(2012) #17 review: Death of Kings

Death of Kings

(Saxon Stories #6)

by

Bernard CORNWELL

320 pages

Published by Harper in January 2012

I read this book for the following challenges:

      

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

I discovered Bernard Cornwell in May 2011, and read the first book of this series. Since then, I have devoured each following book, and was looking forward to the latest one – alas it seems only 1 more will be added to this series, BUT Cornwell has  written many other interesting series, so this is bearable!!

Like the previous books of this series, you see Uhtred fighting both with his body and mind between his allegiance to king Alfred, and his love for his Danish ancestors and friends. This is getting even more intense in this volume, as Alfred dies, and no one really knows what’s going to happen to the continent: will it be torn apart by local leaders with conflicting interests, or will it be finally totally overwhelmed by a major Danish invasion benefiting from the confused situation after the death of Alfred?

I really like the way Uhtred is portrayed with his inner conflict. And am looking forward to have him finally reach home, maybe, in the volume to come.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

As the ninth century wanes, England appears about to be plunged into chaos once more. For the Viking-raised but Saxon-born warrior, Uhtred, whose life seems to shadow the making of England, this presents him with difficult choices.

King Alfred is dying and his passing threatens the island of Britain to renewed warfare. Alfred wants his son, Edward, to succeed him but there are other Saxon claimants to the throne as well as ambitious pagan Vikings to the north.

Uhtred‘s loyalty – and his vows – were to Alfred, not to his son, and despite his long years of service to Alfred, he is still not committed to the Saxon cause. His own desire is to reclaim his long lost lands and castle to the north. But the challenge to him, as the king’s warrior, is that he knows that he will either be the means of making Alfred’s dream of a united and Christian England come to pass or be responsible for condemning it to oblivion. [Goodreads]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother was English, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his mother’s maiden name, Cornwell.
Cornwell was sent away to Monkton Combe School, attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher. He attempted to enlist in the British armed services at least three times, but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.
He then joined BBC’s Nationwide and was promoted to become head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland. He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News. He relocated to the United States in 1980 after marrying an American. Unable to get a Green Card, he started writing novels, as this did not require a work permit.
As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find that there were no such novels following Lord Wellington’s campaign on land. Motivated by the need to support himself in the U.S. through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series. He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most major battles of the Peninsular War.

Cornwell wanted to start the series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of “warm-up” novels. These were Sharpe’s Eagle and Sharpe’s Gold, both published in 1981. Sharpe’s Eagle was picked up by a publisher, and Cornwell got a three-book deal. He went on to tell the story of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel Sharpe’s Company published in 1982.
Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym “Susannah Kells”. These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms (aka The Aristocrats) in 1986. (Cornwell’s strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War.) He also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British, in 1987.
After publishing 8 books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series. They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain. The result was Sharpe’s Rifles, published in 1987 and a series of Sharpe television films staring Sean Bean.
A series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord (aka Killer’s Wake) in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and a political thriller called Scoundrel in 1992.
In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s 80th Birthday Honours List.
Cornwell’s latest work is titled Azincourt and was released in the UK in October 2008. The protagonist is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, another devastating defeat suffered by the French in the Hundred Years War. However Cornwell has stated that it will not be about Thomas of Hookton from The Grail Quest or any of his relatives. [Goodreads]

To know more about Bernard Cornwell and his work, there’s an excellent article on wikipedia, and great interviews and book trailers on his own website.

AVAILABLE EXCERPT

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My review #46: The Burning Land

The Burning Land

(Saxon Chronicles #5)

by

Bernard CORNWELL

336 pages

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

Every good thing has an end… I just finished the 5th volume of the Saxon Chronicles, and will have to wait until the 6th is published!
I really enjoyed a lot the whole series, even though some war details were sometimes a bit too bloody. But the characters are fantastically described, especially the hero Uhtred. His inner wrestling between his love for the Danes, who raised him, and Alfred, king of Wessex, the last area not yet completely dominated by the Danes, is almost as violent as the blows he gives with is fierce sword.

