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 Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell

68527England in the 9th century was a land full of dangers and was deeply divided in the form of four main kingdoms; Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia, and Wessex. One by one, the kingdoms began to fall to the Danes until there was only Wessex that stood in the way of complete conquest. There was a young man who became a king who stood in the way of the invaders. His name was King Alfred the Great, but he was not alone in his quest to unite all of England. His right-hand man was a Northumbrian nobleman who lost his birthright, was raised by the Danes, and had to choose a side in this conflict. His name was Uhtred of Bebbanburg, and his story begins in the first novel of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell, “The Last Kingdom.”

This is not my first adventure into the world of The Last Kingdom. Like so many others, I have enjoyed the Netflix series based on this book series. Once I finished the television series, I wanted to read the books to see what other adventures Uhtred had during his lifetime.

Uhtred is our narrator throughout this journey in 9th century England, albeit a bit older. He began his tale in 866 when he was Osbert, the second son of Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg, and the day the Danes attacked his home. When his older brother Uhtred is slain, Osbert takes up the name of Uhtred and is baptized by the priest Beocca. After a fierce battle, Uhtred’s father is killed, and he is adopted by Ragnar, the leader of the same Danes who have taken everything from him. Uhtred is at first treated as a mere enslaved person, but Ragnar and his family begin to treat Uhtred as one of their own as if he was a Dane. During the time with Ragnar, he is introduced to Ragnar the Younger and Brida.

To see how the Danes raised Uhtred and how he learned to fight in the shield wall was spectacular, and it shows why even though he was born in Northumbria, he believes he is a Dane. Uhtred’s relationship with Ragnar and his family is broken when one of Ragnar’s enemies kills Ragnar and his family, except for Ragnar the Younger, and Thyra. Uhtred and Brida flee and are reunited with Beocca, who introduces Uhtred to the young man who will become King Alfred and one of his military men, Leofric. All Uhtred wants to do is recover Bebbanburg, but destiny changes one’s direction in life.

This is the first book that I have read by Bernard Cornwell, and it was brilliant. The way he could craft a remarkable beginning to Uhtred’s epic tale is astounding. The interactions between Uhtred and those who come to shape him into the legendary man are enjoyable and eye-opening. Cornwell was able to weave the differences in the Danish and Saxon cultures to create a diverse world, one that is vibrant as it is deadly.

The battle sequences set this novel and this series apart from other historical fiction series that I have read. From minor skirmishes to savage shield walls and bloody sea battles, Cornwell was able to create some of the most realistic battle sequences I have ever read.

“The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell is a triumph. An absolute joy to read and one that I cannot recommend enough for anyone who wants a fantastic historical fiction adventure into 9th century England. I look forward to many more adventures with Uhtred of Bebbanburg.