- Page Count: 368
- Release Date: January 3, 2006
- My Rating: 4.5 stars
This is the story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.
The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides. By now he is a young man, in love, trained to fight and ready to take his place in the dreaded shield wall. Above all, though, he wishes to recover his father’s land, the enchanting fort of Bebbanburg by the wild northern sea.
This thrilling adventure—based on existing records of Bernard Cornwell’s ancestors—depicts a time when law and order were ripped violently apart by a pagan assault on Christian England, an assault that came very close to destroying England.
I’ve been staring at this book on my shelf for several years and finally just picked it up after liking the show on Netflix. I reallllly wish I would’ve read it sooner! The writing totally pulled me in and I read the whole thing in one sitting.
Uhtred is a Northumbrian boy who’s taken and raised by Danes, so he’s a bit confused over his loyalties and identity. The story was told from the POV of his older self looking back on his life, but somehow managed to sound like both an older man and young boy at the same time. Uhtred’s personality really came through in the narration and I absolutely loved his character! His frank views were hilarious.
And I truly have no idea why I’m so obsessed with this time period because it’s not like it would’ve been particularly fun for me to live back then as a woman (even though I’d like to pretend everyone was a shieldmaiden). The women in this book are mostly there to get raped, be sold as wives, bear a lot of sons before the age of 17 (or die trying), and/or do endless manual labor:
Every woman had to spin and weave. Ragnar reckoned it took five women or a dozen girls a whole winter to spin enough thread to make a new sail for a boat, and boats were always needing new sails, and so the women worked every hour the gods sent. They also cooked, boiled walnut shells to dye the new thread, picked mushrooms, tanned the skins of the slaughtered cattle, collected the moss we used for wiping our arses, rolled beeswax into candles, malted the barley, and placated the gods.”
This book was so much more than what I was expecting, though. Yes, it’s a lot of Viking raids, death, and battle… but the complex characters felt refreshingly authentic. I loved how the book didn’t romanticize the time period, yet didn’t dwell on any brutality for shock value either. It felt more like an honest account of a character’s life then.
If you’re into Vikings, medieval Britain, or historical fiction (or just liked the Netflix show) then I definitely recommend this!!