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The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish kingdom to the north and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the south. Warrior by instinct and Viking by nature, Uhtred, the dispossessed son of a Northumbrian lord, has land, a wife and children—and a duty to King Alfred to hold the frontier on the Thames. But a dead man has risen, and new Vikings have invaded the decayed Roman city of London with dreams of conquering Wessex... with Uhtred’s help. Suddenly forced to weigh his oath to the king against the dangerous turning tide of shifting allegiances and deadly power struggles, Uhtred—Alfred’s sharpest sword—must now make the choice that will determine England’s future.

314 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2007

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About the author

Bernard Cornwell

534 books16.3k followers
Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother, who was English, a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his birth mother's maiden name, Cornwell.

Cornwell was sent away to Monkton Combe School, attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher. He attempted to enlist in the British armed services at least three times but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.

He then joined BBC's Nationwide and was promoted to become head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland. He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News. He relocated to the United States in 1980 after marrying an American. Unable to get a green card, he started writing novels, as this did not require a work permit.

As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find there were no such novels following Lord Wellington's campaign on land. Motivated by the need to support himself in the U.S. through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series. He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most major battles of the Peninsular War.

Cornwell wanted to start the series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of "warm-up" novels. These were Sharpe's Eagle and Sharpe's Gold, both published in 1981. Sharpe's Eagle was picked up by a publisher, and Cornwell got a three-book deal. He went on to tell the story of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel, Sharpe's Company, published in 1982.

Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym "Susannah Kells". These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms (aka The Aristocrats) in 1986. (Cornwell's strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War.) In 1987, he also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British.

After publishing eight books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series. They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain. The result was Sharpe’s Rifles, published in 1987, and a series of Sharpe television films staring Sean Bean.

A series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord (aka Killer's Wake) in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and Scoundrel, a political thriller, in 1992.

In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's 80th Birthday Honours List.

Cornwell's latest work, Azincourt, was released in the UK in October 2008. The protagonist is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, another devastating defeat suffered by the French in the Hundred Years War. However, Cornwell has stated that it will not be about Thomas of Hookton from The Grail Quest or any of his relatives.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
674 reviews42.9k followers
March 17, 2021
I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo

4.5/5 stars

This was so good and addictive. Definitely my favorite volume in the series so far.

I am so pleased with Sword Song. It seems like taking a break and pacing my reading of the series to one book per month instead of two books might be serving my experience well. From my experience with Lords of the North, I did worry whether having watched the TV series would end up ruining my reading experience of the novels or not, because it certainly diminished my experience of Lords of the North. But that’s simply not the case with Sword Song.

“Cowardice is always with us, and bravery, the thing that provokes the poets to make their songs about us, is merely the will to overcome the fear.”

Sword Song is the fourth volume in The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell. The year is now 885, 7 years since the beginning of the previous book, and the story revolves around Uthred being tasked by Alfred to seize London for him. It felt good to be back with Uthred and his gang here. Plus, being 28 years old now, Uthred is pretty much at his best fighting skill so far in this book, and it is spectacularly entertaining watching him navigate his life through the battles and challenges brought upon him. Uthred’s love for the Danes and his oath for Alfred continues to conflict with his decision-making, and Sword Song raised a lot of thought-provoking discussion surrounding choices, oath, and fate. Fate is inexorable; does that mean that our choices are pre-determined already? It’s a thought-provoking notion about the existence of free-will, and I enjoyed reading this theme being constantly explored throughout the series so far.

“A country is its history, bishop, the sum of all its stories. We are what our fathers made us, their victories gave us what we have, and you would make me leave my descendants a tale of humiliation? You want men to tell how Wessex was made a laughing stock to howling heathens? That is a story, bishop, that would never die, and if that tale is told then whenever men think of Wessex they will think of a Princess of Wessex paraded naked to pagans. Whenever they think of England, they will think of that!”

Excluding Uthred and Alfred, Aethelflaed and Steapa have a lot of development to them both. It is intriguing; I’ve mentioned how much I loved Finan and Sithric due to the TV series, but Steapa seems to be so much well-portrayed in the books than he is in the TV show. The villains Sword Song were more complex, and the dialogues were always engaging. Also, this is the seventh book by Bernard Cornwell that I read, and it is the first time his book doesn’t have many super long paragraphs—one paragraph by him can last about one to two pages—that burdened the pacing and readability of his novel. With this, I feel that Sword Song is by far the most superbly-paced volume of the series so far. Additionally, we know that Cornwell writes great battle scenes; what surprised me in this book is the range in Cornwell’s prose that readers should acknowledge more. The passage about love, lust, and death in this book was so profound; here’s a snippet of it:

“Love is a dangerous thing. It comes in disguise to change our life... Lust is the deceiver. Lust wrenches our lives until nothing matters except the one we think we love, and under that deceptive spell we kill for them, give all for them, and then, when we have what we have wanted, we discover that it is all an illusion and nothing is there. Lust is a voyage to nowhere, to an empty land, but some men just love such voyages and never care about the destination. Love is a voyage too, a voyage with no destination except death, but a voyage of bliss.”

