Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Pale Horseman, by Bernard Cornwell

This book was obtained from the Alachua County Public Library, is on CD, and is 14 hours and 35 minutes long. It is ably narrated by Tom Sellwood.

Uhtred returns, and he is nastier than ever. Perhaps it only seems that way because he is no longer the youth we made excuses for. He is also much more focussed on regaining the lands of his noble heritage, and he has the best chance of gaining them back under Alfred, who is trying to get England free of the Danes.

Alfred (one day to be referred to as "the Great") has tried negotiating his way to peace with the savage invaders, and each time he is betrayed. Lives and lands are lost, but Alfred, who is portrayed here as a bit of a religious nincompoop, keeps trying to use peaceful means while trying to save his enemies' souls. Uhtred finds this insufferable. Even though he likes the Danes, he is willing to kill all that he must to regain his own security. As you recall, Uhtred was raised a Dane after being captured as a boy, looks and dresses like a Dane, speaks the language, and is a very capable warrior and spy.

In spite of Alfred's well-meaning incompetence as a military leader, enough things break his way to keep him in the hunt for a unified English nation. So far, the Angles, the Saxons, the Britons, and the Northumberlands have warred on each other from time to time, and it is only now that a common enemy is making them work together. Although Alfred is pretty hard to take by the warriors, it is his vision that eventually saves England and its future.

Uhtred and the other bloodthirsty Saxons are indispensable, lethal tools in the service of Alfred. Neither could have prospered without the other. In this book, Alfred is a much better character than he was in the last. And he seems somewhat vindicated in his steadfast faith that God is for him, even when Alfred keeps screwing things up.

There are historical notes at the end. This one only gets 3 stars because it was not quite as interesting as the first one. I am going to take a break from Uhtred for about a week. Then I will take up the latest installment, Lords of the North.

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