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King Arthur Books - Modern Arthurian Fiction

For a thousand years, the legends of King Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table have inspired artists and authors in ever-changing ways.

Today, many Arthurian novelists are setting the legends in the age of post-Roman Britain - some seeking accurate historical settings based on our knowledge of the Roman and Celtic culture of the times, with others focus on magical fantasy or the reinterpretation of ancient pagan religion.

Some are even setting the King Arthur legend in modern and future times - generally through the idea of reincarnation and the return of the king.

Buy King Arthur Books - Modern Arthurian Fiction
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
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The Once and Future King
by T.H. White

Of the same generation of writers as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, T.H. White produced the best-written (judged solely on literary merit) though rather rambling, Arthurian stories of the 20th century. Based on Malory's Morte de Arthur, the four books that comprise The Once and Future King span Arthur's life, and have provided the basis of the children's movie The Sword in the Stone, the musical Camelot, and many people's popular conceptions of Arthurian legend.

Filled with very human characters and dry wit, The Once and Future King will make you laugh and cry, as you are drawn into Arthur's dream of a peaceful kingdom based on right, not might, and into the depth of feeling between the three characters of the most famous love triangle of all time. Highly recommended.

The final installment of T.H. White's story, The Book of Merlyn, was found among his papers and published separately after his death. It is more a philosophical essay on war and the nature of man than a story, but does provide an ending for Arthur.
The Merlin Trilogy
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The Merlin Trilogy
by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart wrote lots of very popular books, but the first three of her Arthurian Saga books, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment, now published in this three-in-one volume, made her name and reputation.

Written first-person from Merlin's viewpoint, Stewart was one of the first to place the legend squarely in the dark days following the fall of Rome, when chaos ruled, the Saxons were invading, Roman culture was disintegrating, and the need for a strong king to rule the Britons was of paramount importance.

Well written (though completely lacking in humor), the first two books move briskly and we easily identify with Merlin and care deeply about his fate and his destiny. I found the third book to move more slowly, but you have to read all three to complete the story.

The fourth book in Stewart's Arthurian Saga, The Wicked Day, is told third person from Mordred's standpoint and covers the denouement of Arthur's reign and bid for glory.
Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead
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The Pendragon Cycle
by Stephen R. Lawhead

Lawhead bases his Arthurian fantasy series in ancient Atlantean legend and Welsh mythology, placed in time just after the fall of Rome.

In this first book of the series, Taliesin, seer and bard in ancient Welsh myth, falls in love with the Princess Charis, fleeing the destruction of her homeland, Atlantis. Eventually, they become the parents of Merlin.

Merlin tells the tale of Merlin's boyhood, rise to wise prophet and seer and mighty warrior, and moves the story forward to the time when Merlin becomes a king-maker. Next comes Arthur which is, naturally, the story of Arthur's upbringing and his rise to glory. These first three books tell a complete story and may be read separately - they are also the best of the series by far.

Pendragon is a tale of one war against the Vandals during Arthur's reign, and may be read on its own, or with the others for a sense of completion. Has a lot of extraneous Welsh myth and a little bit of over-the-top Christian symbolism. Not the best.

Grail, told from Galahad's viewpoint, has Arthur and his knights fighting the evil Morgian - again, lots of great info on ancient myths and various grail stories, but with poor characterization (this is Lawhead's basic problem as a writer). The final installment of the Pendragon Cycle proper.

Avalon: The Return of King Arthur takes place in the near future, and the title says it all. Britain is without a king, the evil anti-monarchists are gleeful, but Arthur returns to save the kingdom. An interesting modern retake on the legend, worth a read.

Lawhead is not a great writer, but he is a good storyteller. What he lacks in characterization and descriptive ability is more than made up for with his rousing tales and interesting plots. He always does meticulous research and is extremely well-versed on the history and legends he uses in his books. Writes from a Christian perspective.
The Mists of Avalon
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The Mists of Avalon Books
by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Bradley's masterpiece, The Mists of Avalon catapulted her out of the strictly genre-based popularity of her Darkover books and into the national spotlight.

Here, the tale is told from the viewpoints of women - most particularly Morgaine and Gwynhefar. The struggle is one of religion between the ancient Celtic faith in which women are venerated as givers of life (the goddess) and Christianity in which women are reviled and reduced in power.

The Forest House (aka Forest of Avalon) is a prequel to Mists of Avalon featuring ancient druid priestesses and Roman soldiers in love and war, seeking the necessary blending of belief and culture (and genes) required to eventually produce King Arthur.

Third in the series, Lady of Avalon is set between The Forest House and The Mists of Avalon. Three characters are reincarnated at various times in the years preceding Arthur, each time with the hope of saving Avalon and Britannia through a heroic king. Lots of great magical stuff, and, like Lawhead, Bradley picks up on the Atlantis connection.

