Bookbanter’s Best Reads of 2017

 

Reviews:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Darkness of Evil by Alan Jacobson

Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

“The Flame Bearer” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2016)


The Flame Bearer is the tenth installment of the Saxon Tales from bestselling historical fiction master, Bernard Cornwell. Is it the final tale in the series? No one knows except Mr. Cornwell himself, and I suppose in a year or so readers will find out. But this volume may be the most important of the series, even over King Alfred’s reign and death, as our fearless and now aged hero, Uhtred, returns to his beloved Bebbanburg.

Uhtred is not a young warrior anymore, and may not be able to perform some of the feats he used to, but he is still perhaps the smartest and most cunning man in all of the lands that King Alfred one day hoped to unite as a single Englaland. For now the land remains divided, with Sigtryggr, a Viking, ruling in Northumbria, and the Saxon Queen Aethelflaed ruling from Mercia. However, they are at a truce; so for the first time in many a year, Uhtred has some free time and he knows just what he wishes to do.

Bringing together his people and those who will fight for him, he heads to Bebbanburg, his home, the land of his father, and the land that rightfully belongs to him, even though he hasn’t set foot on it since he was a child. But this is a Bernard Cornwell novel after all, so nothing will ever go as planned. This is also the Middle Ages also, meaning there are many out there wishing to take lands and make them their own. Such is the way of things, and as Uhtred likes to keep reminding us in the Old English, “Wyrd bið ful aræd,” or “Fate is inexorable.”

Originally written on January 4, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Flame Bearer from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Warriors of the Storm” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2016)


The ninth installment of the Saxon Tales doles more riveting historical fiction that gives Martin’s Game of Thrones a run for its money, plus a lot of the events in this series actually occurred.

King Alfred’s dying wish was to unite the kingdoms of his lands into a single nation that would one day be known as England, but things seem more dire then ever as the Norsemen continue to chip away and gain more ground. One important man stands in their way: Uhtred of Bebbanburg controlling the fortified city of Chester in the great kingdom of Mercia. He has fought long and hard to help and protect Alfred’s children, Edward and Athelflaed, and keep their lands intact. Kidnapped at a young age by Norsemen, he is seen as a traitor by them and a heathen by the Christian Britons, but without him Alfred’s children wouldn’t be alive.

Now he must turn his sights to Ragnall Ivarson, a formidable Norseman who possesses a mighty army, soon joined by the Northumbrians to bolster their numbers, as well as being allied with the Irish. There is also the detail that makes it a lot more personal for Uhtred: his daughter is married to Ivarson’s brother. Uhtred will have to do what he does best – made the hard decisions and ignore what everyone else wants – if he is to make it through alive and unscathed.

Originally written on March 4, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Warriors of the Storm from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2015)

Waterloo
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The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most documented events in history; it’s also one of those times in history that’s very close to Bernard Cornwell’s heart. The bestselling author is known for his medieval historical fiction and is definitely a master of the genre, but now, for the first time, Cornwell has created a work of nonfiction in Waterloo.

The subtitle encapsulates the book: the history of four days, three armies, and three battles. The book is divided into relatively short but riveting chapters, each ending with a selection of photos and artwork – in color where available – making Waterloo a wonderfully illustrated edition for any history buff. Cornwell spends little time with the first two battles, Ligny and Quatre-Bras, providing a detailed step-by-step report of the battles in Cornwell’s talented way, and using detailed formation maps to make things clear for the reader.

The last third of the book is dedicated to the battle of Waterloo and perhaps what makes the book so fascinating is how much Cornwell uses from letters and diaries and other primary sources that give the book life, taking the reader back to the historic time.

Originally written on June 4, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Waterloo from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Empty Throne” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2015)

The Empty Throne
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In the eighth installment of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, with King Alfred now gone and buried, readers might think the series would be winding down, but it is quite the opposite. Æthelred, the current ruler of Mercia, lies on his deathbed with no legitimate heir, and an empty throne sits awaiting a new ruler.

