A few weeks ago I finished reading The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. I like The Last Kingdom so much that I bought the second book in the series, The Pale Horseman. What a great decision – this book was excellent.
Cornwell writes the book in the same style as he wrote The Last Kingdom, so it felt like I was just reading the next chapter in a novel (which is the point when writing a series, I guess). It follows the adventures of Uhtred as he fights for the Saxon side during the Danish invasions in the 800’s. In this novel, Uhtred continues to struggle with living in a country that is being converted to Christianity as well as serving a king that is anything but happy with Uhtred. If you get this novel, pay special attention to the relationship that develops between Uhtred and Steapa. I have a feeling the mutual respect that eventually forms will play a part in future novels (it certainly saves Uhtred’s life at one point during The Last Kingdom).
During the early part of the novel King Alfred is forced into the swamps of his land. In this swamp-land not only can the Danish invaders not attack him, but he finds himself in need of Uhtred’s fierce fighting skills and brash leadership style. However, one of the best scenes/events that takes place in the swamp is between Uhtred’s Briton-born love interest, Iseult, and King Alfred’s sick, dying son. Iseult performs a pagan ritual and essentially gives the boy a rebirth, but at the cost of some other boy dying somewhere else (the identity of that boy is revealed later in the book). The boy’s rebirth heals his health problems and puts Uhtred in favor with the King and the Queen for a time.
The book ends with a massive battle between the muster of Wessex and the surrounding lands fighting against two Danish leaders and their armies – Guthrum and Svein. Cornwell does an excellent job writing this part of the novel and his skill really comes across to the reader. Believe me – it’s well done. In this battle, Leofric – Uhtred’s older warrior friend – falls, but King Alfred’s forces are victorious.
The Pale Horseman is an excellent work of historical fiction. I highly recommend it to any one who is interested in pre-medieval history and historical fiction in general. For casual readers, Cornwell’s writing style will draw you in and impress you with each new chapter. This is a great read from a great writer.