After Bradley's death, Diana L. Paxson completed the final "Bradley" book of the series with Priestess of Avalon, which portrays Helena, the emperor Constantine's mother, as an Avalonian priestess. A bit of a stretch, in my opinion, when you consider the known facts and legends about St. Helena.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Ancestors of Avalon
by Diana L. Paxson

"Once again, Paxson has beautifully elaborated on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved Avalon saga with this dramatic new installment, which for the first time reveals the past of the ancestors of Avalon, from their beginnings on the doomed island of Atlantis to their escape to the mist-shrouded isle of Britain. It follows the extraordinary journey of two powerful women whose destinies will shape the fates of their physical and spiritual descendants: Tiriki, a high priestess exiled by the fall of Atlantis, torn between the claims of love and duty, and Damisa, a young acolyte of royal blood, tempted by ambition to forsake her spiritual path." - book description.
The Skystone by Jack Whyte
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The Camulod Chronicles
by Jack Whyte

Jack Whyte's popular Camulod Chronicles series is set in post-Roman Britain. These are well-written historical novels, minus magic and fantasy, rooted in the Arthurian history we know so well.

Book 1, The Skystone, tells the tale of Arthur's great-grandfathers, both Romans, who choose to stay in Britain and preserve the best of Rome while forging a new British culture that can stand up against the barbarians. This quest leads them to the forging of the great sword, Excalibur.

The Singing Sword: Camulod Chronicles, Book 2 - continues the story of Publius Varrus and Caius Britannicus as they forge alliance between Romans and Celts to save their colony after the departure of the legions - forging the culture of the Britons.

The Eagles' Brood: The Camulod Chronicles, Book 3 - Introduces Caius Merlyn Britannicus (aka Merlin), more a Roman warrior than a wizard, born in a.d. 401, and his best friend, Uther Pendragon (son of a Celt king). Ends with Arthur's birth.

The Saxon Shore: The Camulod Chronicles, Book 4 - Merlin raises Arthur following Uther's death.

The Fort at River's Bend: The Camulod Chronicles, Book 5 - Arthur's boyhood continues. Very slow moving - not the best one in the series.

The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis: The Camulod Chronicles, Book 6 - Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and Merlin becomes a wizard. Whyte is back on track with this one.

Uther: The Camulod Chronicles, Book 7 - Takes us back to the time of Uther and tells his story in-depth. Can be read alone, not necessary to the series. Very mixed reviews.

The Lance Thrower: Camulod Chronicles, Book 8 - "Clothar is a young man of promise. He has been sent from the wreckage of Gaul to one of the few schools remaining, where logic and rhetoric are taught along with battle techniques that will allow him to survive in the cruel new world where the veneer of civilization is held together by barbarism. He is sent by his mentor on a journey to aid another young man: Arthur Pendragon. Hundreds of years later, chronicles call Clothar, the Lance Thrower, by a much more common name." - description.

The Eagle: Camulod Chronicles, Book 9 - Final installment in the series. Narrated by Lancelot, "The Eagle brings us at last to the heart of the tale, the creation of fabled Camelot and the love story that enshrined its glory. Whyte takes us into the minds and lives of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, three astonishing but fallible people who were bound together by honor, loyalty, and love. Three who created the glory that was Britain’s shining dream…and, some say, caused its downfall." - book description.
The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
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The Warlord Chronicles
by Bernard Cornwell

Respected historical novelist Cornwell, famed mostly for his Richard Sharpe series on the military history of the Napoleonic Wars era, has crafted a marvelous Arthurian trilogy set in post-Roman Britain, heavy on military and political craftsmanship and very light on magic, though the conflict between Druid and Christian is well told. As this trilogy begins, Mordred is Uther's grandson and the legitimate heir (and future tyrant); Arthur is the warlord with a vision of peace. All three books are extremely well written, with great attention to accurate historical detail.

The trilogy includes:
The Winter King: A Novel of Arthur (The Warlord Chronicles Book 1),
Enemy of God: A Novel of Arthur (The Warlord Chronicles Book 2)
Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur (The Warlord Chronicles, Book 3) - a strong ending to a great trilogy. All three books highly recommended.
Heretic by Bernard Cornwell
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Grail Quest Series
by Bernard Cornwell

Set in the 14th century during the Hundred Years' War, young archer Thomas of Hookton serves his king and searches for the Holy Grail and his family's mysterious link to this relic. We follow both his wartime adventures and his Grail quest in this outstanding series.

