Author: Bernard Cornwell
Genre: Historical Fiction
2nd book in The Saxon Stories series
Paperback 416 pages
First published by Harper in 2005
As the last unvanquished piece of England, Wessex is eyed hungrily by the fearsome Viking conquerors. Uhtred, a dispossessed young nobleman, is tied to the imperilled land by birth and marriage but was raised by the Danish invaders—and he questions where his allegiance must lie. But blood is his destiny, and when the overwhelming Viking horde attacks out of a wintry darkness, Uhtred must put aside all hatred and distrust and stand beside his embattled country’s staunch defender—the fugitive King Alfred.
“There is such joy in chaos. Stow all the world’s evils behind a door and tell men that they must never, ever, open the door, and it will be opened because there is pure joy in destruction.”
The battle of Cynuit has been won, and even though the great Ubba is dead, the threat of another war still lingers. Uhtred is now lord of his own lands. He has a wife, a newborn son, he has defeated Ubba, but all this means nothing when Alfred is oblivious to his victory. While Uhtred is fighting the battle for his life; the Danes attack Chippenham.
Alfred is now a fugitive king, hiding in the marshes of what is now Athelney, where he is trying to strengthen himself in order to win the battle which will determine the fate of Saxon England.
“There is such joy in a good ship, and a greater joy to have the ship’s belly fat with other men’s silver. It is the Viking joy, driving a dragon-headed hull through a wind-driven sea towards a future full of feasts and laughter. The Danes taught me that and I love them for it.”
Bernard Cornwell continues as if this book isn’t a sequel, but just more pages of the first book. It was well connected to the first book in every way because the story is fluently continued. The feel, the world, and the writing, everything continued the way it should.
Not only Uhtred is the point of focus in this worthy sequel, but we will also see the struggles of a king. It is an important chapter in Uhtred life, one where he really has to decide where his loyalties lie and how he wants his life to go from now on. However, it is not only Uhtred’s journey that seems to be in focus in this sequel. After the Danish attack on Chippenham, Alfred has to chose whether to make a stand and fight the Danes, or to get on a ship towards Frankia. He decides to make a stand, but that is not that simple because he also has to prove to his people that he is a king worth fighting for, and that seems to be quite a difficult task. We will see how Alfred is affected by his fall from power in more than one way and how he will become the king that he is known to be today: Alfred the Great, who saved Wessex (and so saved England) by winning the battle of Ethandun in 878.
This book is less about the other characters and more focussed on Alfred’s journey. Of course, there are a couple of other storylines in this book, but Alfred’s development is the most important element in this book.
I must say though, that the added characters were simply brilliant. They were not present in this book simply because they could, but each character had their role to play and a function in this story.
And this time, I will be able to give you one of my favourite characters of this book! It wasn’t Uhtred, or Iseult (though she is a close second), but Father Pyrlig! He is a Welshman and a former warrior, though now he has ‘renounced’ his warrior past and he is a true Christian. This guy is hilarious and simply brilliant. He was a great addition as a character to this book.
“Tomorrow,” he shouted, “you do not fight for me! I fight for you! I fight for Wessex! I fight for your wives, for your children and your homes! Tomorrow we fight and, I swear to you on my father’s grave and on my children’s lives, tomorrow we shall win!” – Alfred before the battle of Ethandun
Like I said in my review about The Last Kingdom, the writing was great. There was no dragging or nagging whatsoever, but there was a ‘natural’ chain of events that would lead to the end of one of the most important battles in English history. Again, Cornwell was able to create a bond between the reader and the book and, to be honest, I didn’t want it to end when it did.
I will give 5 stars to this amazing sequel ^_^ I would recommend this book to anyone, and everyone, who even remotely liked the historical fiction genre. Even if you don’t like the genre, but are willing to give it a shot: READ THIS SERIES. Really, you won’t regret it.
Just for fun: I absolutely love the series of Time Team. This is a tv show about archaeological digs that are done across England. Now, they also have done a dig at Athelney and if you click this link (a video of the first season and this link of their return there for their 100th episode) it will redirect you to the youtube video. I do hope you enjoy it!
If you have read this book; what did you think of it? Who is your favourite character? and how sorry were you for that poor white horse?