my family. Little did I know it would change my life forever. I read it three times in the two weeks I was away, even after getting halfway through the first read and realising it was the third book in a trilogy!
Since that holiday I have spent twelve years devouring any historical fiction I could get my hands on, even taking the leap to write in the genre myself. Giles Kristian is without doubt one of the finest writers in the genre right now, and he truly has excelled himself with this book.
I was anxious at first. How could it live up to Cornwell's work? Surely it was bound to be a bit of a let down? I need not have worried.
It is simply spellbinding. The prose as smooth as silk, the words deeper than the ocean. I was hooked, transfixed, completely unable to function without my head buried in the pages.
The book takes you from Lancelot's early life, his journey from his home in Armorica, across the narrow sea and into Britain. I read in awe as the boy became a warrior, the warrior a man. Lancelot is brought to life on the pages, his love for Guinevere pure and everlasting, as is his love for his lord, Arthur.
It's rare for a book to stir any emotion within me, but this really hit home. You feel Lancelot's turmoil as his best friend and lord showcases his beautiful bride, Guinevere, to the people of Britain. You get a real sense of his contrasting emotions, his indecision. I also enjoyed Arthur's part. His jealousy of what he imagines his best friend and wife may have shared in the formative years, a sense that his old age will always leave a void in his marriage.
As always with a book from Giles, the battle scenes are all blood and dust, as shieldwalls collide on Britain's fields and the fate of a nation is decided.
In case you haven't gathered - I absolutely adored this, I don't think I'll read a better book for long, long time.