December 2023
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The Pale Horseman, Bernard Cornwell

I love Bernard Cornwell.  There is no better way to put it!  I have really, really enjoyed every book of his that I’ve read so far.  He just captures what I imagine to be the medieval atmosphere so well, and beyond that his books are engaging and engrossing.  It’s not a surprise that I’ve basically fallen in love with what I’ve read of the Saxon Chronicles then because I am already fascinated by Anglo-Saxon culture, especially the clashes with Vikings, and that is what this series is all about, featuring some of my favorite historical figures.

This book, the second in the Saxon Chronicles, documents Alfred’s flight into the marshes and his difficult struggle out of it.  Uhtred, the Northumbrian lord, finds himself bound to assist Alfred even though he’d rather be a Dane, and thus plays a pivotal (though fictional) role in taking England back for the “English”.  In the meantime, he falls out of love with his wife and in love with someone else, explores more of the British Isles, and begins to grow up a little.

Amusingly enough, after that, I don’t know what to say!  I always find it harder to review books that I really like. When reading this, I just get swept up in the battle passion of it, perhaps my only glimpse of what it’s like to be a “warrior”, and it’s not all glorious, and maybe that’s what I like best about these books.  Cornwell doesn’t bother with romanticizing much of anything, certainly not compared to other historical fiction authors out there.  His plot moves along swiftly and the climax of it in this book is terrific and left me so engrossed that I immediately rushed out and bought the next at my first opportunity.  I love how his characters are growing and changing, particularly Uhtred, the main character – he grows up right before the reader’s eyes and his experiences change him.  Even Alfred changes and learns.

One pitfall remains – the Christians among us may find Cornwell’s derogatory attitude towards early Christians offensive, but I find it useful to remember that Christianity has changed vastly since the 9th century and nothing he says can really apply to today’s Christians.

I definitely recommend this book!  There is nothing better, aside from reading period literature, to put you right in the shoes of an Anglo-Saxon. Buy this book from Amazon.


3 comments to The Pale Horseman, Bernard Cornwell

  • I have the first two books in the Saxon Chronicles. From your review, I can’t wait to read them! If you like books about Alfred the Great, The Edge of Light by Joan Wolf is another good one. One of the editions has a romance type cover on it but don’t let it fool you.

  • Meghan

    Awesome, thanks for the recommendation! I have added it to my wishlist. =) When you read The Last Kingdom, let me know!

  • Kathryn Louisignau

    I just finished THE LAST KINGDOM by Bernard Cornwell. Since I’m fascinated with this period of English history, I found this book to be very entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the battle scenes, learning how they employed the shield wall in battle. Mr. Cornwell’s description of the shield wall was so precise that I could picture it in my head well enough to perform it myself. I’m looking forward to book two of The Saxon Chronicles, The Pale Harseman.