The Empty Throne
The eighth entry in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, The Empty Throne finds our hero, Uhtred, somewhat incapacitated following the events of the previous novel, The Pagan Lord. Uhtred, ever arrogant and headstrong, finds himself in uncharted territory as he attempts to recover from the wound inflicted on him by Cnut. In constant pain, Uhtred becomes convinced the only hope for his recovery lies in finding the blade that caused the wound. Unfortunately, his quest for the sword takes second place once news of the death of the husband of his lover, Æthelflaed, erupts. This unrest of power calls into question who will succeed Æthelred on the throne of Mercia, and places the life of King Edward’s son in peril. Uhtred supports Æthelflaed herself taking over the rule, but getting the other men to acquiesce to a feminine reign will be next to impossible. But impossible is what our Uhtred does best.
I confess to feeling hero-worship for Uhtred, and this installment does nothing to alleviate my ardor. Even while ailing, Uhtred is a force to be reckoned with; his agile mind is matched only by his cunning battle sense. Indeed, no one does battle scenes quite as vividly as Cornwell, placing the reader firmly inside the moment, and Uhtred is always a step ahead of his enemies. Uhtred is also often irreverent (his “conversion” to Christianity… again… is particularly amusing) and always the lover and leader. Even if he is a figment of Cornwell’s imagination, he is woven so seamlessly and so completely into the historical facts that one could become convinced that Uhtred orchestrated it all. The Empty Throne is a pleasure to read, and Uhtred is a hero for the ages.