It’s such a beautifully-written passage, and the full version is more stunning; I can’t put it here due to spoilers. Overall, I think Sword Song is the best of the series so far; it’s an incredible historical fiction novel. If the TV series adaptation worked as a prediction, then the next book, The Burning Land, should be even better. I will be reading the next one in April.

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My Patrons: Alfred, Alya, Annabeth, Ben, Blaise, Devin, Diana, Edward, Ellen, Gary, Hamad, Helen, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Lufi, Melinda, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas, Sarah, Seth, Shaad, Summer, Zoe.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
872 reviews1,759 followers
April 20, 2019
I loved the second half of the book, first half not so much. Loved Uhtred's bargaining skills, and how he was all in for the lovers even if it meant going against King Alfred.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
February 27, 2016
Uhtred is in his prime; he has name and reputation, and he also has the youth and energy to complete his goals. He is beyond tried and tested; he is the master of his craft; he is the mighty Uhtred and he is now a war lord to be feared. I pity the man that crosses swords with him.

The shield itself, rimmed with iron, was painted with a wolfs head, my badge, and at my left hung serpents breath and at my right Wasp-sting, and I strode towards the gate with the sun rising behind me to throw my long shadow on the filth-strewn street. I was a warlord in all my glory, I had come to kill, and no one at the gate knew it."


This book opens with a gory hanging that is just another necessity of war. Uhtred has learnt that a man must be brutal if his enemies are to fear him; he has learnt that in order to maintain his warrior reputation he must be merciless. Men must fear him or his reputation as a dangerous foe wouldn’t exist. The fear is part of his persona; it is part of his character, and a necessary facet of being a successful general. If his enemies can’t predict his actions or understand the way he conducts his business, then half of the job is done before Uhtred has even drawn his sword. He’s already won.

It took Uhtred a while to catch on, through serving Alfred he will never receive the deserved glory for the services he has rendered to him. The king is thankless and views Uhtred’s success on the battlefield in a different light. He can never fully trust him or allow him too much power. He fears that his dog may turn round and bite him, which is a shame because for all Uhtred’s savagery he still possesses a degree of honour and loyalty. He quite easily could have been Alfred’s man if he, in turn, treated him with respect. The king has ordered him to be an advisor to his cousin, which means Uhtred will do all the thinking, and all the killing, whilst his weak cousin will get all the rewards. Such is the life of Uhtred.


The familiarity of these novels really gives the series a sense of cohesion. When you pick up the next instalment, there is absolutely no doubt as to what you are going to get: more Uhtred. You’re going to get another chapter of his life; you’re going to get the next stage of his development; you’re going to see the narrative change as he comes closer and closer to the retrospective Uhtred that is telling the tale. Uhtred must bide his time in service to Alfred because one day he will be able to reclaim his family home by himself. It’s only a matter of time.

The Saxon Stories
1. The Last Kingdom- A fine five stars
2. The Pale Horsman- A brilliant five stars
3.Lords of the North-A vengeful four stars
4.Sword Song- A familiar four stars
5.The Burning Land- A loyal five stars
6. Death of Kings A mighty five stars

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading this series; I could read twenty books on this character. You’re more than likely to get tired of seeing my reviews of the Saxon Stories before I get tired of reading the series. It will be interesting to see how it all ends.
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
311 reviews1,329 followers
June 5, 2020
Another cracking read with an awesome ending. That's four of these books read this month!
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
355 reviews1,472 followers
July 21, 2022
I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne

“Lust is a voyage to nowhere, to an empty land, but some men just love such voyages and never care about the destination. Love is a voyage too, a voyage with no destination except death, but a voyage of bliss.”

It had been a while since I last dived into an Uhtred son of Uhtred book. And I missed him! Sword Song was a step above The Lords of the North in my opinion, as Bernard Cornwell appears to have more of his flare once again, with the voice of Uhtred just coming so, so naturally. It was also a return to me feeling emotionally engaged, which was lacking in book three.

This is known as one of the great historical series of the century thus far for a reason. Bernard Cornwell is a master of producing entertaining content. Each book may not be the most individual, as they appear to follow a template that he has forged. But it is a successful template, which is engaging and fun to read, especially if you do not read these in quick succession. For me, one a month or one every other month is working very well.

“Cowardice is always with us, and bravery, the thing that provokes the poets to make their songs about us, is merely the will to overcome the fear.”

As we are now in book four, Uhtred has gathered quite the crowd around him. Loyal companions such as Sihtric and Finnan add so much heart and depth to these stories that they all become enjoyable. Looking back k on them, as I have now read quite a few, the instalments do merge together a bit, but that does not detract from how well crafted they are.

Now let us talk about the battles. It is Bernard Cornwell, and he is one of the best writers of action, so of course they were just brilliant. We have a wide scale of small scale conflicts and skirmishes, in the open land to towns and villages, and then we also have the pleasure of being swept through large scale battles and conflicts as well. A great mix is struck, and the action is scattered throughout to keep the tension high but also allow time for plot and character progression.

“He hates you, but why should the falcon care about the sparrow's hate?”

As I get further into the series, there is less I can say to avoid spoilers, so the reviews are getting shorter. But, to summarise, Sword Song was a solid, enjoyable fourth instalment to The Saxon Stories, with great character.

Profile Image for Justo Martiañez.
376 reviews116 followers
January 2, 2021
4.5/5 Estrellas.

