The Pagan Lord

Written by Bernard Cornwell
Review by Richard Lee

I do not generally read series of books, but I do read the Uhtred books, and greet each one with pleasure. It inevitably has the ‘failings’ I find with all series: too-familiar scenes, too-familiar jokes, the ‘shaggy-dog-story’ element. Where Bernard Cornwell excels is that despite this there is usually a freshness: an unexpected twist, a pitch-perfect action set-piece, a whimsy, audacity, horror or world-view that beguiles with its elegance (or inelegance).

In Pagan Lord what intrigued me first was Uhtred as flawed father: truly a poignant strand by the end of the novel. I then enjoyed the freebooting energy of the plot. Uhtred returns to Bebbanburg! An element I always enjoy in these novels is the Christian/Pagan conflict. As modern England gradually secularises, Cornwell muses on how it became Christian in the first place, and I find there is a relevance for then and now. Finally there is always a rough poetry to these books. Inspired by the earliest English verse, they convey the otherness of that melancholy and contracting world.

Then, before you know it, you are in the middle of a pivotal historic battle, a symphony of dread, brutality, entrails and heroism. And a great ending. Masterful.