The novel covers the events surrounding the death of Alfred the Great of Wessex in 899. His son Edward is heir to the throne, much to the chagrin of Alfred’s nephew Æthelwold. Uhtred, the protagonist of The Saxon Tales and the warrior who defeated many a Dane in defense of Alfred’s kingdom, is in his forties by this novel. He is still the lover of Æthelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, and remains the greatest Saxon warrior in England. But his own life and the fate of the kingdom become threatened by Alfred’s impending demise as a cast of Danes, and even some treacherous Saxon lords, scheme to take Wessex for their own. And killing Uhtred of Bebbanburg is at top of the list towards achieving that goal.
As with most of the novels in The Saxon Tales series, the foundation for this plot was laid with events and characters from earlier books. Familiar villains, like Haesten the Dane, are back, as are allies including Father Willibald, Father Beocca, Steapa, and Finan. And like many of Cornwell’s novels, this one builds towards a climactic battle with the Danes over the fate of Wessex. Cornwell writes medieval battle scenes better than any author I have read, and the several in this novel are the highlights of the story. There is also a bit of a puzzle in the plot, because this time none of the Danes’ actions make sense to Uhtred until he unravels a mystery at the end. I truly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it!
One last point, albeit slightly off topic. I bought this book in hardcover as soon as it was released, and started reading it in that format. But when the e-book went on sale on Amazon, I bought a copy of that too. I actually finished this novel on my Kindle Fire and found I could read at a much faster pace when my eyes weren’t straining to read the smaller, printed text. I think this confirms that, despite a lifelong love of hardcover books, I actually prefer reading on the Kindle. I would be curious to know if any of you have reached a similar conclusion.