Friday, April 22, 2016

Old Enemies Abound in Cornwell’s “Warriors of the Storm”

On the heels of my review of The Empty Throne, I’m offering my review of the next novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, Warriors of the Storm. The novel is another excellent installment in Cornwell’s ongoing saga about the Saxons and the Vikings in early ninth century England. 

Reading Warriors of the Storm I could not help but feel like the series in coming to its close. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is an old man by the time this novel begins, and his grown children are now central characters in his story. He has succeeded in putting the Lady Æthelflaed on Mercia’s throne, and is protecting the heir to Wessex, a young man named Æthelstan who Uhtred loves like a son. The Danes are still a threat, but Æthelflaed is devoted to their defeat, and soon all that will remain on Uhtred’s bucket list is Bebbanburg, the ancestral home that he has sought to reclaim since the first book in this nine book series. But Bebbanburg will have to wait at least one more novel, for this time around a few old enemies have returned to threaten Æthelflaed’s lands.

From the very first scene, Uhtred learns that his old nemesis Haesten is back. Haesten, who was a real historical figure, has been around since the second book and has become a major adversary, featuring prominently in The Burning Land, The Pagan Lord, and other books in the series. This time, he has allied with Jarl Ragnall Ivarson, known as Ragnall the Cruel, a Norse lord who ravaged Ireland before setting his sights on England. Ragnall is also the brother of Sigtryggr Ivarson, the dashing Viking lord who married Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra, and suddenly Uhtred is left to wonder whether his own son-in-law has allied with Ragnall to wage this war.

Brida is back in this one!
The most intriguing villain in this book, however, is the second old enemy to side with Jarl Ragnall – Brida, the Lady of Dunholm. I feel like we’ve grown up with Brida throughout this series. She was the Saxon slave who grew up with Uhtred, became his first lover, and ultimately chose the Danes over the English. She ended up as the lover to Uhtred’s brother, Young Ragnar, and served as a frequent ally and sometimes enemy throughout the series. With Ragnar dead, Brida’s anger over Uhtred’s allegiance to the Christian Saxons has now become all consuming. Even more, she’s become a pagan sorceress, and she ends up being one of Cornwell’s most disturbing villains since Nimue in his novel Excalibur

Uhtred has always been a cunning military strategist, and much of this novel concerns his efforts to out-think and out-maneuver Jarl Ragnall, his allies, and his army. Cornwell excels at this type of plot, and it’s no surprise that Warriors of the Storm is on par with most of his books in this series. Like all of his novels, this one is filled with action, including plenty of battles, an adventure in Ireland, and an attack on the Viking stronghold of Jorvik (York). I’ve said before the no one writes battles scenes better than Bernard Cornwell, and this book is no exception.

Once again, Uhtred’s children are co-stars in this story, much to my delight. Uhtred’s son Uhtred has become a fitting heir to his father as a warrior hero, and Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra has become even more like her beautiful mother Gisela, and a sorceress of sorts in her own right. She plays as big a role in this novel as she did in the last one, and the book is better for it. And even Uhtred’s oldest son, whom he disowned in The Pagan Lord when the boy became a Christian priest, plays a part in this tale.

After the events of this novel, I have to believe that the quest to reclaim Bebbanburg is up next. That’s my hope, at least, and it just might take Uhtred’s whole family to get the job done!

PS, you can read a preview of the book here!

* Brida image courtesy of BBC America.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Who could have possibly foreseen the Brida of the early books turning into this "disturbing villain" as you say?

I expect the next book to wrap it up. Having seen the series improve from book to book, it should be a doozy!