bookspluslife

March 19, 2016

Book: The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:49 pm

imageThis is the second book in the Saxon series.

You need to read the first one, The Last Kingdom,  to get the full benefit of the second.

Uhtred, having destroyed Ubba in the first book, waits to go to his wife and does not rush to Alfred immediately. He finds that Odda the Younger does go there and claims all the glory with Alfred. When Uhtred defiles the sanctity of the church by drawing the Serpent Breath (his sword) and threatening Odda, he gets punished by his command being taken away from him and made to crawl humiliatingly to Mother Mary. In anger he comes home and finds his servant Oswald stealing timber from him and kills him, drives his family from their home and confiscates all the money Oswald had buried. His wife Mildred is horrified and repulsed by these acts of wanton cruelty.

 

Uhtred also plans to escape back to the Danes who had brought him up and join Ragnar the Younger against Alfred.

 

Bur Alfred forestalls him making Ragnar a captive.

 

Uhtred, though aligned with Saxons, disguises a ship as a Viking ship and kills Britons and plunders their silver.

 

He is asked by a Saxon king to help him fight a rival king and finds that the rival king is a Dane called Svein. He is promised some silver and instead decides to betray the king and plunder all his wealth.

 

He is in partnership with Svein, a Viking and agrees to split the spoils evenly. They attack the Saxon king and allows Svein to kill all the priests and plunder the silver. They do divide it evenly. He then goes to Ireland and gets more plunder, including a silver religious item.

 

He gets found out by the priest Asser whom he let live and is caught by Alfred with Leofric in tow. They are given the death sentence but he takes an offer that is available.

 

He agrees to fight the giant Steapa to save his honour but in the middle of the fight, which Alfred did not attend, Danes arrive to pillage and burn the city. He later finds that Danes have occupied almost all of Wessex and Alfred is on the run!

 

He and Leofric escape and Uhtred rescues the King from certain death and when Alfred wants to take him to the midst of Danes, he asks that Iseult be held as a hostage. They still do not trust him. When he goes alone to count the enemy strength, he finds that Alfred has gone alone into the Danish fortress and goes to get him back, furious at Alfred’s idiocy. He unexpectedly meets Ragnar, who he thought was killed as a hostage by Alfred. Alfred makes peace between Steapa and Uhtred.

 

He escapes back and goes to see Odda the Younger with Stead. Odda has foolishly made his piece with Svein and when Uhtred starts war preparations, is furious. Uhtred learns that his son is dead and that Mildred has become a nun.

 

He finds that Odda the Younger has made his peace with Guthrum allowing him to marshall his forces and finds that Guthrum has promised to make Odda the King when he defeats Alfred. Steapa promises to fight Uhtred but unexpectedly kills Odda instead in an exhilerating twist.

 

The story takes off and the tension keeps growing; Uhtred is sent with a patrol to lure the Danes and he conceives of a brilliant plan to get the Danes to come to an island and he goes out and leaves them stranded. What they do not know is that at high tide, the island submerges and he disables the only boat they came in and goes back to the main island. Most Danes had gone to plunder and he easily overwhelmes the handful of guards and burns all of the Danish ships, thereby preventing Svein from attacking Alfred, who has taken refuge in a swamp, coming in through the water.

 

It gets better. Alfred collects a large army and waits for Svein and Guthrum, who have joined forces to come attacking, with Saxons, even with the large army, outnumbering the Saxons three to one! There are fabulous scenes where Alfred finds absolutely no one flocking to his banner for a time and Uhtred resists temptations to join the Danes with his friend Ragnar.

 

The final battle is fabulous and the results are astounding. Well told story. This is what makes Bernard sparkle, the scenes that he describes. He saves Ragnar, though, even after his capture by Saxons.

 

Great story.

 

Be sure to read the author’s notes at the end where he tells what he has fictionalized and what is real. This is good stuff. The story he wove is coherent and you cannot tell fact from fiction.

 

Easily deserves a 8/ 10

 

– – Krishna

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