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A UK Book Editor's Top 5 Most Captivating Books for Diehard Fans of Arthurian Legend

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

A UK Book Editor's Top 5 Most Captivating Books for Diehard Fans of Arthurian Legend

Professional book editor in the UK lists 5 of the best books about Arthurian Legend to read in 2021!

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

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!

Legends of King Arthur Online Course

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler

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!

Lancelot by Giles Kristian

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

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

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!

- Chelsea x



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Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my editorial business in the UK. If you need professional book editing services and are currently looking for a manuscript editor, please get in touch and we can get started today!

With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!

1 Comment

Unknown member
Dec 18, 2021

Finally someone mention The Lost Years of Merlin series. I read that series when I was a teen. No one ever talks about it. 😁

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