Lords of the North (Reviews)

Cornwell at his best with Saxon ‘Lords’
Wed 31 Jan 2007
By Deirdre Donahue, USA Today

Everyone has personal fictional faves, the comfort food you find on a bookshelf, not in the fridge: Chick lit. Thrillers. Sci-fi. But for readers who find contentment in reading historical novels featuring clanking swords and battlefield carnage, Bernard Cornwell should be at the very top of your list.
Most famous for his Richard Sharpe series about a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars, the prolific Cornwell has written many other historical series covering a range of times and places.

But his newest, the Saxon Stories, is very possibly his best. Following The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman, the third, Lords of the NorthL, set in ninth-century England, has just been published. (They should be read in order.)

The protagonist is the proud, resentful Uhtred. Though a Saxon lord by birth, he was reared by the Danes.

Cornwell’s two earlier books have described this angry young man’s path as he tries to navigate between the Christian Saxons and the pagan Danes. Creating a character who is torn between two cultures and religions allows Cornwell to convey what life was like in pre-Norman England.

Savage. Dangerous. Often short. Very light on personal grooming. And wildly exciting when viewed from the cozy comfort of one’s couch.

The pagan Danes who had invaded and ruled much of England are depicted as a dynamic warrior culture whose Norse religion celebrated courage and combat. The Saxons are a conquered people beginning to rebel.

Their leader is the devout Christian King Alfred of Wessex, with whom Uhtred has a complicated relationship. In this third book, the two groups are beginning to blend, laying the ground for a shared identity and language.

In his usual non-pedantic manner, Cornwell also slips in historical tidbits on everything from trade routes to religious relics to the role of women in medieval Europe.

But Cornwell keeps the pace crackling as Uhtred battles to find his place in a really tough world.