The famous legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table has been around since the dark ages, and Arthurian Legend is still incredibly popular today, both in literature and TV & film. Whether you believe that Arthur existed or not, you’re probably here because you’re on the hunt for a gripping book that is based on the legend. So, without further ado, here is a list of my favourite books that delve into the world of adventure, chivalry, love and magic.
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The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Barron
‘Washed up on the shores of ancient Wales, the boy had no home, no memory and no name… he was determined to find all three.
The best-selling series follows the adventures and training of young Merlin on the mist-shrouded isle of Fincayra, and enchanted land between earth and sky that is being destroyed by blight. With this land’s inhabitants to guide him, the boy will learn that Fincayra’s fate and his own quest are strangely intertwined.
He is destined to become the greatest wizard of all time – know to all as Merlin.’
The Lost Years of Merlin is a really exciting series that follows Merlin as a young boy called Emrys, long before he becomes the legendary, white-bearded sorcerer we all know. In the story, Emrys can’t remember his previous life after being washed up on a Welsh beach, so he embarks on his own magical adventure.
He finds himself on the shore of Fincayra, a magical land he has never seen nor heard of before, and he meets an eccentric girl called Rhia, who lives in the woods. However, Fincayra gets engulfed by a deadly blight that has been caused by evil magic, and the fate of the magical land is in Merlin’s hands. Merlin must find a way to save Fincayra without being killed. Can he do it?
I absolutely LOVE books that explore a character’s origin story, so I was over the moon when I found this book hidden in my local library!
If you’re gripped by middle-grade fantasy stories and love magical myths and legends that leave you craving for more, The Lost Years of Merlin is the series for you!
You can buy the first book in the series here. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed!
Cursed by Thomas Wheeler
‘Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King. But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?
Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave…
That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue's fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people's only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else. Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny. But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.’
You may, or may not, have watched the Cursed series on Netflix when it was released earlier this year (2020), but the book by Thomas Wheeler is an absolute page-turner and a definite must-read if you’re interested in Arthurian Legend.
In most Arthurian retellings, the protagonist is often King Arthur himself, or Merlin at least, but in Cursed, Nimue takes the reigns and leads the story, which provides a fresh, female perspective that we haven’t had much before.
In the story, Nimue is a young outcast to her own people (ouch!), but when the Red Paladins slaughter her village, her dying mother pushes her to deliver the Sword of Power to Merlin.
Throughout Nimue’s journey, we discover that it doesn’t always have to be the ‘once and future king’ who can retrieve the sword from the stone, but perhaps a queen instead? Well, that’s for you to find out by reading the book! No spoilers here! 😉
If you’re after more of a feminist perspective of Arthurian Legend that offers a strong female lead, then I would definitely recommend Cursed to you! The fast pace will grip you from the first page, and ultimately, there’s something for everyone – fantasy, magic, swords, adventure, death, romance and love – some of the most recognisable themes from the original legend!
If you can’t wait to add Cursed to your bookshelf, you can purchase it here!
Lancelot by Giles Kristian
‘The legions of Rome are a fading memory. Enemies stalk the fringes of Britain. And Uther Pendragon is dying. Into this fractured and uncertain world the boy is cast, a refugee from fire, murder and betrayal. An outsider whose only companions are a hateful hawk and memories of the lost.
Yet he is gifted, and under the watchful eyes of Merlin and the Lady Nimue he will hone his talents and begin his journey to manhood. He will meet Guinevere, a wild, proud and beautiful girl, herself outcast because of her gift. And he will be dazzled by Arthur, a warrior who carries the hopes of a people like fire in the dark. But these are times of struggle and blood, when even friendship and love seem doomed to fail.
The gods are vanishing beyond the reach of dreams. Treachery and jealousy rule men’s hearts and the fate of Britain itself rests on a sword’s edge.
But the young renegade who left his home in Benoic with just a hunting bird and dreams of revenge is now a lord of war. He is a man loved and hated, admired and feared. A man forsaken but not forgotten. He is Lancelot. Set in a 5th century Britain besieged by invading bands of Saxons and Franks, Irish and Picts, Giles Kristian's epic new novel tells - in Lancelot's own words - the story of the most revered yet reviled of all Arthur's knights, the warrior who fought at his lord's side - yet stole his wife. This is the story of the of one of the great figures of British myth and legend - a story ready to be re-imagined for our times.’
