“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.

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“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.

“Death of Kings” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2012)

Death of Kings
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In the sixth book of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, he makes it clear with the title that this is the most important book of the series, as it’s the one where Alfred the Great finally passes from this world, leaving this torn country with an uncertain future, and it will be up to his successor to decide what to do.

King Alfred dreamed of a united England, but now as he lies on his death bed, time is running out and this reality seems like it won’t be happening anytime soon.  The Danes to the north are still not giving up, controlling a considerable proportion of the country and hungry for more.  It comes down to who has the more soldiers and the stronger alliances.  Also, even though Alfred’s son Edward is the heir apparent, there are some other Saxons who have aims of taking the throne.  The Saxon-born, Viking-raised Uhtred who still believes strongly in the Norse gods will be the leader to once again make things happen; he has already sacrificed much for Alfred, and now finally receives a just reward, but he will have to fight to keep it from the attacking Danes, as well as swear fealty to the new king, Edward.

Fans will quickly gobble up Death of Kings, as they pay witness to the passing of an important character that was inevitably going to happen, but the good news is that Cornwell makes it clear in his afterword that while Alfred’s part in this story may now be over, there is still more to tell, and Uhtred still has an important part to play.

Originally written on February 6, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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

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The Burning Land    Agincourt    Sword Song    Lords of the North

“The Burning Land” by Bernard Cornwell (Harpercollins, 2010)

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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.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 11th 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Sword Song: The Battle for London” by Bernard Cornwell (Harpercollins, 2008)

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We last left Uhtred, in Lords of the North, apparently an ally with King Alfred, while the Vikings were making a very successful takeover of England, making it seem like there was little hope left for Alfred and his Saxon people.  But Alfred has God on his side, and feels he will be ultimately victorious; Uhtred on the other hand, a pagan, cares little for this Christian religion, but is still a little unsure of where his allegiances lie.

While the first three of the Saxon Chronicles gave little hope and direction for Uhtred, in Sword Song, he has more to fight for with a wife and child, and another baby on the way.  The old Roman town of London, an important one with its link to the Thames, has been taken over by the Vikings.  If Alfred gives them London, Wessex is next and soon there will be little left to defend and England will be a Viking nation.  So Alfred charges Uhtred with this great task to use the Saxon army, as well as his own loyal men, and take back London.

At this point Uhtred is a warrior and a great leader in a shield wall.  But with the siege of London, he must mount an attack from the Thames, using ships and men.  It will involve all his previous experience with battle, as well as appeasing both the Saxon army, and his own Northmen.  His plan is to appear as an ally to the Vikings upon reaching London which, with his history, is a possibility, but then to spring the trap and take back the pivotal town.  The question is whether Uhtred will live up to his side of the bargain, with his loyalty being challenged.  Coupled with this is Aethelflæd, Alfred’s daughter, who has been recently kidnapped and is being held somewhere in London by a Viking lord; her life must be protected at all costs.

Sword Song jumps the bestselling series one big step forward, with this pivotal battle in the creation of the nation of England and its people.  Ending on a cliffhanger, Cornwell skillfully leaves fans having to wait another whole year until they can get the next important chapter in the story of Alfred the Great.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 27th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Bernard Cornwell check out BookBanter Episode 5.