The Burning Land (The Saxon Stories, Book 5)
Of the Saxon Stories that I’ve read, this once seemed to lack some of the bravado of the other stories, which makes sense given the circumstances Uhtred wades through. (Spoilers ahead!) I had been expecting Gisela to meet a bad end, though I was expecting something far more violent than what actually occurs. It seems to me that most women Uhtred falls for have the unfortunate likelihood of dying horribly. That being said, the story is still dripping with action and tension. Even when Uhtred is with Ragnar the tension holds, but it’s muted in this story. Muted by Uhtred’s mourning for his lost wife and child. It felt to me like Uhtred was a little directionless without Alfred and his priests hovering over his shoulder and given the story line that is as it should be.
In a clash of heroes, the kingdom is born.
At the end of the ninth century, with King Alfred of Wessex in ill health and his heir still an untested youth, it falls to Alfred’s reluctant warlord Uhtred to outwit and outbattle the invading enemy Danes, led by the sword of savage warrior Harald Bloodhair. But the sweetness of Uhtred’s victory is soured by tragedy, forcing him to break with the Saxon king. Joining the Vikings, allied with his old friend Ragnar—and his old foe Haesten—Uhtred devises a strategy to invade and conquer Wessex itself. But fate has very different plans.
Bernard Cornwell’s The Burning Land is an irresistible new chapter in his epic story of the birth of England and the legendary king who made it possible.
Can I just say how creepy Cornwell makes Skade? That woman is everything that’s wrong with humanity wrapped in a beautiful shell, which is not okay. Throughout the story, she swings from one end of the pendulum (brutally murdering a land owner to find his gold) to the other (placidly acting as Uhtred’s woman), but her evil underlines everything she does. It’s disturbing. What’s more disturbing? The number of men this woman has gone through to find the means to her end. Cornwell actually does a fairly good job of explaining why this woman is so fracking insane without losing the sometimes frenetic pace of the story. I’m sure he could have gone a little farther in his characterization, but he would have had to sacrifice something else and it wouldn’t have been worth it.
Aethelflaed, on the other hand, is completely magnificent. She reminds me a little of Eleanor of Aquitaine in that regard. Sure she’s married to one of the larger jackasses of the time, but she finds ways to move around him and it’s wonderful to watch. With all of Uhtred’s fogginess, Aethelflaed is one hell of a reason to read this story. Though if you’re looking for a reason, you should know that pretty much all of my favorite characters are in this one and some that I was ambivalent have risen to become beloved (Osferth). You get to watch Finan, Father Prylig, Ragnar, Father Willibald, Brida, and Steapa fight for their beliefs, whether they be loyalty, land, or a god. Cornwell does a superb job of weaving in characters that you love to keep the plot moving along and it’s incredibly effective.
4 ink bottles. It’s dark, but it’s enthralling nonetheless.