From legend and history and from her own extraordinary imagination, Rosemary Sutcliff has fashioned a brilliant new conception of the Arthurian epic. This novel cuts through the numinous mist of pagan, early Christian, and medieval splendors that have gathered about the Matter of Britain and tells the authentic story of the man who may have well been the real King Arthur: Artos the Bear, the mighty warrior-king who saved the last guttering lights of Western civilization when the barbarian darkness descended in the fifth century,
Miss Sutcliff Artos comes alive as an utterly human, utterly credible personality, a complex man bold and forceful in battle, warm and generous in friendship, tough in politics, shrewd in the strategy of war—and tender and tragically tormented in love. Here, too, is the early Britain as it was after the departure of the Romans. No Round Table, no many-towered Camelot, but a hard, savage land, half-civilized, half-pagan, where a few men such as Artos, "bred in the last lingering ways of Rome," struggled to forge a nation and hold back the Saxon scourge.
Out of the interweaving of ancient legend and fresh research, of soaring imagination and hypnotic narrative skill comes a novel that once begun cannot be put aside. Its characters and scenes vibrate with the immediacy of the living present. Artos' great battles against the Saxons resound with the thrum of parting bowstring and the death cries of men; his sister Ygerma, who seduces him and bears his child. . .the doomed girl who marries him. . .the friend who betrays him. . .the bastard son who threatens his throne—all spring from legend into life.
With its richness and variety and narrative excitement, Sword at Sunset becomes one of those rare and magnificent re-creations of a total way of life. We see the formation of a great army, the hardships of winter quarters, the primitive wedding feasts, the fertility rites of the pagan earth religion, the cannibalism of savages who devoured the hearts of slain comrades, the agonies of crude surgery after battle, the thrilling stag hunts, and the glorious processions and triumphs.
Stripped of the chivalric embellishments that the French centuries ago applied to the Matter of Britain, the Arthurian age here emerges as a time not dissimilar to our own, when men stood at the precipice of history—a time of transition and changing values and imminent national peril. Blending what was unique about a particular age with what is universal in man, Sword at Sunset is a towering novel in the distinguished tradition of Mary Renault's The King Must Die, Marguerite Yourcenar's Hadrian's Memoirs, and Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter.
—from the dust jacket
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