Buena lectura para terminar el año.

La verdad es que es uno de los mejores entre los 4 libros que he leído hasta ahora de la saga.
Corre el año 885. La situación entre sajones y daneses en Gran Bretaña sigue estancada entre las dos zonas de influencia que separan el Danelaw (controlado por los daneses) y la zona controlada por los sajones que incluye el sur de Mercia ( donde no hay rey) y Wessex, que es el único reino sajón con poder real para enfrentarse a la amenaza de los hombres del Norte y que sigue regido por el rey Alfredo.
El teatro de operaciones se traslada al estuario del Tamesis y a la antigua ciudad de Lundene (Londres), situada en tierra de nadie entre Mercia, Anglia Oriental y Wessex. Su dominio parece clave para abrir la puerta a otra invasión de los territorios sajones libres, que Alfredo quiere evitar a toda costa.
Nuestro protagonista Uhtred, se ha convertido en un gran señor de la guerra, todavía al servicio de Alfredo, aunque sus simpatías por los guerreros vikingos sigue pesando en sus acciones cada vez que debe enfrentarse a ellos. Noto en el personaje una evolución positiva, más maduro, con más dudas, más humano, sigue en el centro de todas las hazañas por muy inverosímiles que sean, pero me ha gustado más que en libros anteriores.

La historia narrada en el presente libro, aunque se basa en hechos históricos: la conquista de Lundene, la piratería vikinga en Essex y el Tamesis, los ataques a Kent (extremo oriental de Wessex), en su mayor parte, es ficticia. Esto da carta blanca al autor para desplegar con toda su pericia ante nosotros un relato lleno de aventuras y acción, en el que hay que destacar la batalla naval final, que es impresionante.
Roza las 5 estrellas.

Buena lectura para acabar el año. El siguiente de la saga no va a tardar mucho en caer......
Profile Image for Athena Shardbearer.
355 reviews205 followers
September 21, 2015

"So long as there is a kingdom on this windswept island, there will be war. So we cannot flinch from war. We cannot hide from its cruelty, its blood, its stench, its vileness or its joy, because war will come to us whether we want it or not. War is fate, and wyrd bið ful ãræd. Fate is inescapable."

The one thing I love most of this series is the beautiful writing. Cornwell has such a way with words, how to twist them together to make these beautiful scenes even when its a horrible killing. These warriors are warriors, I want to get up and fight and drink with them!

This book was much slower than the last three and I think it has a lot to do with Uhtred growing up....a little. I hate Aethelred, love Aethelflead, Gisela and Alfred is growing on me. I guess I can see reason now with him and all he does.

I feel like if I say anymore I will give away more than I want to. There are so many things that have happened that now I think I'm with the Saxons....WHAT...NOT THE VIKINGS????? I know?! But it makes sense...right?

I can't wait to get into the next book.
Profile Image for Meredith, troll to a criminal degree.
774 reviews452 followers
April 19, 2021
What the hell. What a cliffhanger! I thought I might stop @ book 4, but I'm absolutely starting the next book. And seeing from the next book Uhtred's alliance is back with the Danes?? Immediately starting book 5. Uhtred is at his best with the Danes.

This author is a master writer.

I, just, this is one of those 5 stars where I cannot begin to describe how much I liked it. Though I'm tempted to rate 4 stars because nothing I expected happened in this book. I don't know. Starting the next book asap. And the only reason I paused while reading this book was that this was so intense/fast paced I wanted a full hour or more to just read this and I finally had time to do so this afternoon.

Random thoughts:

Gisela has grown on me & I'm crushed she's obviously not destined for Uhtred.
Athelred or however you spell his name deserves a slow and painful death.
The direction Cornwell took with Æthelflaed pleased me.
Finan is the underrated hero of this novel.
Everyone needs a friend like Steapa.
Profile Image for Wilja Wiedenhöft.
156 reviews298 followers
April 18, 2019
Zu Ende. Dun dunn duuuuuuuunn
Ich liebe es. Ich bin süchtig. Ich liebe den Unterhaltsamen Schreibstil. Halb poetisch, halb störrisch, voller eindimensionaler Männersachen, die ich ebenfalls liebe. Keine Moral doch so doppelt so viel Herzblut. Ich liebe die Charaktere, die mich zum weinen bringen. Leider Sterben zu viele, die ich doch grad erst liebgewonnen hab 😫 das liebe ich nicht. Es bricht mein Herz 💔
Ich liebe diese Reihe 😍
Profile Image for Lucia.
733 reviews805 followers
June 16, 2017
„Wyrd bið ful ãræd.“ – „Fate is inexorable.“

I had a super long review written for this series but I deleted the document accidentally so let me share with you at least some major points to explain my reasons for loving this series so much:

* Astonishing storytelling skills. Bernard Cornwell brought 9th century England alive for me.

* Unforgettable narrator. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is unapologetic and ruthless yet lovable and admiration worthy character with brilliant military strategic mind. He is a true hero!

* Complex and fascinating side characters that you will love to come back to.

* Constant philosophical battle between paganism and Christianity that depicts given period precisely.

* Well thought-out storyline and twists.

* War and fight scenes are chillingly realistic. I really felt like I was there with Uhtred, fighting every new enemy or being part of countless shield wars.

