In the seventh installment of Bernard Cornwell’s Warrior Chronicles, Uhtred of Bebbanburg has fallen from the favour of the King of Wessex. Unfortunately, he’s also fallen from the favour of the Mercians. Double dealing drives him from his home and he decides that the time is ripe to take back what is his – Bebbanburg. Leading a small band of loyal retainers north, Uhtred sneaks his way into the home of his ancestors, but capturing what is his may be a goal that eludes him once again. As Danes and Saxons struggle for control of the British isles, where will Uhtred fit in?
By this point in the series, I feel like I’ve grown to know Uhtred very, very well. He’s aged and grown somewhat wiser through the years of the story; when he remembers his younger years, it’s easy for the reader to remember them, too, through the books. It’s a strange position for a series to be in, because we’re intimately acquainted with all the characters and conflicts, but the author has to keep the series fresh and maintain interest. With six books to get through before this one, new readers may be put off. They shouldn’t be, though – Cornwell’s books are amongst the best historical fiction has to offer on the Anglo-Saxon period and I love seeing the kingdom of England rise through his eyes.
Because really, that’s what these books are about. Uhtred’s personal struggles are certainly there, with his strong desire to retake his home castle of Bebbanburg and to be with the people he loves, but central to each is the fact that there is a huge struggle between Danes and Saxons that clearly is going to come to an end. As this is history, we know that the Anglo-Saxons win the day and create a united England, but Uhtred doesn’t know that. Cornwell is excellent at telling the story as it comes, so that Uhtred makes no assumptions about what is going to happen. Instead, he focuses on his own goals and loyalties, sticking to a personal moral code and to the men who have gained his loyalty over the last few years.
This book remains as solidly enjoyable as the rest of the series. I love following Uhtred’s adventures. He’s such a great character and he’s really well defined. The battle scenes are as vivid as ever, putting readers straight into the middle of the action so that I could almost feel what it would be like to stand in the shield wall. This part of Anglo-Saxon history is one of my favorites and it’s fascinating watching England come together through his eyes. As I was reading this book initially, I wondered how long the series would go on, but at this point I think it really has to continue until England is united, and I hope Uhtred is there to see it happen.
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