War Lord (The Last Kingdom #13) audiobook
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As historical fiction series go, Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales has in my view been one of the best, and I’m sorry I can’t cheer lustily for the final entry. The sad fact is that in order to take the series from its starting point to the point at which Cornwell wanted to end it, Cornwell had to endow both Uhtred and Finan with superhuman powers. Both characters are approximately eighty years old when they fight the climactic Battle of Brunanburh in 937. They don’t sit on their horses behind the lines directing the troops, which would have been believable. No, Cornwell has to have Finan defeat a much younger, stronger man in single combat, while he puts Uhtred – eighty-year old Uhtred – in the front rank of the shield wall, from where he kills any number of younger, bigger, stronger men. Oh, and for no good reason, a wonderful character from the first books, Steapa Snotor, returns. He’s also about eighty, and leads the Saxon cavalry in a charge at the climactic moment of the battle. Eighty years old, and fighting with a sword from horseback. Come on, this is just silly.
Cornwell knows what he’s done, and offers a half-hearted acknowledgement in the notes at the end of the book, comparing Uhtred to Beowulf, who was also at an advanced age when he killed a dragon.
As for the body of the book, it repeats themes that have by now become overused: Uhtred’s loyalty is torn between kings; Uhtred thinks he might be fighting on the wrong side; Uhtred leads his men across bleak landscapes palled by smoke as war rages. We’ve been here before, many times. The well has run dry.
I love historical fiction and have nothing but admiration for Mr. Cornwell. I’m sorry the TV series didn’t do a better job of bringing the books to life, but I hope Cornwell made tons of money off of it. But Uhtred, like Muhammad Ali, came out of retirement one too many times for me.
That said, I am waiting with bated breath to see what Mr. Cornwell will start next.
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Ive been waiting for Cornwell to tie up this series for three or four stories, but see now why he kept it going. The story of Uhtred neatly brackets the unification of England, from Alfreds time to that of his grandson Aethelstan, who wins a major victory bringing the four kingdoms south of Scotland for the first time under one crown.
Yes, yes, he made Uhtred live an awfully long time, an adult warriorhood lasting from first distinguishing himself with Alfred in the swamps of Somerset (878) to this battle (937). Sixty years is a long time to be swinging a sword and standing in the shield wall, which he does one more time here. But we can allow Cornwell this artistic license.
Uhtred spent most of the series, and his life, trying to regain his rightful title, lands and stronghold at Bebbanburg. Hes finally got it, but now must defend it. Its part of Northumbria, a smaller, weaker kingdom sandwiched between Scotland and whats just now becoming Englaland.
Both monarchs eye its lands, particularly as its got a very weak monarch, and both particularly want Uhtreds nearly impregnable fortress of Bebbanburg, on the North Sea coast just south of Scotland. Both the Sccttish king Constantine and Aethelstan, king of Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia, come to Uhtred with carrots and sticks, proposed alliances and demands that he submit. Uhtred fears that no matter who he sides with, theyll depose him and put a loyalist in his castle.
Aethelstan proposes a particularly sweet deal, offering him rich lands in the kingdoms south in exchange for Bebbanburg. Uhtred has no intention of yielding his ancestral lands, but faces wars he cant win from either side should it come to that.
So, one more time, Uhtred rides, trying to glean the motives and plans of his rivals, and contemplating fate as he picks his way through increasingly murky events. Hes never, of course, a passive onlooker. Hes still the trickster, still the warrior and fearsome adversary.
Cornwell builds toward the climactic battle of Brunanburh, one he notes in an afterword has been too little appreciated for its historic importance. For a long time scholars couldnt even decide what part of England it was fought in, but recent archaeological finds locate it near the western coast, and thats where Cornwell puts it. His battle scenes are, as ever, so clearly recounted you can visualize them; they never get lost in the fog of war.
Ill miss Uhtred. The Saxon Tales rank second in Cornwells work to the Sharpe stories, but Uhtred is more fun than Sharpe. Sharpe is a British soldier during the Napoleonic wars. Uhtred is a Saxon but essentially a Viking, raised by the Vikings after his father is killed by them, partaking in their religion and life philosophy, and warring and carousing just like them as he lives and battles his way towards Valhalla. Vikings have more fun, say, than those adhering to the Christians nailed god.
Uhtred is his own man, never more so than in this final story, where he defies kings again and again in pursuit of his destiny. Yes, its more than time for him to retire, but Cornwell has him go out in style.
Audiobook War Lord (The Last Kingdom #13) by Bernard Cornwell
I don’t do synopses and I’m not a fan of spoilers so I don’t do them. You should take the time and enjoy this book. If you aren’t starting at the beginning, you’re lucky because you should go straight to book 1 and begin there instead for hours of enjoyable entertainment. Every Cornwell book I’ve read, and I guess that’s more than 30, has been enjoyable and entertaining. War Lord is no different. Uhtred has been around the block by now and he gets aches and pains but he’s still a warrior right to the end of the series. Cornwell has left nothing undone in the series. All the plot lines get wrapped up in interesting ways. War Lord, like all the other books in the series is a page turner. Not only do you get action, you get hearts and minds, you get vivid description of the time and place. You get fears and concerns along with joy and disappointment. This is a very well written book that I totally connected with. I highly recommend the book and the entire series. Go ahead, read it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Audio War Lord (The Last Kingdom #13) narrated by Matt Bates
I must say I was saddened to see this was the last installment of the Saxon Tales. It has been a sincere pleasure to read this series and I found myself eagerly anticipating each new book. It was a pleasure to follow Uhtred’s story. But with three of my ancestors hailing from Southern England, and one from Scotland, I was grateful to have learned so much about what made the island special. Thank you.
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Loved this series, I dont want it to end but all good things as they say, throughly enjoyed this better than GoT.
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