All in all, The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories series (all 10 available books) is spectacular story with spectacular writing. It is one of the best historical fiction stories I have ever read and it is the perfect example of how to write engaging historical fiction series that never get boring or predictable!

Moreover, I loved author’s note at the end of every book where author explained which parts were based on historical facts and which parts of his novel he made up.

Profile Image for Amanda Hupe.
953 reviews57 followers
May 17, 2020
And the adventure continues!! Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell is the 4th book in the Saxon Stories series. As always, this book continues the chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. The year is 885 and Uhtred has given his oath to Alfred and lives with his wife, Gisela. There is peace but peace is very fragile. There are rumors that a man has come back from the dead and predicts the next king of Mercia. Aethelflaed is the daughter of Alfred and is married to Aethelred of Mercia. When she is kidnapped, Alfred sends Uhtred to bargain for his daughter but also maintain peace…


I almost forget where one book begins and the other ends because once I finish one book, I immediately start the next one. I seriously cannot get enough of this story, the history, and the characters. Uhtred is one of the characters who is impossible not to love. He is a fierce warrior, demands justice, and is passionate about honor. In fact, he is always mentioning how he places a sword in his enemy’s hands at their death so they may live in Valhalla. He is also hilarious. He has a quick wit which I just adore.

“He still has a removable head…”

Uhtred is the narrator of the story and he is not the only character. As a narrator, he is very perspective. There are many wonderful additional plotlines in this novel. Some that completely broke my heart. I want to live in a world where two particular characters can be together.

This book can be read as a standalone, but I do not recommend it. There is so much backstory that helps readers understand the characters and the reasons for the events that have occurred. I recommend that readers begin with book one. Also, if you listen to the audiobooks, you are in for a treat. Jonathon Keeble is one of my favorite narrators! This book gets 5 out of 5 stars!
Profile Image for Nate.
483 reviews20 followers
August 15, 2012
Cornwell still hasn't let me down with this series. The villains are still easy to hate and there were even characters I wholly liked (Pyrlig is great.) The relative lack of major events in Lords of the North made it a slower read for me than The Pale Horseman, and although this one seemed still primarily focused on the smaller stories of Uhtred and Æthelflæd there was a ton of action and purposeful movement.

I have to say that I'm proud of Uhtred. A whole 300+ pages and he didn't commit a single brutal murder of a defenseless person. Either he's getting soft in his old age of twenty-eight or that spark of developing character I saw in the other books is slowly coming to fruition. Either way it definitely makes me like him a lot more and thusly I get a lot more invested in his story and ultimate fate.

Cornwell's writing still surprises me with not only its vivid depiction of day-to-day life and war in 10th century Britain but its devotion to describing the beauty and detail of the island. I never thought that I would enjoy in-depth descriptions of estuaries and inlets and that kind of thing but I definitely did while reading this book. He obviously has a strong affection for Britain and it shows with these books.

After four books in a row I'm still enjoying them a lot and I'm excited to start the next one but I have to say I'm not sure how Cornwell's going to keep them so entertaining. I enjoy his formula but only because he manages to mix up the situations, characters, areas, etc. within that formula. With each passing book I'm sure this is going to get harder and harder, but he hasn't let me down yet. Onto the next one and I'll see how he pulls it off.
Profile Image for Gary K Bibliophile.
209 reviews52 followers
November 27, 2022
Wyrd bi? ful ãræd. Fate is inescapable

As taglines go... this is as good as any for the fourth volume of this series. Cornwell used it no less than nine times. (I verified on the Kindle 😀 ). I can tell the dates/stories are starting to spread out as Uhtred ages. The first book The Last Kingdom covers the most ground as it spanned several years (867-876) and followed Uhtred from childhood into early adulthood. The second The Pale Horseman picked up immediately after TLK's conclusion. The TPH timeline only covered two years (around year 878) though and was a more compact story. The third book Lords of the North has a gap and takes place 3 years after TPH in year 881.

If you aren't caught up there will be minor spoilers ahead 😀 I will use spoiler tags for anything too revealing in this book.

This time around in Sword Song another 5 years have gone by. Uhtred has married Gisela (he just pretends the marriage arranged by Alfred to Mildreth didn't happen). He has two children and another on the way. Uhtred's cousin Æthelred is to marry Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd... As part of the arrangement Alfred has appointed Æthelred as ealdorman of Mercia. When Uhtred points out that Lundene (London) has been taken over by Danes – Alfred commands him to liberate it as a wedding present. No problem right? 😀

The description of Lundene is interesting historically. It was originally set up by the Romans and later abandoned by them. The structures they built remained however and the new Saxon/Danish inhabitants were afraid that the old parts were haunted.

Alfred made mention that he... “I want it done before the first cuckoo sounds.” - I didn't know what that meant so had to look it up. According to wikipedia it refers to 14 April (of some undetermined year but prior to AD 500) and was when St Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus - Christian martyrs - were buried. The day was celebrated with feasting and was included as part of the General Roman Calendar of saints until it was removed in 1969. I thought that was kind of interesting.

Uhtred toys with his recurring internal struggle for the 4th time now. Will he / Won't he? You probably know what I am getting at.

