Series: The Last Kingdom 9
My version: Hardback
Historical Fiction England, Vikings
King Alfred’s son Edward and formidable daughter, Æthelflæd, rule Wessex, Mercia and East Amglia. But all round the restless Northmen, eyeing the rich lands and wealthy churches, are mounting raids.
Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the kingdoms’ greatest warrior, controls northern Mercia from the strongly fortified city of Chester. But forces are rising up against him. Northmen allied to the Irish, led by the fierce warrior Ragnall Ivarsson, are soon joined by the Northumbrians, and their strength could prove overwhelming. Despite the gathering threat, both Edward and Æthelflæd are reluctant to move out of the safety of their fortifications. But with Uhtred’s own daughter married to Ivarsson’s brother, who can be trusted?
In the struggle between family and loyalty, between personal ambition and political commitment, there will be no easy path. But a man with a warrior’s courage may be able to find it. Such a man is Uhtred, and this may be his finest hour.
Starting three years after The Empty Throne, that’s a long gap, as I remember. Long enough for Uhtred to now feel Elder Statesman Uhtred. With the Elder Statesman mantle, finally comes the growing of a pair, as they say. Uhtred deciding to say ‘fuck this for a game of soldiers’ and going all-in on re-taking Bebbanburg is what HE wants to do, and the Three Norns, so often used in novels set in this period to cover for not making a decision, be damned! It’s a be-freeing feeling, not just for Uhtred, but also for us. Yeah, there are a couple of things to sort first, but after gathering the large part (you’ll see) of his family around him, getting strong and throwing off the blah, blah, blah – he’s on his way.
There is a purpose and a direction often missing in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, Warrior Chronicles, Last Kingdom Series, whatever you call them, books. A good one, then a so-so. Or two. Still, a so-so from Bernard Cornwell is better than most other Historical Fiction writers’ best. Yeah, there is some unwarranted hero worship of his work out there, but I’ll give him his due, he may not walk on water, but he does deliver. There is a lot less of the formula feel to Warriors, it just feels better. More honest. More passion and feeling to the writing. More action too. Oh, and more Finnan. He’s a really good character and it’s very interesting to get more of his backstory filled in here.
What he also does particularly well in Warriors, is write about the waiting for battle, and the hours, minutes, then seconds before the two sides hit. I, and I suspect, Bernard C, have never been in such a situation, but if anyone can make a good stab, slash and cut at how it maybe was, then it’s surely Bernard Cornwell in Warriors. Obviously, he’s a pacifist, and he does a really good job of showing that most warriors are, in the few seconds before they hit the other shieldwall.
He still likes his “And…” at the end of sections though, as with ‘battle joy’ ‘song of slaughter.’ I’m not sure he doesn’t use ‘battle song of slaughter’ once. And while we’re in Matthew Harffy territory…he mentions ‘Bernicia,’ as preceding Northumberland, and territory-wise, stretching up into Scotland. That might help you with Matthew H’s increasingly excellent books, it does me.
Related reviews on Speesh Reads: