Firelord by Parke Godwin, Morrow/Avon edition 1994.
This is probably the most definitive version of the legend of King Arthur published in the last thirty years, in my opinion. Godwin has done his research, and traces Arthur’s origins from a high-born Romanized Briton in the twilight years of Rome’s presence through his rise to power and the creation of a well-organized, effective kingdom that is capable–at least for a while–of holding back the encroachment of the Jutes, Saxons, Angles, and other mainland tribes. If Arthur actually existed, well, it could have been like this.
Good as his research is, that’s not what makes this book so worth reading. Godwin has the natural ability to bring his characters to life in a way that few other writers can match. There are no “minor characters” in a Godwin book. Everyone is there for a reason, and everyone has their own story to tell, be it Geraint, Lancelot, Guenivere, Isolde, Tristram, even that legendary whipping-boy King Vortigern gets his due. Everyone is at once larger than life but very recognizably human, and all play their parts for good or ill according to who they are and what they think is best. Godwin doesn’t stray too far from the broad outlines of the story of Arthur, but within that outline he has all the room he needs. Highly Recommended.