The flame bearer by Bernard Cornwell

The relative peace between Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria makes that Uhtred sets his hopes on reconquering his family castle of Bebbanburg. But the cunning King Constantin of Scotland forces him south, where lord Aethelhelm tries to persuade Uhtred’s son-in-law Sigtryggr to a fight.

This is the 10th book in the series and we are nearing the end (only three more to go after this one). Uhtred finally begins his lifelong quest to conquer Bebbanburg since Aethelflaed and Sigtryggr have signed a peace treaty that also king Edward of Wessex is willing to respect.

The previous book in the series ‘Warriors of the storm‘ killed off some of Uhtred’s bitter enemies. So ‘The flame bearer‘ introduces us to a few new characters and foes. Such as Lord Aethelhelm, who we already knew from the previous books but now takes a stand against Uhtred to support his grandson Aethelweard’s claim against that of Aethelstan. There’s also the Scottish king Constantin of whom we’ll see more in the next books I hope. And then there’s the mad and cunning bishop Ieremias. He was a Dane before he started to believe in Christian miracles and now wants to take hold of the holy island of Lindisfarne to build a church for -the nailed- God. A character only Cornwell can come up with.

This is one of the best books in the series because it’s full of intrigue and cunning tactics. And the book ends of course with a phenomenal battle scene on the walls of Bebbanburg (better known as Bamburgh Castle). This means that there’s less time for character development, but you can’t have everything. And ‘The flame bearer’ certainly has enough allure and offers pure entertainment. Up to the next one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read these books or seen the television series?

Warriors of the storm by Bernard Cornwell

In the middle of the night thousands of Danes land in the north of Mercia uniting under their new ‘king’ Ragnall Ivarsson, brother to Uhtred’s son-in-law. It’s still unclear if Ragnall wants to overthrow the lady of Mercia Aethelflaed or whether his eye wanders towards Northumbria. In the meantime, Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra is being besieged in Ireland. Uhtred now has to choose between his love for his daughter and his oath as a warrior to Aethelflaed.

This is already the ninth installment in the Saxon series and we meet a much older battle-hardened Uhtred now. The previous book, the empty throne, ended with a sudden surprise for me, so I was curious to see how the story would continue. What I liked about this book is that it offers a great balance between some terrific battle scenes and the rest of the story. Uhtred is always busy in this novel and I in particular liked his small adventure into Ireland. We also finally get an insight into Finan’s past. He’s by far my favorite side character.

Although this certainly can be read as a stand-alone as the story offers a lot of closure at the end (no big cliffhanger this time), I do believe you’ll enjoy it more when you’ve read all the books in the series. There are some characters from Uhtred’s past popping up and we do say goodbye to some of them (which was a bit of a surprise for me but it promises some new characters in the next books).

Another aspect I enjoyed is Uhtred’s relationship with his children which is a big part of the story. As is the constant strive between the Christian God and the old Gods of the Danes. In that regard, I was a bit disappointed by the fast end of the storyline in Mercia. I had hoped father Leofstan would become a bigger part of the story. I also guessed the truth around Mus, but she was a great addition to the cast nonetheless. It made the final battle actually quite funny. Nobody can write that kind of scene as good as Cornwell.

Warriors of the storm was another great read. In the next book, the flame bearer, Uhtred will return to Bebbanburg and yes, aren’t we all looking forward to that?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The empty throne by Bernard Cornwell

Lord Aethelred, the ruler of Mercia, is dying. Leaving no heir to the already weakened kingdom. King Edward of Wessex and his father-in-law, the cunning Aethelhelm, desire to fulfill Alfred’s dream of a united England, while his sister Athelflaed is fighting the Danes in the northern part of the realm. As Aethelred’s widow, both Edward and the Mercian lords would see her retire to a nunnery. Meanwhile, her warrior and lover, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is still recovering from wounds inflicted by Cnut’s sword. Who will lay claim to the empty throne?

If you would’ve told me a few years ago that one of my favorite book series would be about bloody battles between the English and the Danes, I’d not have believed you. And I admit that it was only after watching the first season of the BBC-series The Last Kingdom that I found my way to Cornwell’s epic tale about Uhtred, a christian war lord raised by Danes.

The empty throne is the 8th installment in the Saxon series, currently used to shoot season 5. But I loved it again every bit. Yes Cornwell uses the same recipe, but it’s a proven one. And he dares to surprise you, as he does with the prologue in this book.

Uhtred is no longer young and weakened after the last epic battle at the end of The pagan lord. A new generation of ambitious man preys on his postion as Aethelflaed advisor and war lord. And his children will play their part. But as you could expect, Uhtred may not be as sickly as they think.

This may not be my favorite part from the series, as it is less action-packed. It lacks a grand battle finale. But the political schemes about the succesion of Mercia are intriguing, as is Uhtred’s excursion to Wales to find a sword—what else? And the ending might still surprise you. It certainly did surprise me. Uhtred is not out of trouble yet… I’m looking forward to read Warriors of the storm very soon!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Did you read any of the Saxon series? Or do have you some recommendation about the viking era?