Book seven in this series set during a time that too few people know about. Cornwell has carefully crafted this book serial to demonstrate a difficult time in the formation of England. Initially it began as the story of a disenfranchised lord’s son betrayed by his uncle who finds himself in the employment of Alfred the Great.
For much of this series, that is how the story pans out. But Alfred died a couple of books back and a new difficult time is about to begin. It is one on which various factions in the Danelaw, in Mercia and Wessex are going to scrap it out. It is one in which a woman will reign victorious and set England on its path, but that is yet to come. In the meantime, this feels very much like a transitional book but one important for the wider context of the period.
The story starts with Uhtred angrily going to a monastery and denouncing his first-born son for becoming not just a Christian, but a monk. He takes away his name and renames his “Father Judas” – much to the annoyance of the other monks. He has his work cut out. No sooner has he got back to his land he sees it attacked and several people taken hostage. It is revealed to be his old enemy Cnut who tells Uhtred that it was done in retaliation – but it wasn’t Uhtred, as Cnut quickly learns. Somebody is trying to set them against each other and Uhtred offers to find out who. In the meantime, he heads north again to try (once again) to retake Bebbanburg. Some plot threads surrounding this story are tied up but he still doesn’t quite get what he wants.
Regular readers of this series should know what to expect by now. It is well-researched, reads easily and is a great introduction to a less well known period of England’s history. Uhtred is a colourful character – not always likeable but nearly always sympathetic through the lens of out own time. I wanted Uhtred to take Bebbanburg this time and to be honest, the failure to do so is getting a little wearisome. This thread needs tying up soon especially in light of the thread that did get tied up.
As I said above, this feels like a transitional book because it is set between two pivotal events in history – the death of Alfred and the rise to prominence of his daughter Aethelflaed as a leader in her own right. I am looking forward to the next book and will certainly carry on, but really starting to wonder just how much steam is left in this series. I hope it doesn’t get dragged on for the sake of cashing in.