Expectations before reading
At the fortress of the eagles, three kings will fight…
Uhtred of Bebbanburg has won back his ancestral home but, threatened from all sides by enemies both old and new, he doesn’t have long to enjoy the victory.
In Mercia, rebellion is in the air as King Edward tries to seize control. In Wessex, rival parties scramble to settle on identity of the next king. And across the country invading Norsemen continue their relentless incursion, ever hungry for land.
Uhtred – a legendary warrior, admired and sought as an ally, feared as an adversary – finds himself once again torn between his two heritages: fighting on what he considers the wrong side, cursed by misfortune and tragedy and facing one of his most formidable enemies. Only the most astute cunning, the greatest loyalty and the most spectacular courage can save him.
For decades, Uhtred has stood at the intersection between Pagan and Christian, between Saxon and Viking, between the old world he was born into and the new world being forged around him. But as the winds of change gather pace, the pressure on Uhtred as father, as politician and as warrior grows as never before.
Oh Uhtred, what mess do you get yourself in again? ? Well, what do I expect after 10 books? I love every single one of them. This is my favorite book series for several reasons. I expect a most exciting history lesson as always. With grumpy, stubborn, heroic, brave (and sometimes hilarious) Uhtred. I just can’t emphasize enough how HAPPY I am that there actually is book #11. I thought after #10 the series was finished. Happy happy me! ?
And here comes some praise from the back of the book:
Bernard Cornwell is a literary miracle. Year after year, hail, rain, snow, war and political upheavals fail to prevent him from producing the most entertaining and readable historical novels of his generation. – Daily Mail
Stirring stuff … few writers are better qualified than Cornwell to do justice to the excitement of the times. Ninth-century Britain and a master of storytelling – it is a marriage made in heaven. – Sunday Telegraph
Cornwell draws a fascinating picture of England as it might have been before anything like England existed. – The Times
The story starts about 2 years after Æthelflæd’s death. There is now only one King, Edward, who tries to unite what will become England. But he is sick and the question of his succession is up. Will it be Æthelstan, his first born son whom some folks regard as illegitimate? Or will it be Ælfweard, Edward’s second son whose grandfather is one of the most powerful men among the Saxons? Uhtred is now living in Northumberland, the last remaining smaller kingdom that is not yet part of the later England. He knows, and Edward and his potential successors know that there will be war at some point. And then there arrives a new enemy, a Norseman called Sköll who threatens Uhtred.
The plot is so exciting, right from the start. It grabs you and doesn’t want you to stop reading. Uhtred is tricked away from his home Bebbanburg and what follows are many twists and turns. Surprising, exciting and sometimes also desperate and seemingly hopeless. It is great. I may repeat myself, but this book is once again like a really exciting history lesson.
The characters are so wonderful. You can really feel how the author loves his characters. And so do I. First of all there is of course Uhtred. The protagonist. I liked the young Uhtred who was fierce, somewhat haughty and still such a lovable character in many ways. The older Uhtred is kind of grumpy. But I like that too. It is so funny sometimes. And no matter what he does to men in battle, he has a good sense of justice. He is fair. He protects those who can’t protect themselves and he is very loyal. And sometimes you, as a reader, can also see his soft side. In this book even a bit more often than in other books.
And then there are of course also many other great characters. Real characters and fictional characters. Prince Æthelstan is described as a quite impressive character in my opinion.
One of my all-time favorite characters is still Finan. Uhtred’s closest friend. And I love the relationship between these two characters. How they just understand each other without talking much. How they tease each other. How they care for each other. Everything.
The plot is set in England around 920. Bernard Cornwell manages to describe the time and the places so well, you feel like you are really in it. You get a great idea about the living conditions, the attitude and the ambitions of the people. Sometimes authors seem to glorify the time their story is set in so the reader thinks he or she really wants to live in this time. Bernard Cornwell doesn’t do this. He describes all the nasty and cruel details as well as the good ones. Very realistic.
The style is great. It is partly humorous, always interesting. It is a good mix of sometimes short sentences and then longer sentences again. He uses stylistic devices but not too lavishly to annoy you. They are really carefully placed and fulfill their purpose. The style is also a reason why it is so hard to stop reading.
Opinion after reading
Bernard Cornwell never disappoints, this novel is really great. I have loved the story of Uhtred from the beginning and it has been my favorite book series ever since. Of course, some books of the series have been better than others. This one is definitely one of the better ones. The storyline has some really interesting and sometimes surprising twists and turns. They even catch you off guard when you are familiar with the English history of that time.
What I also like about this book is that Uhtred doesn’t get everything he wants right away. This has been the case in some of the earlier books, but not in this one. And that makes the story more exciting.
I love the style. I love the characters. And I love English history and the way it is told here.
They started doing a TV show that is based on the books. And they did quite a good job so far. (season 3 is coming up – I am so excited!) One thing I still wonder though is: In the show Uhtred always says “Destiny is all.” In the books Uhtred always says “Wyrd bið ful aræd.” And then he sometimes adds “Fate is inexorable”. Maybe I just haven’t noticed it before in the books, maybe this “Destiny is all” had been in the books before. But this time I really noticed it for the first time and I was wondering if maybe Bernard Cornwell had just put it there because of the show. But, whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter to the plot or anything. It was just one thing I noticed (or was wondering about) and wanted to mention.
The very and of the historical note may foreshadow that there will be at least one more book? I would definitely love that.
And here I end this review with a quote by Uhtred:
“ ‘Wyrd bið ful aræd,’ I said, and that is true. Fate is inexorable. Destiny is all. We make oaths, we make choices, but fate makes our decisions.” (p.41)