Based on what I had already learned about Æthelred I figured he wouldn't be the best of husbands. I don't think in all the books I have seen Uhtred get quite as mad about things (outside of battle) as he does in this one.

As far as characters go this one has a few new ones. The Thurgilson Brothers – Sigefrid and Erik – were the main new ones on the Danish side. There's also a new character named Osferth... but I'm not going to disclose how he fits into the story. It also has a return of Haesten. It also has Sihtric, Finan, Steapa, Clapa, Willabald, and one of my personal favs... Pyrlig.

Overall the story is simpler than the other three I've read in the series this far. There are less battles and as I mentioned above it covers a much smaller period of time. Uhtred's internal monologue is better than ever. The way Cornwell channels his raw thoughts and snarky comments is so entertaining. I've been watching the tv version while making sure to stay well ahead in the books as I do so. I think the show is brilliantly executed and I love the actors in the parts...but one thing that that is hard to come across is the wit and passion of Uhtred's inner thoughts. He throws out some arrogant good one liners in the show, but the books are far superior in this respect.

Some of my favorite interactions are between Alfred and Uhtred. Alfred, always suspicious of Uhtred, will seek his advice since he's smart enough to recognize that most others around him won't openly express opinions they think will offend him. That includes pretty much everyone... the priests, noblemen, even family members. Uhtred of course pretty much says whatever he wants. So after they argue about the best way to win a battle for some time - usually by pleasing God - Alfred will ask Uhtred what he thinks and get some arrogant answer like he has it all figured out. Alfred is a good cross examiner and asks counter questions, but Uhtred is quick to counter them with logical arguments as well. The real battles are won when Uhtred improvises in the field by what he can see. I don't think any battle has played out even close to how he portrayed it to Alfred... he's good at thinking on his feet for sure. Alfred respects him for that and I think that's why he lets Uhtred get away with as much as he does.

I have been trying to recruit my friends to try this series out. I haven't been successful so far – most of them are like “I don't know if I would like historical fiction”... For any of my GR friends thinking the same thing... you really ought to give this a try. The characters and dialogue are great and the stories are a lot of fun to see them play out.
Profile Image for Graham Crawford.
443 reviews42 followers
December 17, 2013
It is a testament to Cornwell's craftsmanship that I enjoy hanging out with Uhtred. I know I should dislike him, he's vain, sullen, petty, often foolish, mostly brutal, and very occasionally, kind. And yet I am fond of him. I grimace when he falls for stupid tricks & when he is vicious without cause. I shake my head and smile when he tries to hide his real motivations from me with low cunning. Uhtred is a very clever, very flawed and very human creation.

So many writers of historical fiction feel the need to modernize their protagonists - all those perky girls who ride astride and hate embroidery, all the bleeding heart liberal heroes who fret over slavery and violence and all the other nasty period habits modern readers find unpalatable. Those sort of books might be populated by nicer folk, but they don't ring true. Uhtred feels like a real Saxon, and though I am fond of him - if I was on fire, he wouldn't piss on me to put it out - He'd probably throw another faggot on and warm his mead.

Alfred is probably closest to our modern sensibilities, well maybe a evangelical Christian from the Bible Belt - and seeing him through Uhtred's eyes makes the king much more entertaining as a character. There is a layering & an irony of narrative that makes these books much more complex than they appear.

The language is simple, though it does have the rhythm and stress of Anglo Saxon poetry - thankfully without the alliteration, but there are quite complex historical themes at work. Of particular interest in this book is the role of the oath and how Alfred uses this to slowly bind people to him and his notion of an emerging England. The oath of fealty was to become the cornerstone of Feudal control in the Medieval period, and it is fascinating to see the evolution of this type of government through the eyes of a warrior of the old school. You really get a sense of how manipulative Alfred must have been. No matter how hard Uhtred wriggles, he can't escape Alfred's hook - any more than he can escape his Fate.
Profile Image for Geo Kwnstantinou.
217 reviews27 followers
September 25, 2018
Α ρε Ουτρεντ τι τραβάς κι εσύ..! Όλοι σε αμφισβητούν και όλοι σε σένα τρέχουν να βγάλεις το φίδι από την τρύπα...
( P.S. : Poor Eric.. 😔)
Profile Image for Clemens Schoonderwoert.
1,088 reviews80 followers
September 24, 2021
Read this book in 2007, and this the the 4th episode of Uhtred in the "Last Kingdom" series.

This book is set in the year AD 885, and Eng(la)land is at peace with King Alfred of Wessex in the south and a Danish Kingdom in the north.

But that peace is broken when a supposed dead man has risen and his Vikings are occupying London.

It falls to Uthred, half Dane, half Saxon, to show his true loyalties, and thus he should be the one to expel these Vikings from that place and win London back for King Alfred.

What is to come is an action-packed tale about loyalty, bravery, rivalry and violence, and this great Sword Song will make Uhtred and England formidable to enemies wherever they come from, whether its from within and without.

Very much recommended, for this is another exciting addition to this great series, and that's why I like to call this wonderful episode: "A Brilliant Sword Song"!
Profile Image for Rob.
848 reviews535 followers
May 8, 2016
Executive Summary: Another great entry in this series, that seemed to be over before it started. How can you not like Uhtred of Bebbanburg?

