This is the sixth book in the Saxon Chronicles series, focusing on Uhtred of Bebbanburg, by Bernard Cornwell. Read my review (one of the first on this blog) of the first book if you haven’t read this series before and want to avoid spoilers!
The great King Alfred is on his deathbed, and with that thought in mind, chaos is ready to strike the country that would become England. The Vikings still haven’t been completely vanquished and are a constant threat, but worse are the factions that threaten to split the fledgling kingdom up from within. After nearly being killed up North, Uhtred returns to his king to pay his final homage and to do his best to keep the realm from falling to pieces without a strong leader.
Uhtred remains true to his warrior roots in this novel, more or less constantly fighting to secure his kingdom. It wouldn’t be a book about him without a battle in the shield wall and the adrenaline of a fight well won. But though the battles are well written, they’re not all this series has to offer, and as in other installments, this sixth one has the power to keep us drawn to Uhtred and those he remains close to.
One of these is Aethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, a true leader of her people. As soon as she appeared in this series, as a young girl, I was thrilled, and I’ve only been more pleased with her development as the series carries on. Naturally, she and Uhtred have become a couple, and very much contrary to the way Cornwell sometimes treats his women, Aethelflaed is developed as the strong, leading woman that history tells us she was, with a bit of loving to round out her character in fiction. I can’t wait to read more about her, and Uhtred’s devotion to her, as the series carries on.
As always, Cornwell successfully delivers a number of other fascinating encounters and adventures for Uhtred. One that sticks in my mind here is his encounter with a mysterious witch and “earth goddess”, a potent reminder that while Alfred’s kingdom is becoming increasingly Christian, the religious landscape of the time was far from black-and-white, even beyond Uhtred’s own Norse beliefs. It also adds a creepy interlude for Uhtred as he’s forced to contemplate the future of this realm he’s committed to defending.
For those who want an adrenaline-filled look into early England, with a fantastic main character who feels like he belongs in that time period, you simply can’t go wrong with this series. Death of Kings is an installment that will keep fans like me very happy and eagerly anticipating the next volume. This is a much grittier variety of historical fiction, perfectly suited to a society based around battle, and provides an excellent change if you’re a bit tired of reading about the same old Tudors.
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