cover image The Pagan Lord

The Pagan Lord

Bernard Cornwell. Harper, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-196970-6

In Cornwell's (1356) latest, 10th century Britain is a splintered land, populated by pagans and Christians and divided between Saxons and Danes. The pagan Uhtred, once favored by Alfred the Great, finds himself distrusted by Alfred's successor, Edward, and at odds with the Christians. Made an outlaw by an ill-considered violent act, he heads north to recapture his old home, the fortress of Bebbanburg; though his grand scheme is less bold than foolhardy. It sets Uhtred on the path to play a crucial role in the coming war between Cnut's Danes and Edward's Saxons. For Uhtred the stakes are personal glory and vengeance against those who wronged him, but the fate of Britain itself hangs on the unforeseeable consequences of his actions. Cornwell successfully brings an unjustly obscure era in British history to life, showing how grand events can be shaped by what are essentially petty motivations. Cornwell skillfully illuminates the competing cultures of the 10th Century; the conflict between Dane and Saxon is examined with sympathy and insight%E2%80%94without projecting 21st century values onto cultures now alien to us. In the course of this, he shows how historical novels should be written. (Jan.)