The death of Alfred the Great leaves what we know as England up for grabs, and Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Death of Kings, 2012, etc.) is caught in the middle of it all.
Connoisseurs of conflict can start with the hero’s name, which he’s done his best to pass on. When the son he’s named Uhtred converts to Christianity and becomes a priest, Uhtred dubs him Father Judas and declares that his youngest son, Osbert, is Uhtred instead. Nor is Uhtred widely considered to be lord of Bebbanburg, a northern stronghold his uncle Uhtred (hmm) has seized and plans to pass on to his own Uhtred. Unable to stomach King Alfred’s successor, Æthelred of Mercia, whose estranged wife he’s in love with, cursed by Bishop Wulfheard after he accidentally kills old Abbot Wihtred, and burned out of his holdings outside Cirrenceastre in modern Gloucestershire by the warlord Cnut Ranulfson, Uhtred would seem to have no direction if Cnut, upon returning Sigunn, the woman of Uhtred's he’d carried off, had not asked him to find Cnut’s own abducted wife and son. Instead of searching for them, Uhtred, who’s never happy unless he’s fighting or scheming, sails off to Bebbanburg with the remainder of his followers in a bold gamble to surprise his usurping uncle and seize his castle. When his plan doesn’t go quite as he’d intended, Uhtred is left to journey west to Ceaster, where he’ll find Cnut’s missing wife and child and prepare to come face to face with the fearsome warlord one last time.
As in a summer movie, the big set pieces are more impressive than the realistically meandering odyssey that threads them together. The most consistent motif is Uhtred’s undying and principled hostility to “the nailed god” of Christianity and the threat he represents to the warrior code Uhtred so perfectly embodies.