Full Review
I've never really been a big historical fiction fan before discovering this series. I'm not enough of a history buff to know what elements are true, and which are fictional. Regardless this series continues to be fascinating and engrossing.

Compared to many of the doorstopping fantasy books I tend to read, these feel minuscule by comparison. So much happens in so few pages though. I love to see just what crazy thing Uhtred might do next in his quest for glory.

However it's not just Uthred that endears this series to me. He's once again surrounded by a great supporting cast of characters. Some I love, some I hate, and then there is Alfred who I love to hate. I've always disliked Alfred, but after this book he became a total piece of shit. I won't say why, but if you read this book and don't agree with that, I'll be shocked.

For a "brutish" warrior, Uthred shows a lot more heart and compassion for people in his life than the pious and cunning Alfred, the man who would be king of all England. It makes for a great contrast.

I'm already looking forward to the next book in this series. It's going far too quick for my liking though. Before I know it, I'll be out of books to read, and then what will I do? (Well probably read another of the 100 or so unread books I already own, but that's besides the point).
Profile Image for Veronica .
744 reviews177 followers
April 28, 2019
**Re-read in April 2019: I'd forgotten the plot of this book so it was almost like my first time through. I like older Uhtred much better than his younger, more brash self. This is also marks where I left off with the series so from here on out all the books will be fresh and new to me. Still four stars.

Sword Song is the fourth in Cornwell's Saxon Tales series and it picks up the threads of Uhtred's life roughly eight years after the events of the last book. Those eight years have seen a tentative peace settle between the countries of Wessex, East Anglia, and Mercia. King Alfred of Wessex, his end goal of a unified England ever in his mind, has been working on shoring up the defenses in Wessex and has tasked Uhtred with a part in making a more secure Wessex a reality. But new players have arrived and new alliances are threatening the fragile, political status quo and Uhtred is once again the linch pin on which the fate of England hangs.

It's been awhile since I read the previous book in this series and I wish I had taken better notes on the different characters because I had some difficulty recalling just who everyone was in relation to Uhtred and Cornwell doesn't spend a lot of time or energy in rehashing old information. After I settled into the story however, things started to come back to me and once again I was swept up in the action. It's a well paced story and it's a sign of the quality of the writing and the storytelling that I can be so wrapped up in it despite the fact that I don't always like the main protagonist or the choices he makes. But Uhtred is now 28 years old and is showing signs that he's not the same, hot tempered youth he once was. Oh he's still arrogant, to be sure, a pagan surrounded by Christians, but he's less inclined to be as reactionary as he once was and that's been a welcome change in my opinion. His home life has settled into domestic contentment but that hasn't dulled his skill in battle and despite the fact that he and Alfred don't like each other, like...at all, they nevertheless respect the skills of the other.

As with the previous books, Sword Song presents a political chessboard, this time with the city of Lundene (eventually to become London) threatened with checkmate. Reading about all the political maneuverings and the battle strategizing makes this another page turner and no one writes a battle sequence quite like Cornwell.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
804 reviews2,536 followers
May 6, 2018
This fourth book in the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell is marvelous! It countinues the same story of Uhtred of Beppenburg, who was born a Saxon in the ninth century. Uhtred has dual loyalties to the Saxons and to the Danes. He is pledged to King Alfred, but he loves the Danes and their warrior attitude toward life. This dual-philosophy gives the stories added drama and interest.

I wholeheartedly recommend the series; but I have not been reading the books--I have been listening to them. This book is read by Jonathan Keeble, who does a fantastic narration. He is older than the narrator of the earlier books (Tom Sellwood). This is appropriate, because it becomes clear in this book that the writer (it is all in the first person) is an old man, telling the story of his life. Keeble's reading, coupled with Cornwell's gripping telling of the battle scenes and Uhtred's torn allegiances, make the audiobook a phenomenal experience.

I also recently watched "The Last Kingdom", which is an excellent TV series that is based on the books. Up until now, the TV series was pretty true to the novels. But the TV series departs significantly from this fourth book in the series; there isn't really a battle for London at all. This was probably a shortcut to get through the story more expeditiously; the TV series is good, but different.
Profile Image for Chris  Haught.
576 reviews214 followers
April 18, 2012
This was a solid entry in the Saxon Series, by Bernard Cornwell. While not as enjoyable as the second and third books, I liked this one. It kept me engaged for the most part, and wanting more story. So I’ll move on to The Burning Land soon enough, I hope.