Uhtred of Bebbanburg was thought mortally wounded at the end of The Pagan Lord, and now he is still alive, but not necessarily well. His grievous wound is very slowly healing, meanwhile he has to work with his son and men to make sure the church and those in power don’t elect who they want to rule. Uhtred has a powerful leader, Æthelflaed, in mind not just because she is a lover, but also because she is well liked by Mercia and is sister to King Edward of Wessex.

In addition to elect new rulers, Uhtred is also on the hunt for his sword that was taken from him and is purported to be in the hands of Bishop Asser who is somewhere deep in the heart of Wales. And then at some point he’s going to end up in a big battle with some Vikings.

In true Cornwell fashion, The Empty Throne has it all for a gripping historical fiction novel and fans will rejoice while new readers will have no problem getting hooked as the author keeps them clued in to everything going on.

Originally written on January 28, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Empty Throne from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

The Pagan Lord  1356  Excalibur  Death of Kings  The Winter King  The Fort

“The Pagan Lord” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2014)

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Medieval historical fiction extraordinaire, Bernard Cornwell, is back with the next installment of the Saxon Tales. The Pagan Lord is the seventh in the series, with King Alfred gone and the land is on the eve of war between the Saxons ruled by Alfred’s son, Edward and Wessex; while in the north, the Danes led by the Viking Cnut Longsword looks to take more land.

Our hero, Uhtred, has had his ups and downs in the series, but now wishes to bring what men he can together and take back his inheritance in the distant north land of Bebbanburg, but he will have to fight his uncle and progeny to do that. The Christian faith is also growing in this place that will one day be called “Angeland,” and when Uhtred kills an important bishop, he finds those of the faith also warring against him.

The Pagan Lord pushes Uhtred to the very edge and beyond, bringing the reader along with him. It shows Cornwell doing what he does best, moving his characters around and pitting them against each other in magnificent battle scenes. No one Cornwell book is like the other, which is what makes him such a great writer.

Originally written on January 27, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Pagan Lord from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Death of Kings  1356  Winter King

“1356” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2013)

1356
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The Black Prince is one of those enigmatic figures shrouded in mystery, superstition and rumor from the medieval period of the fourteenth century.  In 1356, bestselling historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell provides his take on it by bringing back a popular and main character from his Grail Quest series, in Thomas of Hookton.

Thomas has created quite a name for himself and his small band of men, known as Le Bâtard, traveling through France and fighting for the English.  But he is now charged with a new quest by his lord, to recover the ancient and lost sword of Saint Peter, known as Le Malice, a relic from the past that will provide a great symbol and power to whichever nation possesses and wields it.  The French want it to get rid of the English; and the English want it to subdue the French.

1356 is another great example of Cornwell writing at his best, and it’s not necessary to have read the earlier series, as he fills you in where necessary.  His action scenes are written with skill, putting the reader right there, culminating with the great battle of Poitiers.

Originally written on January 7, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of 1356 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Winter King  Archer's Tale  Agincourt  Last Kingdom  Death of Kings

“Excalibur” by Bernard Cornwell (St. Martin’s Press, 1998)

Excalibur
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The final book of Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles is all about confrontation and final showdowns, whether it be in battle, against matters of faith, or between the wants of certain people.  Readers familiar with the Arthurian saga know of Arthur’s inevitable end, but Cornwell has created and developed a number of interesting subplots and characters that the reader has been following since the beginning of the trilogy, which are all resolved.

Guenevere’s infidelity with Lancelot has been revealed, though she professed it to be due to her prayers and offerings to the goddess Isis with the hopes of making Arthur king; she is now imprisoned.  Lancelot has been revealed as the coward and traitor that he is and has defected to the Saxons.  Meanwhile the Christians are becoming stronger and more dominating.  Merlin has a plan though; to bring back the old gods and save Britain, however, it will require extreme sacrifices, which Arthur may not be willing to grant.  Mordred has been overthrown for his evil ways, and is imprisoned, while Arthur rules, but the Saxons have plans to free the rightful heir and it will all come down to one last battle at Camlan.

