War Lord (Saxon Tales 13)

Written by Bernard Cornwell
Review by Ray Thompson

This is the (probable) conclusion to The Last Kingdom series, which follows the adventures of Uhtred, the lord of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh), during the wars of King Alfred and his successors as they strive to drive back or pacify invaders and unite the separate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into ‘Englaland’. By now, Uhtred is old, content to rest in his beloved fortress, but these are dangerous times. A northern alliance of Scots, Vikings, and Britons is being forged, King Athelstan is moving to protect his kingdom, and both sides want Uhtred and his mighty fortress. Peace is not an option, but which side should he choose and who can he trust?

To protect his fortress and those who rely upon his protection, Uhtred must exert all his powers. Though his fighting abilities have waned with age, he has learned from long experience and his instincts remain undimmed. These help him to outmanoeuvre younger, over-confident foes, both in combat and in tactical planning, but will they be enough to overcome the odds at the Battle of Brunanburg?

Uhtred is an epic hero in the Dark Age mode, as comparisons with Beowulf suggest: both are magnificent warriors ready to sacrifice themselves to protect their people. Cornwell shows not only his achievements, however, but his uncertainties and the cost. Though quick to avenge wrongs, he is saddened at the deaths of those he cares about: family, friends, and followers, even admired foes whom fate decrees he must oppose. Cornwell writes vivid fight scenes, he generates suspense as his hero faces danger, and he provides fascinating insights into a little-known era of 10th-century history. But this is Uhtred’s story before all else, and it is deeply involving. We share his concerns, admire his efforts to do the right thing, and celebrate his victories. Highly recommended.