Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan Lord: A Novel by Bernard Cornwell --- 299 pages

The seventh volume in Cornwell's Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Tales series about Alfred the Great and his successors and the bloody forging of England out of tribal Britain in the ninth and tenth centuries, as witnessed by the Saxon warlord Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

At the beginning of the tenth century, Alfred is dead and his son Edward is king of Wessex.  The land has endured an uneasy peace for ten years, but as Uhtred cynically remarks, all the talk of peace only convinces him to practice his shield wall. Edward is hedged about by ambitious vassals, the least trustworthy of which is his brother-in-law, Aethelred of Mercia; the Danish jarls Cnut Ranulfson and Sigurd Thorrson, who control Northumbria and East Anglia; the wild Welsh in the west and the even wilder Scots in the far north. If this is peace, says Uhtred, then give him war.

The Saxons under Alfred became Christians, but the Danes (with a few exceptions) still worshipped the old gods of the North. Uhtred is Saxon, but when his uncle usurped his heritage, the great fort of Bebbanburg, and sold Uhtred into slavery, it was Danes who rescued him and raised him. So Uhtred turned his back on the "nailed god" who had failed him and put his faith (such as it was) in the old gods. Ironically it is the pagan Uhtred whose fealty to Alfred and to Alfred's son never wavers, and for his loyalty he is anathema to the Christian priests who advise the king and urge the extermination of every man, woman and child who refuses to submit to the Church.

Now Uhtred, once again banished from the king's favor, leads his small band of loyal warriors in a daring attempt to retake Bebbanburg. Although the attempt fails, Uhtred manages to kill his uncle and take hostage the wife and son of his cousin. In the course of this attempt he stumbles upon a devious plot to attack Wessex and its ally Mercia. For the sake of his oath and his love for Edward's sister Aethelflaed, Uhtred sends a warning to the king, and throws his own small force into the path of the Danish battle horde in a desperate gamble to gain enough time for Edward and Aethelred to join forces and ride to meet the Danish threat at the ford of the River Tame at Teotanheale --- as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the year A.D.910.

Click HERE to read an interview with author Bernard Cornwell discussing The Pagan Lord.

Click HERE to watch a BBC documentary about Alfred the Great.

Click HERE to listen to an interview with Bernard Cornwell from the National

If you'd like to read the entire series The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Tales here are the titles to date in order:

The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, and The Pagan Lord. 

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