Interestingly, though Alfred descendants managed to create a real England, free from the Danish domination, England and the English language are still full witness of the powerful presence of the Dnes back then; just think about the days of the week, Thursday being the most obvious, in honor of the god Thor. Alfred did try to rename the days of the week on the basis of his strong Christian faith, but it never took. And of course not mentioning so many place names. I enjoyed this cultural aspect I was remiinded in this book.

The author does a great job I believe describing the religious context of the time, with the mix of paganism, Christianity, the common criticisms against too rich and immoral clerics. Some readers have expressed their shocking reaction, but it is alas historically proven that many clerics of the times were very far from being saints.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

The latest in the bestselling Alfred series from number one historical novelist, Bernard Cornwell. In the last years of the ninth century, King Alfred of Wessex is in failing health, and his heir is an untested youth. The Danes, who have failed so many times to conquer Wessex, smell opportunity! First comes Harald Bloodhair, a savage warrior leading a Viking horde, who is encouraged to cruelty by his woman, Skade. But Alfred still has the services of Uhtred, his unwilling warlord, who leads Harald into a trap and, at Farnham in Surrey, inflicts one of the greatest defeats the Vikings were ever to suffer. This novel, the fifth in the magnificent series of England’s history tells of the final assaults on Alfred’s Wessex, that Wessex survived to become England is because men like Uhtred defeated an enemy feared throughout Christendom. [Goodreads]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother was English, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his mother’s maiden name, Cornwell.

Cornwell was sent away to Monkton Combe School, attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher. He attempted to enlist in the British armed services at least three times, but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.

He then joined BBC’s Nationwide and was promoted to become head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland. He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News. He relocated to the United States in 1980 after marrying an American. Unable to get a Green Card, he started writing novels, as this did not require a work permit.

As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find that there were no such novels following Lord Wellington’s campaign on land. Motivated by the need to support himself in the U.S. through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series. He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most major battles of the Peninsular War.

Cornwell wanted to start the series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of “warm-up” novels. These were Sharpe’s Eagle and Sharpe’s Gold, both published in 1981. Sharpe’s Eagle was picked up by a publisher, and Cornwell got a three-book deal. He went on to tell the story of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel Sharpe’s Company published in 1982.

Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym “Susannah Kells”. These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms (aka The Aristocrats) in 1986. (Cornwell’s strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War.) He also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British, in 1987.

After publishing 8 books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series. They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain. The result was Sharpe’s Rifles, published in 1987 and a series of Sharpe television films staring Sean Bean.

A series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord (aka Killer’s Wake) in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and a political thriller called Scoundrel in 1992.

In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s 80th Birthday Honours List.

Cornwell’s latest work is titled Azincourt and was released in the UK in October 2008. The protagonist is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, another devastating defeat suffered by the French in the Hundred Years War. However Cornwell has stated that it will not be about Thomas of Hookton from The Grail Quest or any of his relatives. [Goodreads].

To know more about Bernard Cornwell and his work, there’s an excellent article on wikipedia, and great interviews and book trailers on his own website.

REVIEWS BY OTHERS

“Cornwell, a master of martial fiction, makes history come alive with his rousing battlefield scenes.” (Margaret Flanagan, Booklist )

“Cornwell (Agincourt) has been described as a master of historical fiction, but that may be an understatement. Cornwell makes his subject material come alive. Better, his major protagonist is totally believable and human.” (Robert Conroy, Library Journal )

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK BY CORNWELL?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE READING THIS BOOK?
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My review of: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom

(The Saxon Chronicles Series #1)

by

Bernard CORNWELL

333 pages

ABOUT THE BOOK

“Uhtred is an English boy, born into the aristocracy of ninth-century Northumbria. Orphaned at ten, he is captured and adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred’s fate is indissolubly bound up with Alfred, King of Wessex, who rules over the only English kingdom to survive the Danish assault.” The struggle between the English and the Danes and the strife between Christianity and paganism is the background to Uhtred’s growing up. He is left uncertain of his loyalties but a slaughter in a winter dawn propels him to the English side and he will become a man just as the Danes launch their fiercest attack yet on Alfred’s kingdom. Marriage ties him further still to the West Saxon cause but when his wife and child vanish in the chaos of the Danish invasion, Uhtred is driven to face the greatest of the Viking chieftains in a battle beside the sea. There, in the horror of the shield-wall, he discovers his true allegiance. [Goodreads]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother was English, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his mother’s maiden name, Cornwell.

Cornwell was sent away to Monkton Combe School, attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher. He attempted to enlist in the British armed services at least three times, but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.

He then joined BBC’s Nationwide and was promoted to become head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland. He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News. He relocated to the United States in 1980 after marrying an American. Unable to get a Green Card, he started writing novels, as this did not require a work permit.

As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find that there were no such novels following Lord Wellington’s campaign on land. Motivated by the need to support himself in the U.S. through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series. He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most major battles of the Peninsular War.

Cornwell wanted to start the series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of “warm-up” novels. These were Sharpe’s Eagle and Sharpe’s Gold, both published in 1981. Sharpe’s Eagle was picked up by a publisher, and Cornwell got a three-book deal. He went on to tell the story of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel Sharpe’s Company published in 1982.

Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym “Susannah Kells”. These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms (aka The Aristocrats) in 1986. (Cornwell’s strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War.) He also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British, in 1987.

After publishing 8 books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series. They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain. The result was Sharpe’s Rifles, published in 1987 and a series of Sharpe television films staring Sean Bean.

A series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord (aka Killer’s Wake) in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and a political thriller called Scoundrel in 1992.

In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s 80th Birthday Honours List.

Cornwell’s latest work is titled Azincourt and was released in the UK in October 2008. The protagonist is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, another devastating defeat suffered by the French in the Hundred Years War. However Cornwell has stated that it will not be about Thomas of Hookton from The Grail Quest or any of his relatives. [Goodreads].

To know more about Bernard Cornwell and his work, there’s an excellent article on wikipedia, and great interviews and book trailers on his own website.

REVIEWS BY OTHERS

“Masterful….[An]irresistible epic adventure….Cornwell deserves praise for his mesmerizing narrative finesse and his authentic historical detailing.” (Booklist )

“Intoxicating….Thrilling….Cornwell conveys the disquiet of change and the melancholy of extinction as few historical novelists manage to.” (Washington Post Book World )

“Highly recommended … another great historical series in the making.” (Library Journal (starred review) )

“Enthralling … the desperate, heroic struggle of Alfred “the Great” … against the seemingly invincible Vikings. (Wall Street Journal )

“History comes alive.” (Boston Globe )

“Enter Cornwell’s vividly drawn ninth-century Kingdom … after this dip into the Dark Ages, we want to go back.” (Entertainment Weekly )

“A crackling good storyteller.” (Publishers Weekly)

MY OWN THOUGHTS

First a confession: I actually don’t even remember how I first heard about Cornwell, but I totally fell in love with his books. For me, he’s the historical novelist at his best: great background research, great writing, lively and fun, fantastic characters, real  and/or imagined. This is my review for the 1st book in the series, and I’m currently reading the 4th, and he’s got quite a few other series!

There’s a great amount of blood for sure, but how can you talk about the 9th century in England with the Danish invasions without talking about blood? But it’s much more than that, and the personality of the hero Uhtred is so attractive. It’s  a great way to review the history of England, and how King Alfred fought hard to prevent it from being all Danish – that was a very close call actually.


HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE READING THIS BOOK?
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HISTORICAL NOVELIST,
OR A FAVORITE HISTORICAL NOVELS SERIES?
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