The Archer's Tale, Book 1, - "A brutal raid on the quiet coastal English village of Hookton in 1342 leaves but one survivor: a young archer named Thomas. On this terrible dawn, his purpose becomes clear: to recover a stolen sacred relic and pursue to the ends of the earth the murderous black-clad knight bearing a blue-and-yellow standard -- a journey that leads to the courageous rescue of a beautiful French woman, and sets him on his ultimate quest: the search for the Holy Grail."

Vagabond, Book 2 - Still nursing his wounds from the Battle of Crecy, Thomas is sent by the king to look into the matter of his father's inheritance, which is obscurely connected to the Holy Grail. But others are on the trail as well. Thomas discovers more about his father, and his cousin and arch-enemy, Count of Astarc Guy Vexville - the Black Knight.

Heretic, Book 3 - while pursuing the Black Knight (suspected of being his father's killer and of having the Grail), Thomas saves a young woman named Genevieve about to be burned as a heretic. On the run, they learn of a diabolical plot to counterfeit the Grail for unholy purposes - the action and romance continue unabated to a rousing conclusion.
Guenevere : Queen of the Summer Country
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Guenevere Novels
by Rosalind Miles

Peopled by the characters from Malory, but loosely set in the dark ages, this trilogy is based on the life of Guenevere - ruler of the Summer Country, owner of the Round Table, and servant of the Goddess.

Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country (Guenevere Novels, Book 1) takes us through her marriage to Arthur and affair with Lancelot.

The Knight of the Sacred Lake (The Guenevere Novels 2) - Guenevere faces trials from the Christians and the evil wiles of Morgan

The Child of the Holy Grail (The Guenevere Novels 3) - The trilogy concludes with Mordred seeking Camelot and Galahad's quest for the grail.
Isolde : Queen of the Western Isle
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Tristan and Isolde Novels
by Rosalind Miles

You may also be interested in Miles new series, based on the love story of Tristam and Isolde and set in Ireland and Cornwall.

Isolde: Queen of the Western Isle (book 1) "In the golden time of Arthur and Guenevere, the Island of the West shines like an emerald in the sea—one of the last strongholds of Goddess-worship and Mother-right. Isolde is the only daughter and heiress of Ireland’s great ruling queen, a lady as passionate in battle as she is in love...Isolde is struggling to save Ireland from a war waged by her dangerously reckless mother...King Mark of Cornwall sends forth his own champion to do battle with the Irish—Sir Tristan of Lyonesse—a young, untested knight with a mysterious past."

The Maid of the White Hands (book 2) - "Isolde's day has come. In Ireland, her mother, the Queen, lies dying. The throne of the Emerald Isle, one of the last strongholds of the goddess, awaits her. But Isolde is already Queen of Cornwall, trapped in a loveless marriage to its mean-spirited King Mark. Her true love is his nephew, Tristan of Lyonesse...Across the sea in France, a young princess who shares Isolde's name enters the story. King Hoel named his daughtor in honor of Isolde of Ireland. She is a physician, too, and is called "Blanche Mains," for her white hands and healing touch. Blanche is of an age to be married, and she has chosen her husband? Tristan of Lyonesse.

The Lady of the Sea (book 3) - Isolde, heir to the throne of the queens, is now a sovereign in her own right. With the glories of the throne comes the responsibility of a queen, and Isolde knows she must return to her beloved Western Isle. She can no longer tolerate her marriage to King Mark of Cornwall, a marriage she has accepted for years in order to save her country from the threat of war and to be near her only love, Mark’s nephew Tristan of Lyonesse. And so she leaves Cornwall for good and comes home to Ireland, where her lords face a growing threat from the warlike Picti, who live in the barren highlands to the north of England. The Picti have a bold new king, Darath, who is determined to take the riches of Ireland for his own people, whether by war or by marriage with Isolde...
Dawnflight by Kim Headlee
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Dawnflight - The Legend of Guinevere
by Kim Headlee

Headlee recasts Guinevere (Gyanhumara) as a Caledonian Chieftainess - a mighty warrior in her own right. She comes up against the Pendragon of Brydein (Arthur), a Briton, in battle and sparks fly. A great romance between two fiery, strong-willed people, set in the world of ancient Scottish/Pictish and Romano-British culture. A new twist on the old stories.
The Dragon and the Unicorn
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A Series without a Name
by A.A. Attanasio

Okay, this is pretty strange stuff, but rather fascinating. Attanasio has created a wierd cosmology based on the Dragon Earth (bad and life-sucking), the good Fire Lords (pure energy angels), and the evil demons (servants of Furor, eg Odin), one of whom is captured by the Fire Lords, reborn in a woman as Lailoken (Merlin) and commanded to do good - eg, help in the birth of Arthor. Amazing and intricate blend of Christian, Celtic and Norse myth, along with Attanasio's own philosophies.