One thing that did detract a little was the reader. For some reason, they changed narrators in the series with this book. I like the new reader, but he does pronounce several of the names differently than the previous reader. I often found myself wondering who someone was until I figured out the difference. A minor issue, but thought I'd mention it.
Profile Image for Terri.
529 reviews255 followers
May 2, 2010
How frustrating. After all the glowing reviews I have left on goodreads for the other books in this Saxon series (the books that precede Swordsong), I find myself in a painfully awkward situation.
I had a genuine love-hate relationship..wait!...love-hate is too strong..let's go with...like-dislike....so, I had a genuine like-dislike relationship with this book. I liked it, yes indeed, but I didn't like all of it and I didn't always like the way it made me feel. I want to try and expound on this, but it is kind of against my grain to say anything negative about the Saxon series, however (yes, there is a however), I have never been scared of going against the grain, so let's rush on.
I have read another reviewer of this series on goodreads who mentions the anti-Christian sentiment that Bernard Cornwell imparts upon Uhtred's tale. I didn't really feel it most strongly until this book and it was actually so unpleasant in Swordsong that I found myself loathing characters too much. As a reader, this puts you on dangerous ground...or should I say it puts the writer on 'a slippery slope'? If a writer makes his characters too abhorrent, it is certainly a slippery slope and they will lose favour with his or her readers. In Cornwell's case, he creates a plethora of abhorrent characters and then flogs you over the head with them for page after page.
Most of these loathsome characters are religious zealots, monks, priests and overtly religious, annoying, incompetent, asinine nobles and rulers. Alfred is painful to read about, but he always has been. Now you have his new son in law who is ten times more excruciating to read about. Add in every unsavoury, slimy, irritating religious character that has ever appeared individually in the Saxon series to date, and you have yourself a big pot of steaming, religious zealot stew served up over 400 or so pages. Mmmmmmmm......a tempting concoction? No, I don't think so.
Usually, these loathsome creatures take a backseat position in the Saxon series and while they do annoy me in all the other books, it is because of that backseat position and a limited presence, that I have been able to tolerate them and still love the books. This time, ah, not so much.
But hateful characters were not my only problem with Swordsong (I wish that it were the only one).
Uhtred has become a subdued, old married man with kids. I miss the old Uhtred and hope for him to return in The Burning Land. I like the character written in as his wife, but having him find love and marriage and kids has also resulted in Uhtred becoming a respectable, dull husband and father.
Now, after reading back through my review here so far, I hear you wondering about what it is I exactly I liked about Swordsong, after all, did I not say I had a 'like' -dislike relationship with it?
And I did not lie, I did like half of this book also. The last half. More of the trademark brutality, more of the Danes and Uhtred's interaction with them. And he always interacts well with the Danes.
Uhtred gets out from underneath the skirts of his wife, and the skirts of Alfred's robes, and remembers that he is a warrior capable of great warrior things. That is the Uhtred I love to read about.
Still, despite liking the last half of this book, I didn't love it enough to go straight into The Burning Land. I had to have a break from these horrid, hateful characters that make my skin crawl.
I decided to read Julian Rathbone's The Last English King instead. Once I have finished this, and distanced myself from the Saxon series for a spell, then I might be better prepared for dealing with Bernard's more repugnant characters.
Profile Image for Vagner Stefanello.
119 reviews77 followers
October 26, 2015
Review in Portuguese from Desbravando Livros:

Após ver a sua rixa com Kjartan chegar ao fim, Uhtred acha que poderá retomar Bebbanburg do controle de seu tio traidor. Isso acontece nesse livro? Mas é claro que NÃO! O autor Bernard Cornwell sempre nos reserva muitas surpresas e desta vez não foi diferente. Cinco anos se passaram desde a batalha em Dunholm e nosso protagonista é levado à Londres, onde os dinamarqueses, agora comandados pelos irmãos Erik e Sigefrid Thurgilson, ameaçam invadir toda Wessex.

"... E enquanto houver um reino nesta ilha varrida pelo vento, haverá guerra. Portanto não podemos nos encolher para longe da guerra. Não podemos nos esconder de sua crueldade, de seu sangue, do fedor, da malignidade ou do júbilo, porque a guerra virá para nós, desejemos ou não. Guerra é destino, e o destino é inexorável."

Qual é o poder de um juramento? Antigamente, um homem que quebrasse um juramento era visto como um traidor da pior espécie, pois a vida é feita de juramentos, ainda mais com guerreiros como Uhtred, que agora tem 2 filhos e um juramento a Alfredo. Como vocês já viram nos outros livros, nenhuma fortaleza (cidade) é impossível de ser tomada, e dessa vez Uhtred terá que se desdobrar em dois para livar a cidade do controle dinamarquês.

"... Toquei Bafo de Serpente de novo e me pareceu que ela teve um tremor. Algumas vezes eu achava que a espada cantava. Era um canto fino, apenas entreouvido, um som penetrante, a canção da espada que desejava sangue; a canção da espada."

Confesso que estou chegando ao ponto de considerar As Crônicas Saxônicas a melhor série que eu já li em toda a minha vida. Os livros são ótimos e só melhoram conforme o tempo passa. Dessa vez, a revisão do texto foi mais minuciosa e eu encontrei bem menos erros de ortografia do que nos anteriores. Era muito comum achar uma letra faltando, uma palavra meio apagada, mas agora a revisão está praticamente impecável.

No 4º livro da série, encontramos até mesmo uma pitada de romance entre dois jovens apaixonados, mas não irei contar quem são eles para vocês ficarem com aquela imensa vontade de saber mais. Também não posso esquecer de falar que, a partir desse livro, Alfredo tem em mente a criação de um novo reino: a Inglaterra que conhecemos hoje.

"... Um país é a sua história, bispo; a soma de todas as suas histórias. Somos o que nossos pais fizeram de nós, suas vitórias nos deram o que temos."

