The sixth installment of Cornwell’s Saxon series (after The Burning Land) returns to the days before there was an England—or an English sense of fair play—when Saxons, Danes, and Vikings, Christians and pagans alike, fought relentlessly and ruthlessly for control of Wessex. It’s 898: ailing King Alfred, hoping to unify English-speaking Christians under one crown, asks loyal if stubbornly pagan Uhtred to make one last stab at peace. Armed with his trusty sword, Serpent-Breath, Uhtred bushwhacks, bedevils, and beats the living daylights out of scheming plotters, while Edward, “not quite the perfect heir,” risks all for the love of a bishop’s daughter. Æthelflaed, Edward’s beloved sister and Uhtred’s former lover, unwilling to be ruled by her husband, brother, or anyone, joins Uhtred in battle brought to bloody life by Cornwell, whose historian’s understanding of military strategy blends well with a novelist’s ability to envision weapons of the past and the ways in which they’re wielded. Ninth-century combat lacks the grandeur of large armies, but Uhtred’s cunning, courage, and a few acts of calculated cruelty make for a compelling read. Unfortunately for Edward, no skirmish proves decisive enough to unify England. Fortunately for Cornwell fans, that means more “tales of warriors and swords and shields and axes” to come. Agent: Toby Eady Associates. (Jan. 17)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011 Release date: 01/17/2012 Genre: Fiction
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