Sunday, 6 February 2011


Genre:  Historical Fiction

Published by:  Harper  (May 2010)

Pages:  384  (Paperback)

My Rating:  9/10


About the Book: (Taken from Lovereading)

In the last years of the 9th century, King Alfred of Wessex is in failing health, and his heir is an untested youth. The Danes, who have failed so many times to conquer Wessex, smell opportunity! First comes Harald Bloodhair, a savage warrior leading a Viking horde, who is encouraged to cruelty by his woman, Skade. But Alfred still has the services of Uhtred, his unwilling warlord, who leads Harald into a trap and, at Farnham in Surrey, inflicts one of the greatest defeats the Vikings were ever to suffer. This novel, the fifth in the magnificent series of England's history tells of the final assaults on Alfred's Wessex, that Wessex survived to become England is because men like Uhtred defeated an enemy feared throughout Christendom.

First Line:

"Not long ago I was in some monastery.  I forget where except that it was in the lands that were once Mercia. I was travelling home with a dozen men."

Uhtred, King Alfred's warlord, is looking back over his life to the time when he was the most feared swordsman in the Land, recounting some of the most bloodthirsty battles between the Saxons and the Danes to gain land and power in the country yet to be named England: he was not just a warrior, he was also an excellent tactician, planning his battles with meticulous detail.
The battles are gory, the descriptions of the killing are somewhat squeamish, the life of the warriors hard, Cornwell's storytelling really makes the characters come to life, but it's not just about the battles, it is the beginning of England, of how religion played a huge part in people's lives while the Danes worshipped the old gods. Uthred, himself, worshipped Thor......he is talking to the wife of one of the Danish ruler's --

'Christianity is a disease that spreads like a plague. We have to stop it.
''If the gods want it stopped,' I suggested, 'they'll do it themselves.
''Our gods prefer feasting. They live, Uhtred. They live and laugh and enjoy, and what does their god do? He broods, he's vengeful, he scowls, he plots. He's a dark and lonely god, Uhtred, and our gods ignore him. They're wrong.'

It is not all about the men, there were some strong women as well, such as King Alfred's daughter who would probably have made as good a ruler as her brother given the chance, riding out to watch while the battles raged.
It was easy to read, the details are interesting, not boring, there was a good pace to the story throughout.

This is the 5th in Cornwell's Alfred series, and several earlier events are mentioned throughout but I didn't feel as if should have read them to know what was happening in this book, though I wish I had now as I'm sure I would have enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed reading this!

If you love historical fiction you should add this series to your collection - as the blurb on the back of the book says --

'This is the making of England brought magnificently to life by the master of historical fiction'

And I certainly wouldn't argue with that!

Bernard Cornwell's official website is here

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