Book Review: “Lords of the North (The Saxon Stories Book #3) by Bernard Cornwell

2679014King Alfred and Uhtred have achieved a massive victory over the Danes, and as a reward, Alfred has allowed Uhtred to be free of his allegiance. Now, Uhtred travels north to his home, yet fate throws this hero another curveball. He encounters an enslaved person who claims to be the King of Northumbria named Guthred. This chance meeting sends Uhtred on a journey across the seas against his will and to finally face off against Kjartan the Cruel, who captured his stepsister Thyra. Bernard Cornwell takes his readers on another whirlwind adventure into 9th century England with Uhtred of Bebbanburg in the third novel of the Saxon Stories series, “Lords of the North.”

We are reunited with Uhtred in 878, a few months after the great battle from “The Pale Horseman.” Alfred has given Uhtred freedom from his oath, and he travels north to his home with the former nun Hild. Fate throws Uhted another curveball as when he is on an escort mission; he encounters a young, enslaved man named Guthred, the man who holy men believed would be king of Northumbria because of a message from Saint Cuthbert. Uhtred is made Guthred’s right-hand man, and Uhtred falls in love with the king’s sister Gisela. With Guthred, the audience sees the more extreme side of 9th century Christianity with Christian relics and saints that the young king believes will make him a great king like Alfred.

Fate is inevitable and has a path that Uhtred cannot escape, filled with betrayal and heartache. He is making a name for himself when fortune’s wheel takes another turn, and he is betrayed by Guthred and is sold to Sverri, a Danish trader, who uses Uhtred as an enslaved person. Uhtred spends two years on Sverri’s ship with another man, Finan the Agile, who would become Uhtred’s friend. At the end of the two years, Uhtred and Finan are rescued by Ragnar the Younger and Brida, who are now working with Alfred. This is a blessing in disguise because Alfred has a new mission for Uhtred to work with Father Beocca to make peace with Northumbria and Guthred. During this mission, Uhtred and Ragnar realize they have the opportunity to save Ragnar’s sister Thyra from Sven and Kjartan the Cruel.

The third novel in the Saxon Stories series gives the audience a chance to see Uhtred at the lowest point we have seen him so far, as an enslaved person. It is a story of revenge in multiple ways, and the way each revenge plot is executed is thrilling. I also enjoyed Cornwell’s new characters in this novel; the devout Christian convert King Guthred, the beautiful yet strong-willed Gisela, the survivor Thyra, Uhtred’s best friend, loveable warrior Finan, and Kjartan’s bastard son turned ally Sihtric.

I loved that the narrator of this series is an older Uhtred who is reflecting on his adventures as a younger man. It adds more depth to Cornwell’s tales of the Danes and the Saxons in 9th century England. If you have enjoyed the first two books in the Saxon Stories series, you are in for a treat with “Lords of the North” by Bernard Cornwell.

Book Review: “The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories Book #2) by Bernard Cornwell

68528._SY475_England is in danger of falling to its Danish invaders. The kingdoms of East Anglia, Northumbria, and Mercia have already fallen; all that stands in the way of complete Danish domination is Wessex and its king Alfred. Yet this king is more of a saint than a warrior, so Alfred desperately needs a man who knows how to fight. A man like Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a skilled warrior even though he doesn’t always see eye to eye with Alfred on matters of faith. When Alfred and his family become fugitives, he must rely on Uhtred to help restore him and his family to ensure Wessex does not fall. This is the premise of book two of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell, “The Pale Horseman.”

Cornwell begins this book where we left off in “The Last Kingdom” after the battle of Cynuit and the death of Ubba by Uhtred. Uhtred believes that he will be treated as a hero by Alfred and will receive rewards, but he is wrong. Instead of going straight to Alfred after the battle, Uhtred dallies to rescue his Christian wife Mildrith and his son Uhtred, which allows his rival Odda the Younger to take credit for Ubba’s death. Furious at his king, Alfred shows how naive he is, forcing Alfred to humiliate Uhtred in front of the entire royal court by penance; Uhtred decides to take his men and his friend Leofric on some raids in the northern part of England.

Uhtred falls for the beguiling beauty and shadow queen Iseult during this raiding expedition, even though he still has a wife and child at home. Torn between his sworn loyalty to the Saxons through Alfred and the love for the Danes that raised him as a boy and taught him to fight, Uhtred must find his path and follow his destiny wherever it may lead. Unfortunately, destiny’s path for Uhtred and Alfred led to the near-collapse of Wessex when the Danes invaded, forcing Alfred and his family to seek refuge in the most unlikely of locations, in the middle of a swamp. It is here when everything seems so dark, and all hope is lost when Alfred and Uhtred choose to bury the hatchet for the time being and fight for an idea of a united England.

Cornwell expanded the world of Uhtred and Alfred to give us a glimpse of the conflicts that shaped England in the 9th century. With the growing conflicts, Cornwell grows his colorful cast of characters. We are introduced to Aethelwold, the slimy nephew of Alfred who desires the crown., the warrior nun Hild who is willing to fight for what she believes, and the vicious Viking leader Steapa. With new conflicts come new elements of grief, loss, rage, and renewing hope in our characters as they struggle to survive in such a turbulent time.

If you want to embark on another adventure with Uhtred of Bebbanburg after reading “The Last Kingdom,” I recommend reading “The Pale Horseman” by Bernard Cornwell. I enjoyed “The Pale Horseman” just as I did when I read “The Last Kingdom.” Cornwell’s writing style is so engaging that sometimes it didn’t feel like I was reading but watching these stories play out on the page.