War Lord is the last in Bernard Cornwell’s thirteen novel series set in the 9th and 10th centuries and covering the formation of England from the earlier kingdoms of Wessex, Kent, East Anglia, Mercia and, finally, Northumbria. Throughout the series, Uhtred, an impulsive and emotional man, has made promises to members of Alfred’s family, at least one of which he now regrets.
Uhtred is established in his ancestral home of Bebbanburg on the north-east coast of Northumbria hoping for a more peaceful time. But Athelstan, King of Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia is determined to achieve the dream of his grandfather, Alfred, and unite all the kingdoms into England. Whether they like it or not.
To the North is the King of Scotland and to the West a King in Ireland, both with eyes on the fertile lands of Northumbria. Uhtred’s not really in a position to defend Bebbanburg against any one of these avaricious Kings so alights on the idea of getting them to fight each other through a combination of misinformation and trickery.
As ever, Cornwell does a deft job of weaving a fast-paced adventure story around a nugget of historical fact (or as close to fact as we can get) and brings Uhtred’s story to a bittersweet conclusion. Bittersweet for two reasons. First, Uhtred gets his happy ending of ruling in Bebbanburg with expanded lands and family to succeed him but it’s in the context of a bigger kingdom of England which isn’t what he really wanted. Second, that kingdom is Christian and has a policy of stamping out paganism and with the birth of Christian England comes the loss of the old gods and older ways, which, throughout the series, has felt increasingly sad.
War Lord is great, good fun and an easy read, pleasingly supported by good historical detail.
I read Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwall because it was my employer’s Book Club read. I was fairly excited as I like Cornwall’s books. Or at least, most of them. I loved the Winter King’s series, the Sharp series and the Last Kingdom series.
Fools and Mortals is about William Shakespeare’s younger brother Richard, his quest to graduate from playing female characters to playing male leads, and the intrigue between the theatres in Elizabethan England. A play is stolen, Richard is suspected and he must get the play back to prove his innocence.
It was okay. It was a light, easy read. Maybe I had high expectations but I didn’t think this was Cornwall at his best. The plot was a bit obvious and the writing not great. The main character wasn’t very likeable, but, it occurs to me most of Cornwall’s protagonists are arrogant and reckless, so Richard Shakespeare fits the mold. It’s just that there’s nothing engaging to go along with that.
There’s a few pages at the end talking about the historical basis for the story which is quite interesting. The setting is brought to life really well with lots of little details of Elizabeth England.
Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell is the sixth book in the Making of England series. Or The Warrior Chronicles, or the Saxon Stories, as it’s also known. There are at least two more to go.
Uhtred of Bebbanburg is forty-five and broke. All the money he’s ever made has been spent on keeping is oath to Alfred. There have been times when he’s been rich but this isn’t one of them. He still harbours dreams of returning to Northumbria to reclaim Bebbanburg but he doesn’t have the resources and he’s running out of time. Forty-five is old for a warrior. And then there’s the pesky problem of the promises he’s made to Alfred and Aethelflead.
This installment of the series does feel very much like a mid-series book. It’s a bit slow and not much seems to happen. Alfred dies, his nephew tries to steal Wessex from his son, and the Danes combine forces to attack. There’s the threat of betrayal from an ally and lots of riding around the countryside looking for people to fight.
As always, the writing is excellent, and Cornwell provides a masterclass in simple yet effective prose. The characters are vivid and Aethelflead had a particularly good part in this book.