Pontos fortes: aah, a guerra. O autor conseguiu me transportar para o campo de batalha como nenhum outro jamais fez. É de se arrepiar...
Pontos fracos:não gosta de batalhas? Não gosta de reviravoltas? Então fique longe de Bernard Cornwell e Uhtred, pois você verá muito sangue e, principalmente, palavrões.
Profile Image for Marta.
997 reviews101 followers
November 24, 2021
On re-listen I find this story a bit more of a soap opera (albeit a bloody and gruesome one) than the others. Aethelflaed’s marriage to Aethelred is the only historically significant bit, the rest is adventure time for Uthred, who has to rescue a damsel in distress. There is also a tragic love story, a midnight ritual, an abominal husband, a pregnancy, a brother’s treachery, and ransom negotiations. There are a lot of battles, however, and not just one, but three boss fights. Fun, fun.

Original review
The series continues strong and bloody, full of the “joy of battle” (a.k.a. grisly mad bloodlust and dismembering), trickery and intrigue. This installment centers on Æthelflæd, Albert’s 14 year old daughter, who is married off to the creepy and weak Æthelred who beats her. But Æthelred‘s worst offense is that he lets Æthelflæd be kidnapped by the brutish Dane warlord Sigfried. Æthelflæd’s ransom may tip the balance of power to the Danes and mean the end of Wessex.

This is the first book that features a strong female who is not Uthred’s love interest, as Uthred is happily married to Gisela and has two children. I found the story also more focused than usual.

Jonathan Keeble’s narration of the audio is full of drama. I enjoyed it a lot. Onto the next one!
Profile Image for Michael.
268 reviews72 followers
August 20, 2022
2.5-stars rounded up to 3.

This is where my journey with this series comes to an end. I've learned a little bit about history and I've been taught what a bunch of nasty misguided greedy and vicious fools our priesthood were in days past. I'll write the passage below (from page-185) that almost put me off bothering to finish this book:

"And when you speak to him," I said, "tell him to stop hitting his wife."
Erkenwald jerked as if I had just struck him in the face. "It is his Christian duty," he said stiffly, "to discipline his wife, and it is her duty to submit. Did you not listen to what I preached?"
"To every word," I said.
"She brought it on herself," Erkenwald snarled. "She has a fiery spirit, she defies him!"
"She's little more than a child," I said, "and a pregnant child at that."
"And foolishness is deep in the heart of a child," Erkenwald responded, "and those are the words of God! And what does God say should be done about the foolishness of a child? That the rod of correction shall beat it far away! He shuddered suddenly. "That is what you do, Lord Uhtred! You beat a child into obedience! A child learns by suffering pain, by being beaten, and that pregnant child must learn her duty. God wills it! Praise God!"

If that passage alone isn't enough to put people off Christianity then nothing will be. I know that's the way things were in those days, but it just goes to show what mindless faith did to the people, and what it's still doing to people even to this day in our so-called "Enlightened-World".

For me I think it will be a return to the fantasy genre where I feel less angry and more relaxed.

Profile Image for Steve .
61 reviews52 followers
September 1, 2012
An absolutely fascinating era in English history; one where the tides could so easily have turned and left England as Daneland. The historical place names and character names are pretty much real and add to the whole feel of the 9th century. Where a sickly, extremely pious, but sharp witted prince becomes not only a king, when he was not directly in line to take the throne. But becomes known as King Alfred The Great, despite his frail body and constant illness, and despite (or maybe, because of) his pious beliefs and surrounding himself with some dubious priests.

But, Alfred needs warriors, he needs armies, he needs a Warlord that men will follow because he fights at their side and slaughters his enemies. It turns out that Lord Uhtred, a saxon born Lord, raised by the very pagans that Alfred needs destroyed, is the only man for the task. But, someone who is so renowned as a battle lord who also has a Lord's rights to land in the north of England, needs to be kept on a short leash. And Lord Uhtred, although loyal, is not a man to be tethered or dictated to.

Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a brilliant character, well written and certainly well thought out. This book, and the Saxon series as a whole, has no shortage of really well written characters. Diversity, amnity, and alliegence are done with skill in the main and supporting characters.

The real bonding between Lord Uhtred and Lady AEthelflaed (King Alfred's daughter, married to a cowardly, abusive ass) is just starting to bloom in this book. Uhtred's old adversary Jarl Haesten is a slimey piece of work. And the two brothers Jarl's Sigefrid and Erik couldn't be much more diverse. Jarl Erik actually comes across as a decent man. There is a point, after one of the battles where Erik and his brother are retreating, where Erik asks who leads. One of Uhtred's friends, the warrior priest, Pyrlig, points out that Lord AEthelred (the abusive husband to King Alfred's daughter) commands, and Lord Uhtred disobeys. Lord Uhtred then gives Jarl Erik, and his men, their freedom.

There is so much more to this book. And I believe it to be one of the best three in the Saxon series, so far. I await the next ;)
Profile Image for Natasa.
1,194 reviews
December 19, 2021
If you like vivid historical fiction, you cannot find anyone better than Bernard Cornwell. His writing is excellent and his scenes are explicit. I can place myself in every setting he describes! Battle scenes are graphic and sometimes gruesome, but I imagine this is exactly what it must have been like back in that period of time. Full review you can find on my blog:https://poetryofreading.blogspot.com/...
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