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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell

Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-06-088862-6

This is the third, but apparently not the last novel in Bernard Cornwell's “The Saxon Tales” series of historical novels, set in the time of Alfred the Great. In it, Uhtred, still our intrepid warrior hero, moves northward into the region known then as Northumbria, hoping to regain his ancestral home, Bebbanburg, an impenetrable fortress, held against him by his usurping uncle for many years.

Historically, there was a fortress of that name, and in the 11th century, according to the author, it was ruled by a family with the name Uhtred, who were his (the author's) ancestors. But nothing is known of the family's activities in the late ninth century, which allows Cornwell to tell Uhtred's story as he wishes, making him an integral part (in the two previous volumes) of the history of Alfred and his victories and defeats against the Danes.

But before Uhtred can attempt to reclaim his heritage, he has to overcome various other local warlords and enemies. He joins up with Guthred, a historical figure about whom only a couple of interesting things are known. Although Danish, he was a Christian, and according to the stories, he was once a slave. Out of these bits, Cornwell constructs his novel. He has Guthred betray Uhtred into slavery, in order to form an alliance with his uncle.

Uhtred spends two years rowing in a slave galley before he is deliberately rescued by some of his old friends under the instigation of Alfred. Back north he goes, this time as an escort for an “official” delegation from Alfred to Guthred. The book ends with two of Uhtred's enemies thrown down, but without the capture of Bebbanburg, so we must assume that will be the subject of yet another volume in the series. According to the author's web site, the next volume is titled Sword Song, and will be released in January, 2008, in the US.

Very highly recommended for any fans of historical novels, and for anyone who is following the series, or is otherwise a fan of Cornwell's work. But read the books in order, starting with The Last Kingdom (2005), followed by The Pale Horseman (2006).

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