While unnamed as a series, the books in order are:
The Dragon and the Unicorn - Merlin and Arthor's birth.
The Eagle and the Sword - Arthor grows up.
The Wolf and the Crown - Arthor begins his reign.
The Serpent and the Grail - Story of Arthor's reign continued.

These are "literary" novels, full of asides, modern references and rants, and Atanasio's worldview observations, with the Arthurian legends as a vehicle for what the author wants to say. Not for everyone, but maybe for you. He's an extraordinary writer.
The Forever King
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The Forever King and The Broken Sword: The Return of King Arthur
by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy

Retelling of the Arthur legend in a modern day setting, with Arthur, Merlin, Nimue, even Saladin (he of Crusades fame), reincarnated and in search of their identities and purpose - namely retrieval and protection of the "cup".

Best character is Galahad, reincarnated as ex-FBI man Hal Woczniak. There are time shifts between past and present to fill out characterization and summarize past lives. Not the best writing in the world, but a fast-moving, exciting plot. The two books make a complete story.
Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie
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Arthurian Novels by Nancy McKenzie

Queen of Camelot - Beautifully written historical fiction about Gwenhwyfar, the white shadow - her love for Arthur, her heartbreak of barrenness, her determination to rear Mordred as best she can, her despair at the hands of fate. Exquisite characterizations, a quality novel.

Grail Prince - Wonderful sequel for fans of McKenzie's Queen of Camelot. Following Arthur's death, Galahad (age 15) flees to Peredur's castle with his 11-year-old cousin Percival. Not wanting to remain in Peredur's power, and committed to fulfilling the quests vowed to Arthur, Galahad and Percival set out to find the Grail, the Spear, and the Sword. A stirring tale of prophecy, self-sacrifice and romance.

Prince of Dreams : A Tale of Tristan and Essylte - Classic retelling of the standard story: "As soon as Tristan sets his eyes on the beautiful Essylte, and Essylte sees the handsome Tristan, a fateful love blooms between the two young people, a love that knows no law but its own fierce and imperious demands. Now, torn between duty and desire, Tristan and Essylte will risk everything—their lives, their souls, Britain itself—to be together..."
The Dragon Queen by Alice Borchardt
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Tales of Guinevere Series by Alice Borchardt

The Dragon Queen (Tales of Guinevere, Book 1)
- This is the first volume in a projected trilogy, and the first Arthurian (Guineveran?) novel by Borchardt, who is Anne Rice's sister and has previously written several well-received werewolf books.

Completely different from any Guinevere we've seen before, Borchardt's heroine is suckled by a she-wolf, protected by Druids and shapeshifters, born a queen's daughter, and possesses many magical powers. Merlin is evil in this story, a new twist. Book 1 follows Guinevere from childhood through marriage to Arthur.

The Raven Warrior (Tales of Guinevere, Book 2) - Remarkably strong, magically talented, a match for friend and foe alike, Guinevere has come into womanhood—and faces a new relationship with Lancelot that will lead to the sharp-edged triangle of legend...
Guardian of the Balance by Irene Radford
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Merlin's Descendants Series by Irene Radford

Guardian of the Balance (Merlin's Descendants, Book 1)
- Radford picks up the tales where legend ends. In this first book of the series, we follow Merlin's powerful daughter, Wren (Arylwren), who has grown up with the characters of legend, secretly loved the unattainable Arthur, and must now make the most of her own life and her own responsibilities to the people of Britain.

Guardian of the Trust (Merlin's Descendants, Book 2) - Set in the time of lousy King John (early 13th century) who in this story is a puppet for the evil Demon of Chaos, Merlin descendant Resmiranda Griffin (what a name!) must battle the forces of chaos and evil to save the country. Get this - her lover is Robin Locksley. Okay, sure, why not?

Guardian of the Vision (Merlin's Descendants, Book 3) - Set in Tudor England (we get Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots), Merlin descendants, Griffin and Donovan Kirkwood (twins) must again battle the Demon of Chaos, summoned by a wicked witch (descendant of Nimue).

Guardian of the Promise(Book 4) - Follows book 3 with a continuation of the adventures of Donovan Kirkwood and his relatives in Elizabethan England.

Guardian of the Freedom (Book 5) - Set in the 18th century, Georgina Kirkwood, Knight of the Inner Circle of the Pendragon Society disguises herself as a boy to spy upon the revolutionary American Colonists.

We will say this: the concept of merging fantasy and historical personages is very interesting. Her writing is good. These are basically alternative histories in which magic exists, a new genre growing in popularity. If you can buy into it (which her many fans do), these are good reads.