This book is an origin story, historical fiction, battle porn and a deeply satisfying yarn. It's the first in insanely prolific British novelist BernaThis book is an origin story, historical fiction, battle porn and a deeply satisfying yarn. It's the first in insanely prolific British novelist Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories. There are 5 books in the series. I'm not sure if or when I'll tackle the rest but I did love this one even though it dragged a bit somewhere in the second half before picking up significant steam at the end.
The setting is England in the later 9th century when the Danish Vikings are pummeling Britain. Young Uhtred, the earl incumbent to Bebbanburg Castle in Northumbria, loses his father in a battle with the Danes. Which is ok because his dad is kind of a bastard and Uhtred is adopted by a Viking warrior named Ragnar (despite all of the bloodshed and havoc, I defy you not to love Ragnar and his father, the blind poet Ravn.) Uhtred spends years learning the craft of war and sailing with the Vikings while the British kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia all fall to the Danes till only Wessex, led by Alfred the Great, remains as a sovereign British state. The last kingdom, get it? Fate, who is mentioned so often its virtually a character in the book, then intervenes in Uhtred's life and he eventually finds himself in the army of Wessex.
I enjoyed Cornwell's cheekiness toward Alfred (here, a smart but sour and overly pious man) and the Church but I did reach a point where I wanted Uhtred to come to terms with his choices-shall we say without spoilering-and quit complaining. The build-up and description of the final battle of Cynuit, however, is a real page-burner.
Cornwell has obviously done his research and is a talented writer. For proof, look no further than how well he can write a battle scene, making it simultaneously comprehensible and soul-stirring and horrifying. No easy task. I found many scenes funny but I worry a bit that I'm not supposed to. At any rate, this was fun and educational. I closed the book on a long exhale of held breath and exclaimed to the sky, "Valhalla, I am coming!" ...more