Book Review: The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

Book 5 of The Saxon Stories

This is the fifth in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series and here we see Uhtred back to his best. After an incident with a crazed monk, Uhtred is forced to flee Alfred’s Wessex and strikes north to Anglia with a mind to return to his ancestral home of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh Castle) where he encounters old friends and foes.

After some complications in the earlier books, Cornwell finally seems ready to start grasping the story as it affects Uhtred instead of the grand historical events of the period. In this way, this novel feels very much in keeping with the first two books. We see the return of Ragnar and Gisela and Uhtred returning to his pagan Viking roots away from the Christian piety of Wessex, a place that Uhtred clearly hates to be by now.

Of course, comparisons will always be drawn with ‘Sharpe’. Both men are no nonsense, both are good soldiers, they are brave and fearless fighters and elements in their character working against them when it comes to those in authority. For Sharpe, it is the fact that he is an Officer raised from t’ranks. For Uhtred, it is that he is a pagan in Alfred’s very Christian Wessex. Though the conflict between the two men was interesting, it was starting to feel a little stale in “Sword Song”. Perhaps Cornwell felt the same way and took the decision to remove Uhtred from Wessex. You also get the feeling that he is starting to wind up the Saxon Stories now.

3.5/5

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