Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell


Mad Mountain Man
Jun 29, 2010
Scottish Highlands
Sword Song is the fourth book in Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, aka Warrior Chronicles aka Last Kingdom (I prefer Saxon Tales as that at least gives some hint as to the content and period), and is the on-going story of the evolution of the kingdom of England from the old kingdom of Wessex as seen through the eyes of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, born a Saxon noble from the far North East but raised by Danes. That combination allows for an inside view of Alfred’s court from an outsider’s perspective which works brilliantly to help the reader understand and vicariously experience the lives, battles, beliefs and superstitions of that period of history. Some time has passed between this book and the ending of the previous one. Uhtred is now married with two young children and another on the way, he still serves Alfred but also still has doubts whether this is his right course.

Once again Cornwell creates a beautifully balanced tale that does not shirk from the grim realities of the time and the exhilaration and terror of fighting with sword and axe, but also avoids gratuitously revelling in them. His pacing is unrelenting and it is quite astonishing how much action and narrative he manages to pack into less than 260 pages. By the end it feels like the book must surely have been much longer than that. The writing is still in very close first person giving the reader an extraordinarily intimate relationship with Uhtred but at the same time leaving that reader rather more remote from all the other characters in the story. This is not a problem as such but I would have liked to get closer to some of the other characters.

Cornwell himself admits in the historical notes (that he so honestly adds at the end of each book in this series) that “there is more fiction in Sword Song” than in the previous novels about Uhtred of Bebbanburg.” I am no historian and have no great problem with such deviation from the known facts, especially when the author details at the end exactly what material has been added, extrapolated or embellished and gives his justification for doing so. And the result is certainly an excellent story which alone does much to justify such enhancement.

Another excellent book in this excellent series. I’m loving them!

4/5 stars
Great review of a really good book :) I didn't like it quite as much as Lords of the North, which was probably my favourite book in the series so far.

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