The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell
The Saxon Stories #5
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full length (336 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

In a clash of heroes,the kingdom is born. At the end of the ninth century, King Alfred of Wessex is in ill health; his heir, an untested youth. His enemy, the Danes, having failed to conquer Wessex, now see their chance for victory. Led by the sword of savage warrior Harald Bloodhair, the Viking hordes attack. But Uhtred, Alfred’s reluctant warlord, proves his worth, outwitting Harald and handing the Vikings one of their greatest defeats. For Uhtred, the sweetness of victory is soon overshadowed by tragedy.

Breaking with Alfred, he joins the Vikings, swearing never again to serve the Saxon king. Instead, he will reclaim his ancestral fortress on the Northumbrian coast. Allied with his old friend Ragnar–and his old foe Haesten–he aims to invade and conquer Wessex itself. Yet fate has different plans. The Danes of East Anglia and the Vikings of Northumbria are plotting the conquest of all Britain. When Alfred’s daughter pleads with Uhtred for help, he cannot refuse her request. in a desperate gamble, he takes command of a demoralized Mercian army, leading them in an unforgettable battle on a blood-soaked field beside the Thames.

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Has Uhtred abandoned Wessex forever?

Before reading this tale, I strongly recommend reading the previous four books of the series in order to better understand the characters and their actions. Again, as with the preceding books, this story contains graphic violence.

The Burning Land is definitely a dark chapter in Uhtred’s life. Uhtred has fought for Wessex countless times. Instead of receiving the rewards and gratitude he deserves, Uhtred is met with mistrust from Alfred and jealousy from Alfred’s advisors. A lesser man would have left Wessex long ago, but even though he has no love for Alfred, Uhtred remains true to his oath to the king. I admire Uhtred for standing by a king who continually denies him the credit he deserves. However, even Uhtred has his limits. When Uhtred is finally pushed to far, he lashes out in anger and makes a grave mistake. In this moment, I hoped that Alfred would show Uhtred some mercy and understanding, not only because Uhtred had recently suffered an immense personal loss, but also because he was deliberately provoked and not entirely to blame in the situation. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed by Alfred yet again. Uhtred flees Wessex and becomes an outlaw.

My heart broke for Uhtred as I read. Even though the previous books had hinted at some of the darkness coming in Untred’s story, it didn’t make it any easier to bear. His loss is deep and something that continues to pain him in his old age as he recounts the story of his life. Uhtred makes several bad decisions in his grief, and I have a feeling that some of those will come back to haunt him. When Uhtred leaves Wessex, he goes to Ragnar. It was wonderful to see them together again, but the reunion felt bittersweet. I knew Uhtred’s time with Ragnar wouldn’t last because Uhtred has forgotten a promise he made years ago. Once Uhtred is reminded of this promise, I knew he would leave Ragnar to keep it.

Even though Uhtred has left Wessex, Alfred still manages to manipulate Uhtred from afar, which of course only leads to more resentment from Uhtred. I find this extremely frustrating. I wish Alfred could understand that he would get much further with Uhtred if he would only talk to him and show some appreciation for all that Uhtred has done. I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again. I would love these two men to have an honest conversation. I know they admire and respect each other more than they will ever admit publicly, but they just can’t seem to move beyond their personal differences. It truly is a shame. I can only hope they find a way to resolve their differences before it is too late.

I’m completely captivated by this series, and I can hardly wait to see what fate has in store for Uhtred next! I highly recommend this gripping series to fans of historical fiction.

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