I just finished reading The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell and I need to chew on it for awhile. It is a well loved book by most readers and I am curious about what appeals to them.
This is a well researched book with too many battles for my taste. I guess that is one of the things that will appeal to other people. The world at that time, post-Roman Britain, is brutal and Cornwall describes it in painful detail.
World building is important for a fantasy book. I will say that his is extremely well done. The people are coarse, ignorant and superstitious. The politics are conniving and cruel. All in all, a world too dark for me to enjoy reading about.
This felt like more of a historical treatise than a novel. In that, I think my father would have enjoyed this book.
The things that poked at me, aside from the casual brutality of the time, were the thin characters. Everyone had one overriding characteristic that beats a monotonous drum. Perhaps because there are so many characters in the story, none of them can really expand or grow. None of them last long, because of the constant warring. Also the simplistic depiction of their Druids, hopping on one foot, throwing pebbles and spitting to curse or bless something. I felt that the author thought them foolish and held a certain contempt for all the religions presented.
I have to admit that I skimmed through the pages and pages of warriors hacking each other to pieces, the rapes and looting. It made me wonder how there are any of us left alive. And it made me realize that we have been fighting over land since the beginning of time. Both the Franks and the Saxons, in the novel, are killing off rivals for farmland and bringing in their own people in to settle those stolen parcels of land.
I prefer a character driven story. The narrator, Derfel, is barely visible in some scenes as he describes the action. He is the right-time, right-place kind of character that gets to see and hear everything of importance. But I hardly know him, other than he's good with a spear and will fight to death for his companions.
This is supposed to be a more historically correct account which tosses in some names I know in an completely different order. That sent my brain scrambling to try to sort out who was who and how they had been portrayed in other stories. I think that confused me enough to make me a little defensive while I read. Plus, the most disappointing part of all--no magic.
I won't be reading the rest of the series. As a historical writer, he's very skilled, but this story just doesn't appeal to me.