The next entry in the series of red pill authors is a man who is known for his gripping historical fiction. He deals mainly with historical figures of the British Isles, which so happens to be my favorite historical topic seeing as how that’s where most of my family comes from. So here we go.
Looking back, of course, it was irresponsible, mad, forlorn, idiotic, but if you don’t take chances then you’ll never have a winning hand, and I’ve no regrets.
Cornwall began writing after moving to the United States from England. He was refused a green card so he decided to try writing since it didn’t require a license to make money. His first series was the “Sharpe” books, which follow a British rifleman through the campaigns of Lord Wellington, from India to Waterloo. A trilogy of King Arthur, an ongoing series about the Danish invasion of England (Saxon Tales), another trilogy set in the 14th century (Grail Quest), and an unfinished series following a Yankee fighting for the South in the Civil War (Starbuck) followed. There are also several stand alone books.
His “Sharpe” books were adapted into a TV series and there is currently a series based on the “Saxon Tales” called “The Last Kingdom”.
What stands out about his works is the sheer “manliness” of his characters. There are very few, if any, mincing, fay men. The men of Cornwell’s works are take charge. They start at the bottom and through sheer will and by taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, these men become great and influential.
His protagonists usually start off being either young or inexperienced, which makes their growth through the books a wonder to behold. Without spoiling too much, let me use the “Saxon Tales” protagonist, Uther, as an example. He starts out as the youngest son of a Saxon warlord who sees his father killed and is taken into captivity by the Danes. I believe he is around twelve. He stays captive for awhile but manages to escape and begins to hone the skills that will benefit him greatly in this time, that of a warrior.
Uther grows into the most feared man in England. He plays a part in crowning rulers and dethroning others. He thumbs his nose at one of the most powerful institutions of his time, the church, even going so far as disowning a son who becomes a monk. Uther, like all of the Cornwell protagonists, stands on his own feet and does not back down when he knows he is in the right.
“She is a woman, and what women want, they get, and if the world and all it holds must be broken in the getting, then so be it.”
He’s referring to Guinevere in the passage above and how Arthur’s softness and pandering to her causes him to lose respect with his men and, in the end, causes her to cuckold him. I will say this, though, once Arthur’s eye’s are opened to her true nature he doesn’t hold back.
Cornwell’s work has received criticism as portraying the Dark Ages as the “Dirt Ages” because he accentuates the grimness and filth of those times. His portrayal of women is accurate. They are not warrior princesses who save the day, actually most of the so-called beautiful women in his stories end up being duplicitous and the protagonists usually suffer because of it.
Richard Sharpe, for example, has his wife spending all the money he looted from an Indian prince in battle while he is off fighting in Spain. Then she divorces him and marries the man she was cheating on him with. But justice is served in the final book.
The closest one to a independent “womyn” is Aethelflaed and she is portrayed as she was in real life, the de facto ruler of Mercia. I have no issue with him on this.
“There’s a time for caution,’ I said, ‘and a time to just kill the bastards.”
If you like warfare and vivid description of its’ actions and repercussions, look no further. In my opinion, no one does a medieval battle scene better than Bernard Cornwell. From the horror and confusion of battle to the stark portrayal of the effects of cold metal meeting warm flesh, no one does this better. Brutal and realistic. Just like I like it.
Bernard Cornwell has a knack for drawing you into the story. He has been accused of being heavy on character and short on historical detail. Personally, if I want the heavy historical detail I’ll read a non-fiction account, but Cornwell teaches lessons with his stories. It’s not just dry facts on a page, but historical figures bleed and cry and revenge on his pages.
I remember reading the Arthur trilogy and being frustrated with Arthur for not cracking down on Guinevere and allowing her to make him look a fool. And I was reading this as a 14-year old. It opened my eyes to what a woman can do to a man’s reputation if left unchecked.
“The bards sing of love, they celebrate slaughter, they extol kings and flatter queens, but were I a poet I would write in praise of friendship.”
Another characteristic of these books is the protagonist always develops a deep bond with the men around him and usually one becomes essentially his brother. The bonds of masculine friendship are greater than any other in his books. Family may betray you. A woman will cheat you. But your battle brother will always stand by you. A true friend is priceless.
“Violence may not be good, my friend, but it has a certain efficiency in the resolution of otherwise insoluble problems.”
This author is worth a try if you like history, warfare, or just a good read where you learn a little something. The ZFG attitude of the protagonists inspires me and the camaraderie of men who face death and toil together gives me hope that with the right friends and attitude the world can be my oyster.
If you want your history heavy on snark and white guilt, look elsewhere.
“I had the arrogant confidence of a man born to battle. I am Uhtred, son of Uhtred, son of another Uhtred, and we had not held Bebbanburg and its lands by whimpering at altars. We are warriors.”
As always, thanks for reading.