If you’ve been reading JerseySmarts.com for a while, then you may remember a couple of book reviews that I posted a few years ago. The first of those book reviews was for a book called The Last Kingdom and the second was for a book called The Pale Horseman. Both of these historical fiction novels are written by Bernard Cornwell and they are the first two books in a series he is calling “The Saxon Tales.”
I read those books a few years ago and I really enjoyed them. However, as you’ve probably garnered from this blog – I’ve been booked up over the last few years and thus I haven’t had a chance to catch up on reading the remaining books in this series. Until now, that is…
Lords of the North was one of those books that had been shuffling around from my bookshelf to my home office desktop to the bureau and so on for the better part of a year and a half. In fact, in the last year and a half I only managed to read about 6 pages of the book. But then a few weeks ago I picked up the book on a Friday night and started reading a little bit more of it. I read through the first few pages again, moved along to the next few pages, and before I knew it I was some 50+ pages into the book. Fast forward a mere 24 hours later and I had finished reading the Lords of the North.
That’s how captivating this story is once you start to get into it (and have the benefit of having read the previous two novels in the series). The third installment of The Saxon Tales follows the story of Uhtred Ragnarson as he travels back to his ancestral homeland in Northumbria. What I remember about the “plot thickening” in this story is the part where Uhtred helps free a slave by calling himself Thorguild the Leper. Nothing wrong with a little deception when you’re trying to keep yourself alive, right? The slave turns out to be a guy named Guthred who proclaims himself the King of Northumbria. This part of the book stayed with me as a major plot point because after helping Guthred build some credibility for himself to be the King of that part of England, Guthred goes and sells Uhtred into slavery as demanded by Uhtred’s uncle.
Talk about getting screwed over by your boss, right?
The story takes a bit of a detour when Uhtred becomes a slave. I’m not sure if it’s one of Cornwell’s literary devices or if it’s just the way this part of the book presents itself to the reader, but I thought the entire story slowed down at this point. Having read three of Cornwell’s books (and I’m almost finished with the fourth book in this series), I’ve noticed that when he writes about fighting scenes and action scenes, he’s great. However, when he writes about the mundane existence of a slave (for example), the writing slows down. There are several places in Cornwell’s books that have these slow down points and, as an informed reader, I find myself annoyed at the slow down in the story, but understanding of the need to do so.
The other part of this book that stands out in my mind is the final fight for Dunholm. Uhtred takes Guthred’s “army” and leads an attack against Kjartan. This is the same Kjartan whose son (Sven) had one of his eyes plucked out by Ragnar – the guy who essentially raised Uhtred and whose name he uses in his last name (Ragnarson). What stands out to me in this battle is the release of Thyra and her hounds. From the way that Thyra is described in the book, I envisioned a crazy lady that appeared as a mix of the crazy cat lady from the Simpson and the lustful, angry version of Galadriel from the Lord of the Rings.
Not exactly a pretty sight if you’re trying to win a battle against her side, you know?
Of course, like in all great movies and novels, the good guys win in the end and Uhtred defeats both of his long-time enemies (Kjarten and Sven) as well as a much stronger, better funded enemy in Ivarr Ivarsson.
I’ve never considered myself a big reader of historical fiction until I began reading The Saxon Tales. They’re very entertaining and Cornwell skillfully crafts each book so that it can be read on its own. Readers of this series, though, know that each book builds on the one prior and that the characters continue to develop throughout. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has read the first two novels in The Saxon Tales as well as anyone who enjoys historical fiction (set in the late 800s and early 900s). Also, those who enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction might enjoy how Cornwell intersperses the Norse religion and Christianity throughout the tale because the character think that the gods of each religion are using their “magical powers” to help them along.
Plus, it’s the summertime and who wouldn’t love a good book to read while laying on the beach?! If you’re headed to the beach this year, then I suggest picking up the Lords of the North – I think you’ll really enjoy it!