Readers who have come this far will not be disappointed with this great finale to the trilogy, which ends not with a resolution of Derfel as a monk in his monastery, but with the last page of Arthur and his sad end, with the hope that he will one day return to Britain.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Excalibur from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Enemy of God” by Bernard Cornwell (St. Martin’s Press, 1996)

Enemy of God
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In Bernard Cornwell’s second installment of The Warlord Chronicles, he continues where he left off in The Winter King: Arthur has defeated the armies of Powys and Siluria, while the kings, Gorfyddyd and Gundleus, are dead, and with an alliance between the Brythonic kingdoms now near at hand, he turns to confronting their common enemy, the Saxons.

Derfel continues the telling of his tale, where he is ordered to Powys to arrange a marriage between Lancelot, a man he despises, and the beautiful Ceinwyn, who he has completely fallen in love with, though he does not tell Arthur of this.  The mighty warrior soon arrives in Powys with the beautiful Guenevere and his full entourage to enjoy the grand wedding and all seems to be going according to plan.  Meanwhile, Merlin knows of Derfel’s love and offers him an ultimatum.  The magician is in search of one of the sacred thirteen treasures of the island of Britain, a powerful cauldron that supposedly has the power to bring the dead back to life.  If Derfel will join him on this quest, he will make sure Ceinwyn is his.  He is given an enchanted pig’s bone which, if he breaks it, will release the magic, and Ceinwyn will belong to Derfel.  The young man must then decide what he must do, as he weighs the decisions of Arthur, his lord, with the desires and wants of his heart.

Enemy of God takes the story of Arthur in new directions, as Cornwell skillfully blends it with some Welsh mythology to make for a captivating and adventurous tale.  At the same time the Christian faith is growing in power, and Arthur must balance this fact with respect for the Druid religion, but ultimately decide what is best for Britain and its people.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Enemy of God from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Winter King” by Bernard Cornwell (St. Martin’s Press, 1995)

Winter King
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There have been many books written about the legend of King Arthur, the knights of the Round Table, Lancelot and Guenevere; a story that is known the world over and been talked about for more than a millennium.  Some of those stories have tried to remain true to the original myth — though it still remains unknown whether there really was a man who went by that name — and others have gone off into their own world, using these familiar characters.  Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles is one that remains relatively true to the heart of the story, while at the same time revealing the strong themes of Britain in the fifth century, and in so doing, has become one of the main canons of Arthurian literature.

The story of the rise of Arthur and his helping of Britain begins with its narrator, Derfel, now an old monk working away in a decaying monastery.  He professes to his Bishop Sansum that he is writing the story of Jesus Christ the savior in the words of the Britons so they may better understand him, when he is really recording the story of the greatest warrior to ever live, so it may be well and correctly remembered for future generations, as compared to the tales and songs the bards sing where the true heroes are not always recognized and appreciated.

The story begins with King Uther who does not have a certain heir and is not doing well.  His son and crown prince was killed in a recent battle against the Saxons, while his bastard son, Arthur, has been sent to Armorica.  But he has a grandson, who is also named Mordred, and who he decrees is the heir to Britain, and shortly after Uther dies.  Derfel is an orphan living in Merlin’s commune, only the renowned magician hasn’t been seen in many years, and it is rumored he is in search of the lost treasures of Britain.  Mordred and his mother are brought to Merlin’s commune where he is to be raised and educated under the Druidic religion.

Arthur comes back with his men just in time to stop King Gundleus of Siluria from attempting to kill Mordred and take over the throne of Dumnomia.  While Mordred is raised and educated, Arthur essentially rules Dumnomia, looking to unite the British kingdoms as one against the Saxons who are looking to take more land.  Then he meets Guenevere and his heart is stolen, as well as the meeting of the character of Lancelot, who is renowned as a great fighter and warrior, though it seems the man is actually a coward.

The Winter King is a great start to the trilogy that furthers the story, but has plenty of fascinating subplots that Cornwell is renowned for in his historical fiction, such as the Isle of the Dead, where the mad are left to roam and where Derfel must find a woman he loves.  In the afterword, Cornwell explains what history there is to work from, and why he went the way he did with his particular story.  Thankfully, the book doesn’t end on too much of a cliffhanger, setting up well for its sequel, Enemy of God.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Winter King from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.