Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell continues the chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg in the Saxon Tales.

Here is a brief summary of the book from the publisher:

It is a time of political turmoil once more as the fading King Edward begins to lose control over his successors and their supporters. There are two potential heirs—possibly more—and doubt over whether the once separate states of Wessex and Mercia will hold together. Despite attempts at pulling him into the political fray, Uhtred of Bebbanburg cares solely about his beloved Northumbria and its continuing independence from southern control.

But an oath is a strong, almost sacred commitment and such a promise had been exchanged between Uhtred and Aethelstan, his onetime companion in arms and now a potential king. Uhtred was tempted to ignore the demands of the oath and stay in his northern fastness, leaving the quarrelling Anglo-Saxons to sort out their own issues.  But an attack on him by a leading supporter of one of the candidates and an unexpected appeal for help from another, drives Uhtred with a small band of warriors south, into the battle for kingship—and England’s fate.

As with my other reviews of the books in this series, Sword of Kings does not disappoint. Everything from the plot to the character development is great–only difference with this book being that it has a twist for Uhtred. Cornwell shows Uhtred going through a little more adversity than normal – he is humbled. This humbling makes the story that much better.

Not only does Cornwell humble Uhtred, but he also continues to keep Uhtred human (rather than some superhuman that many authors tend to do for their protagonist). Cornwell often has Uhtred doubting his decisions–whether to rescue Queen Eadigfu or to honor his oath to Aethelstan to kill Aethelhelm and his nephew Aelfweard. It is refreshing to have the protagonist be unsure of him or herself.

The battle scenes are as epic as ever, which are visceral with a “down-in-the-trenches” description of men fighting with swords, axes, spears, and shields.

As I read each successive book, I have an increasing sadness knowing that Uhtred is getting older, thus his tale will end at some point in the nearer future.

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell’s Fools and Mortals is an interesting book that is a bit away from Cornwell’s style. I say a bit because he is known for war drama and Fools and Mortals deals nothing with war. But, it is heavy in drama with a dash of action.

The writing is excellent, as usual with Cornwell, with regard to character and plot development. The reader has the usual feelings for Cornwell’s heroines – likability with a dash of unsavoriness. In this case, it is Richard Shakespeare – brother to William. Richard is an actor in William’s company, but he is poor and resorts to thievery at times. He works hard to get bigger parts despite his brothers disdain for him.

The reader also has the usual feelings for the villains – disdain and hatred for their actions. There are many villains in this book – from Sir Godfrey, the churchman who preyed on young boys for their acting talents and their vulnerability, to Mister Price, a Puritan bent on ridding England of Catholics. The various villains do their best to thwart Richard.

The plot moves along fairly quickly until the end. It leads to climax where the villains are confronted and handled with a few twists along the way. One note on the plot, with a plot including Shakespeare, you have to expect a heavy influence of his plays. In Fools and Mortals, you will not be disappointed. However, I think Cornwell leans a little too much of the book’s text on dialogue from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The inclusion of the dialogue seemed to take up more of the book than deserved.

Although not one of his best, still a good read from Bernard Cornwell.