Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell
The Saxon Stories #4
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full length (314 pages)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish kingdom to the north and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the south. Warrior by instinct and Viking by nature, Uhtred, the dispossessed son of a Northumbrian lord, has land, a wife and children—and a duty to King Alfred to hold the frontier on the Thames. But a dead man has risen, and new Vikings have invaded the decayed Roman city of London with dreams of conquering Wessex… with Uhtred’s help. Suddenly forced to weigh his oath to the king against the dangerous turning tide of shifting allegiances and deadly power struggles, Uhtred—Alfred’s sharpest sword—must now make the choice that will determine England’s future.

Even in peace there are battles to be fought.

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Uhtred is one of the most memorable characters I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and he’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine. In this installment, Uhtred is doing things the way he wants, which of course irritates Alfred to no end. However, Uhtred enjoys getting under Alfred’s skin. I must admit it is rather entertaining to see how far Uhtred can push the limits of Alfred’s patience without getting into serious trouble. Even though I enjoy watching Uhtred antics, I lament their inability to see eye to eye. Uhtred and Alfred are great leaders who’ve accomplished a lot by grudgingly working together. Their achievements could reach even greater heights if they put aside their differences. Unfortunately, Alfred does not trust Uhtred and consistently denies him the credit for his victories. As a result, Uhtred continues to resent and hate his king.

This book has a bit of a different feel from the previous three, especially the first half. I got to see a different side of Uhtred. Since there is a tentative peace, Uhtred was able to spend more time with his wife and children. I found I very much enjoyed seeing the softer and dare I say more mature side of his character. I liked watching him play with his children, and his concern over his pregnant wife is very moving. I was also touched by his concern for Aethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, whom Uhtred has known since she was a child. However, fans of Uhtred’s warrior spirit can rest assured that he is still absolutely lethal on the battle field.

I must also mention I was struck by the contrast in the description of battle scenes and Aethelflaed’s, wedding. It is a testament to Mr. Cornwell’s skill as an author that he can write brutally graphic descriptions of battle and this beautiful scene: “She was in love with love, transported that day to a height of joy that showed like radiance on her sweet face…That spring day was the first on which she wore her hair up, a sign of marriage, and it revealed her long thin neck. She was so graceful that day.” I can practically see Aethelflaed’s face as she walks down the aisle.

Unfortunately, Aethelflaed’s path isn’t easy. I can’t give many details, but I will say that Aethelflaed’s marriage is not a happy one and she has the misfortune to fall in love with another man who is definitely not suitable. Mr. Cornwell perfectly captured the moment Uhtred realized how much trouble lay ahead for his friend. “She glowed. She walked as lightly as a dancer, and she smiled so beautifully…I saw it in her face. I saw in her radiance all her sudden love and all the unhappiness that was to come, and all the tears, and all the heartbreak. She was on a voyage, and it was a journey of love, but it was sailing into a storm so bleak and dark that my own heart almost broke for her.”

I can’t recommend this series enough. Anyone looking for adventure and memorable characters would do well to pick up a copy of this book as well as the previous installments. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book!

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