Review: Lancelot by Giles Kristian - 9/10*
Bernard Cornwell is the king of historical fiction. That’s not my opinion: it’s an actual fact. His Arthur trilogy (The Warlord Chronicles) is a great piece of writing; yet, for all that, I much prefer Lancelot. There’s just something captivating about the way Giles Kristian has told this story.
For a start, the Arthurian myth is something that has been adapted many times into fiction, movies and television shows. So what’s new about this version? Well, it’s told solely from the perspective of Lancelot from beginning to end and it is driven by his experience of the events. We see his side of the story. We see how he fell in love with Guinevere when he was very young and we see how he was forced into an impossible love triangle that threatened everything he had become. He didn't want this: it just happened.
You see, Lancelot had been training his entire life to become a warrior. After his entire family was betrayed, he has been under the tutelage of Lady Nimue and her personal warrior guard. He has become a skilled fighter and an honourable man. He saves Arthur’s life and pledges him his service. He becomes the best of his men. This version of Lancelot is not a conniving wife stealing snake as I’ve seen before, but a man caught between the two people he loves most in the world; thus, the novel becomes a compelling character study. And it was fantastic!
One of the greatest difficulties in writing historical fiction is balance. Some authors stretch their stories out too far even after the plot has dried up. Others do not give their characters enough substance and prioritise contextual details and timelines. Giles Kristian gets it just right. This is a big book, with a huge story, though it keeps moving forward and does not get stuck in the mud. Even though the events are dramatic and swift, I feel like the characters are very well detailed and depicted perfectly.
Arthur reminded me very much of Cornwell’s version. However, this is Lancelot’s novel and seeing him as a child added so much depth to his character. And it also made it very easy to sympathise with him. Although his love for Guinevere, arguably, was the downfall of Arthur’s dream of Britain, I can’t blame Lancelot. I can only understand him and feel for him. Lancelot never stops growing until the end. He learns about himself, and how far he is willing to go for those he loves. His was an impossible situation.
I also like the sense of realism that ran through the story; it showed how historical details or events can easily become exaggerated and turned into myth. Merlin’s antics, for example, and the finding of Excalibur are both very ordinary things but infused with just enough mystery to make the very real seem magic. It's all very well done and the last scene must have been terribly hard to write and, I must say, it’s easily one of the best closers I’ve ever read.
This is an explosive book, the pinnacle of the genre- go read it!