Death of Kings

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Death of Kings (The Saxon Stories #6)
Bernard Cornwell

Although there’s a bit of a slow start to this Saxon Story, once Cornwell gets rolling, good lord is it impossible to put this book down. I have a sinus infection and I stayed up until midnight last night to get to the last 10% of the book.  As you are all expecting, this is more Edward’s story than it is Alfred’s and I have to say, it was refreshing after so many tales of the pious Alfred.  This is the first Saxon Story with some semblance of peace in it and I kind of love Uhtred’s reaction to it.  It makes him fidgety.  After so many years of battle after battle, Uhtred doesn’t trust peace and given his life story, that is as it should be.  There are a few new characters in this story, though they’re mostly priests and Danes and, of course since it’s Cornwell writing them, they’re fully actualized.  Though, my favorite character development was Uhtred next to Alfred’s death bed.  I love that Cornwell put Osferth there as a means of salving Alfred’s soul.  In some ways this story is completely unlike the rest of the Saxon stories.  It’s not completely filled up with blood, gore, and dying men.  Instead it tells the tale of a transition and it does it with subtlety and craft.

Publisher’s Blurb:

The fate of a new nation rests in the hands of a reluctant warrior in this thrilling sixth volume in the acclaimed New York Times bestselling Saxon Tales series.

As the ninth century wanes, Alfred the Great lies dying, his dream of a unified England in danger and his kingdom on the brink of chaos. While his son, Edward, has been named his successor, there are other Saxon claimants to the throne—as well as ambitious pagan Vikings to the north.

Uhtred, the Saxon-born, Viking-raised warrior, whose life seems to shadow the making of England itself, is torn between his vows to Alfred and his desire to reclaim his long-lost ancestral lands and castle in the north. As the king’s warrior, he is duty-bound, but Alfred’s reign is nearing its end, and Uhtred has sworn no oath to the crown prince. Despite his long years of service, Uhtred is still loath to commit to the old king’s Saxon cause of a united and Christian England. Now he must make a momentous decision, one that will forever transform his life . . . and the course of history: take up arms—and Alfred’s mantle—or lay down his sword and allow the dream of a unified kingdom to fall into oblivion.

Cornwell’s done something interesting over the course of these stories.  In the beginning, my natural love of Viking practicality (I blame Flanagan for making me love his Skandians so much) made me view the men of Wessex with a bit of scorn.  As the books have progressed and particularly in this one, I’ve come to view the Danes as troublesome, increasingly wanting them to leave England in peace and go raid somewhere else.  Now when Uhtred kills yet another Dane, I’m all for it, which is a mark of how subtly Cornwell wins your buy in.  As time goes on, as we grow old with Uhtred, it’s impossible to not adopt his enemies as your own.  As his loyalties are brought further and further under the helm of Wessex, so were mine.  Cornwell seemingly does this effortlessly.

I also loved how he made the women in the tale so critical to the success of the battles.  It was the Danes’ sorceress that gave the Danes the courage to attack Wessex in a battle that should have given them that kingdom if not for Uhtred’s defense of it. It was Uhtred’s angels that gave the people of Wessex the comfort that their god was with them.  It was Aelthelflaed that played such a large part in the final battle.  Cornwell does a superlative job of creating women who are subject to the restrictions of their time, but who seek to rise above them at the same time and it adds a depth to the tale.  Sure Uhtred is incredible to watch as he somehow anticipates and blocks every move of the Danes, but it’s the women who give the tale that extra shade of vibrancy.  Though, on second thought, the same can be said for all of the secondary characters Cornwell gives us to love.  In this story more than others, I found myself keeping track of the secondary characters in the back of my mind, worrying about them.

In the end, Cornwell has once again given us a gut clenching tale of love, hatred, loyalty, and oaths that is virtually impossible to put down.  This series is a must read.

4 ink bottles.

Book Links:  Goodreads, Publisher

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