Bantam Press | 2018, Pb 2019 | 498p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is time for the island’s people to reclaim the land once ruled by Romans. The great stone buildings, the luxurious villas now crumble, but the roads still march armies on to face their foe – the Saxons are the enemy these days. Lancelot as a boy was brought from across the sea to the Mount, off the coast of the land now known as Cornwall, and there he was taught by the lady Nimue to become a guardian, to develop the skills of a knight, to nurture a bird of prey that fought against him every moment of the day, and it was there that he met Guinevere.
The story of Lancelot is a familiar one but it’s difficult to think of any author more gifted to retell his story than Giles Kristian, one of the most lyrical and poetic writers of historical fiction that you can read today. All of the story of Lancelot, Guinevere and Arthur – surely the most famous love triangle of myth and literature – can be found in these pages and, even though we know the outcome, it is given new life in Giles Kristian’s Lancelot.
The story is told from Lancelot’s point of view, from his earliest years and through disaster, grief and pain, through to his time on the Mount, where he first learned the meaning of rivalry and vengeance while learning the skills that would make him the greatest, most noble knight of King Arthur’s court. Arthur’s story is also given prominence. His rise to power through competition, war and cunning. The way he drew men to his side. The seeds of disaster that he sewed.
Lancelot is a story of war, the fight to become the king of kings in this newly abandoned land, but it also tells the tale of love, jealousy and desolation. Guinevere is a marvellous character in her own right, a warrior, fiercely independent and yet inevitably a pawn as all young noble girls would be, but also a beacon of inspiration.
Giles Kristian writes so beautifully. He brings these post-Roman years so vividly to life. I love the way in which the recent Roman past haunts this landscape. There is myth here, there is the Druid Merlin, and we’re reminded of many of the famous Arthurian legends, such as Excalibur, but Giles Kristian evokes a time rooted in history and in the land around us even now. I must admit that I’m not a fan of modern retellings of the Arthurian legend (possibly because I studied medieval Arthurian literature for my degree and loved it very much indeed) and so this isn’t a subject I find easy to read. But this is a Giles Kristian novel. I trust him and will always read everything he writes. His writing comes closest to the feeling, mood and beauty of the Old and Middle English verse that I love so much. It also feels much more like historical fiction than fantasy.
There is power here, deep expression and enormous feeling. I cried and cried as the story ended in the only way it could. If you haven’t read any of Giles Kristian’s novels before, do read this and then make sure that you read his stunning Viking series, Raven.
God of Vengeance (Rise of Sigurd 1)
Winter’s Fire (Rise of Sigurd 2)
Wings of the Storm (Rise of Sigurd 3)
Raven: Blood Eye; Raven: Sons of Thunder; Raven: Odin’s Wolves
The Terror: a short story
The Bleeding Land
With Wilbur Smith – Golden Lion