War Lord by Bernard Cornwell

Vertigo

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The last book in what I will continue to call the Saxon Tales (also know as the Warrior Chronicles and The Last Kingdom series) and if not the best of them then It’s certainly up there. Uhtred is getting old now and thoroughly weary of warfare, but it seems the Alfred dynasty is not quite finished with him.

Cornwell gets that weariness across perfectly; it’s not maudlin, or self-pitying, just enough is enough. The reader can feel the aches and pains in Uhtred’s old bones and yet completely relate to his determination to live true to those beliefs and principles he has held to throughout his long life and which have made his life far more difficult than it needed to be if much more honest.

Cornwell’s descriptions of the world of Saxons and their battles are always convincing without becoming gratuitously gory; a balancing act he has maintained, consummately, throughout the series. Something I have always very much appreciated. These were harsh, brutal times and it’s important for the narrative not to camouflage that fact and yet it’s equally important for it not to revel in it. And, for me at least, these books have always managed to steer an almost perfect course between those extremes.

Despite a slight sense of tiredness or maybe exhaustion around the middle of the series, Cornwell has maintained an exceptional quality of writing throughout; the pacing, action and characterisation is consistent and the character development, of Uhtred in particular, but of all the main characters has been exceptional. Following that development of Uhtred from young child captured by the Vikings all the way through to his old age has always been completely believable and sympathetic, not an easy task for a warlord in such a brutal period of history. And yet his close first-person perspective never dragged despite how well the reader inevitably gets to know him.

An exceptional series of books that brings to life a period of history that is so often glossed over with a few comments about Alfred burning the cakes despite this being arguably the most important part of English history: the birth of England itself. And I’m constantly impressed by Cornwell’s trick of telling that story through the eyes of a pagan Saxon whose natural inclination was always closer to the Viking side of the story than the Saxon one.

Wyrd bið ful ãræd



5/5 stars
 

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