The Pale Horseman

Written by Bernard Cornwell
Review by Juliet Waldron

The much-anticipated sequel to The Last Kingdom starts at a gallop and never falters. The story of Uhtred, a nobleman raised by Danes, continues through the darker days of the war-torn ninth century. Uhtred has fought bravely for the English victory at Cynuit, but his heart—pagan and ever pragmatic—remains with the Danish enemy. After being robbed of the glory of killing the ferocious Ubba Lothbrokson, Uhtred leaves Wessex to play pirate in the Kingdom of Cornwall. Here, while looting a British town, he captures a queen who is also a magician. This enriching adventure comes close to ending his life, as news of his attack upon Christians reaches King Alfred, who summons him for judgment. As Uhtred has predicted, however, the Danes break their oath and reappear, this time literally on the King’s doorstep. His trial by combat is interrupted when the Court is forced to flee an advancing Danish army. Alfred’s rule is now, famously, reduced to a tract of Severn marsh. Uhtred, although his loyalties remain as divided as ever, not only shares the King’s exile but engineers his triumphant return. The author’s sympathy for the devil, in the form of Uhtred, remains delightfully unabated.