Book Review: The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell

Book 2 of The Saxon Stories

Following on immediately from the first novel, Uhtred finds himself frustrated by the tentative peace between Guthrum and Alfred and heads off to Cornwall as mercenary for a British King fighting off the Danes. During the course of the novel, Alfred retreats to the marshes of Athelney, and his kingdom is reduced to a few miles square. Uhtred is still a follower of the “heathen” ways despite Alfred’s attempts to Christianise him. One tactic is marrying him off to a widowed noble woman and giving him her former husband’s lands… land that is riddled with debt, something that Uhtred realises was designed to trap him. The novel ends with the historic Battle of Ethandun and this is where Cornwell really shines. The battles are well researched and well written, informative as well as entertaining.

There is not really that much to stand this book out from any of the others. It is, after all, the second in a series of what is expected to be a 6 or 7 volume story. That said, the same praise and criticisms from the first book remain. The formula is typically Cornwell, the characters are a little flat with the exception of Uhtred who acts as a narrator. The fictional characters gel well into the narrative with the historical figures and Cornwell admits throughout that he has jiggled around actual events to make it fit the course of Uhtred’s tale.

This really lacks the impact of the first for much of the book

3.5/5

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