Lancelot by Giles Kristian is one of my favourite modern retellings of Arthurian legend due to its realism and harshness. Many other retellings sugar-coat the legend with magic and chivalry, but in this novel, Giles Kristian shows readers how things may have actually been between the characters. By all means, I LOVE Arthurian fantasy novels that are filled with beautiful magic and adventure, but a raw historical novel like Lancelot is just as thrilling for me.
This gritty yet eye-opening story is set in the 5th century, which is a period I find FASCINATING, and follows Lancelot from a young boy to a fearless warrior. You’ll also discover how he meets Arthur and Guinevere, and how he becomes a traitor to the once and future king.
Lancelot offers a fresh perspective into the life and intentions of the traitorous knight, and will keep you awake at night as you question everything you thought you knew about him!
The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
‘Uther, the High King of Britain, is dead. His only heir is the infant Mordred. Yet each of the country's lesser kings seek to claim the crown for themselves. While they squabble and spoil for war, a host of Saxon armies gather, preparing for invasion. But no one has counted on the fearsome warlord Arthur. Handed power by Merlin and pursuing a doomed romance with the beautiful Guinevere, Arthur knows he will struggle to unite the country - let alone hold back the Saxon enemy at the gates. Yet destiny awaits him…’
One of my clients actually recommended The Winter King to me on Twitter, and I’m so glad she did – I couldn’t put it down, and when I finished it, I rushed out and bought the other two books in the series! I had never read any of Cornwell’s books before, but The Winter King was a great one to start with, especially as an Arthurian Legend fan!
Like Giles Kristian’s Lancelot, The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell provides a probable historical perspective rather than a fantasy, which I absolutely adored. Cornwell’s novel is set back in the dark ages after Uther’s inevitable death. Britain has descended into chaos with inside enemies threatening the survival of the kingdom while evil Saxons prepare for invasion.
Although the title, The Winter King, hints at King Arthur, Arthur and Merlin are more like secondary characters in this novel rather than main protagonists. Like Cursed by Thomas Wheeler, Nimue is one of the main characters along with an ex-Saxon warlord, who narrates the novel.
If you have already read The Winter King, have you read the rest of the series? If not, why not try the second book, Enemy of God, and the third and final book in the trilogy, Excalibur? You can buy them here (2nd book) and here (3rd book).
I have also heard that SO many people enjoyed Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom series after they read The Winter King, so make sure you give these a try as well if you’re also interested in historical fiction.
The Fall of Arthur by J. R. R. Tolkien
‘The world first publication of a previously unknown work by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the extraordinary story of the final days of England’s legendary hero, King Arthur.
The Fall of Arthur, the only venture by J.R.R. Tolkien into the legends of Arthur King of Britain, may well be regarded as his finest and most skilful achievement in the use of the Old English alliterative metre, in which he brought to his transforming perceptions of the old narratives a pervasive sense of the grave and fateful nature of all that is told: of Arthur’s expedition overseas into distant heathen lands, of Guinevere’s flight from Camelot, of the great sea-battle on Arthur’s return to Britain, in the portrait of the traitor Mordred, in the tormented doubts of Lancelot in his French castle.’
If you’re obsessed with The Lord of the Rings (you can get my amazing copy here!), or anything written by Tolkien for that matter, plus Arthurian Legend, The Fall of Arthur should definitely be your next read! I haven’t had the chance to finish reading it yet, but it sits comfortable on my bookshelf next to The Silmarillion (you can grab the copy I have here!), also by Tolkien!
As the title suggests, The Fall of Arthur tells the incredible story of King Arthur’s final days before death takes him, and can be compared to Lancelot by Giles Kristian and The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell – in the sense that it provides a realism and grittiness of Arthurian Legend instead of its fantastical side.
Albeit an unfinished poem, which is completely different to Tolkien’s usual literary style, The Fall of Arthur provides a beautiful insight into ‘Arthur’s expedition overseas into distant heathen lands, of Guinevere’s flight from Camelot, and of the great sea-battle on Arthur’s return to Britain’, which is written on the blurb of my copy!
An amazing book that I can’t wait to get back to in 2021! If you want to add The Fall of Arthur to your Tolkien or Arthurian Legend library, you can buy it here.
So, there we have it – my top 5 books that are based on Arthurian Legend. Enjoy!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm the book editor and proofreader at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent literary consultancy in the UK. I help passionate writers and authors to get their novels ready for literary agents or self-publishing.
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