In this fifth installment of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, as he reveals the incredible life of Alfred the Great and the world of Viking England, he doesn’t hold back, putting his hero, Uhtred, through every trial and tribulation possible. Uhtred finds himself tested by Alfred, by the priest because of his pagan beliefs, by his Viking friends, and by his Saxon friends. Compared to the last four books in the series, The Burning Land has a lot more going on, as the end appears to be in sight for Alfred, for Uhtred, and for Cornwell.
England is still in a shambles, as hoards of Vikings march across the land, taking towns and slaughtering people, while Alfred defends his small domain in the south. Alfred has become pious in his old age, turning to priests for advice and suggestions, which just infuriates Uhtred. Each time he turns to the man for the final advice on what battle to choose and where to fight, and each time Uhtred leads him to victories, but he never makes it into the tales and stories recorded by the priests. Cornwell is making a point here that we shouldn’t believe everything of the sources we read, that often reality is very different to what is recorded. But Uhtred finds himself torn: owing allegiance to Alfred, but also wishing to join the Vikings up north in an effort to take back his land, Bebbanburg, taken by his uncle. For some time he does fight with the Vikings, putting fear in the heart of the Saxons to the south, as Alfred is rumored to be very ill and possibly dead. In the new year the rumors are proved otherwise and Uhtred returns to his lord and fights for him once more.
But time is passing; Arthur grows older and sicker, while Uhtred draws closer to fighting for his homeland. There can’t be too many books left in the Saxon Tales, as Cornwell brings the series to a close in the n ext book or two. One wonders how it will end for Alfred, and how Uhtred will fair.
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Originally written on March 11th 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.