Friday, January 10, 2020

#IReadsYou Book Review: SWORD OF KINGS

HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

AUTHOR: Bernard Cornwell
ISBN: 978-0-06-256321-7; hardcover (November 26, 2019)
352pp, B&W, $27.99 U.S.

Sword of Kings is a 2019 novel from Bernard Cornwell, a bestselling British author of historical novels.  This is the twelfth book in Cornwell’s “Saxon Tales” series, his epic story of the making of England and his continuing story of pagan Saxon warlord, Uhtred of Bebbanburg.  “The Saxon Tales” series is also known as “The Last Kingdom” series (named for the first novel in the series), which is also the name of the television series adaptation.  Sword of Kings finds Lord Uhtred bound by an oath to insert himself in the middle of a war to determine who will rule Anglo-Saxon Christendom.

As Sword of Kings begins, Lord Uhtred is ruling his part of Northumbria from his family's fortress, Bebbanburg.  It is once more a time of political turmoil, and the first indication of this is that fishing ships in service to Uhtred begin to disappear.  Before long, Uhtred has evidence that his old political enemies want him dead.  Why?

King Edward is “Anglorum Saxonum Rex” – King of the Angles and the SaxonsKing of Wessex, of East Anglia, and of Mercia.  His dream is to create one realm for everyone who is Christian and who speaks the “Ænglisc” tongue, a kingdom to be called “Englaland” (or England, of course).  But Edward has fallen ill... again.  Rumor has it that he is dying... or is already dead.  Because of such rumors, news, and speculation, Uhtred feels the tug of an oath he made to Æthelstan of Mercia, Edward's eldest son, that he would protect him.  Because Uhtred is certainly no oath-breaker and since Æthelstan will undoubtedly make a claim on Edward's throne, Uhtred must leave his beloved Northumbria and travel south to join the young would-be-king. 

However, the most powerful Saxon of Wessex, Ealdorman Æthelhelm, is a supporter of another candidate to be king, his nephew, Ælfweard, King Edward's second oldest son.  Uhtred would love to leave the Anglo-Saxons to sort out their own issues, but he has made an oath to one royal candidate, been attacked by the supporter of another, and received an unexpected appeal for help from still another candidate.  Thus, Uhtred leads a small band of warriors south, into the battle for kingship, a struggle that may finally see him dead.

THE LOWDOWN:  I have read the seventh through this twelfth entry in “The Saxon Tales” series.  I love these books, and as soon as I reach the last page of one book, I dearly wish the next book was immediately available.  George R.R. Martin, the author of A Song of Fire and Ice (the inspiration for HBO's Emmy-winning “Game of Thrones” television series), says that Cornwell writes the best battles scenes he has ever read.  I can say that Cornwell's “Saxon Tales” are kind of like a real life “Game of Thrones,” with Cornwell taking liberties with the story of the creation of England.

In my review of the previous novel in this series, War of the Wolf, I wrote that I had practically run out of ways to praise Cornwell.  Eleven books into the series, Cornwell's narrative should have run out of steam, but it did not.  This twelfth novel, Sword of Kings, finds the series as strong as ever.  In fact, Sword of Kings may be the best “Saxon Tales” novel yet.

Sword of Kings borrows from several genres.  It is at once a sea-faring novel, with tales of adventure and war.  Next, it is an espionage thriller with daring scenes and sequences of infiltration, entrapment, and escape from enemy territory and strongholds.  Sword of Kings is, at its heart, historical fiction that delves into the world of kings and nobles, oaths, families, relationships and bonds, religious strife, and most of all, the world of power gained, lost, and consolidated on the way to making history.

To be downright crude dear reader, Sword of Kings is a page-turning, pot-boiling, compact literary beast that “goes for your nuts” (to employ a euphemism).  It is brutal and savage and as alluring and as enchanting as the powers of the gods these characters worship.

Bernard Cornwell is the lord king of historical fiction and the undisputed master of writing battle scenes.  And the sequence in which Cornwell depicts the final move by the winner of this game for Edward's throne is the bloody cherry on top of this breath-taking literary cake.  Sword of Kings wants to be the king of your holiday reading list.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of historical fiction and of Bernard Cornwell must have Sword of Kings.

10 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2019 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


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