Cornwell continues The Saxon Novels with further rowdy adventures in the Northern kingdoms (The Pale Horseman, Jan. 2006, etc.).
Alfred, the great but cranky Saxon monarch, is largely offstage in this particularly choice segment of what is turning into a satisfyingly long look at England in the ninth century. Returning to Cumberland, where the series started, Cornwell pairs his Saxon-turned-Danish-warrior Uhtred of Bebbanburg with another young hero Guthred, king of—well, king of not very much. Yet. But Guthred, a Dane with a claim to territory around the future city of York, is a charmer, and he is one of the chess pieces in the game Alfred is playing back in Wessex. Although he has the blood and the charisma (and a gorgeous sister for whom Uhtred falls hard), Guthred is not an instinctive warrior, but as he rides around the wild countryside trying to put together a small army, Guthred learns a lot from Uhtred—not just battle skills, but also political skills. Uhtred, who can barely tolerate the cerebral, constipated, stingy King Alfred, to whom his oath has bound him, perceives that Alfred knows kingship better than anyone in England, and he constantly provides Guthred with examples of Alfredian realpolitik. The young king is such a good student that he doesn’t hesitate to sell Uhtred into slavery when that action is needed to clinch an important deal. So Uhtred, still in his early 20s, spends a couple of years pulling an oar for a Danish coastal trader, seeing much of the Baltic and even making it across the Atlantic for a bit. Fortunately, he’s not been forgotten by King Alfred, and he is eventually freed to resume working with Guthred and plotting to regain the castle his uncle stole from him.
Blood, guts, history and horses from the expert. Excellent sport.