SWORD OF KINGS by Bernard Cornwell


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Plenty of gore from days of yore fills the 12th entry in Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom series (War of the Wolf, 2018, etc.).

The pagan warlord Uhtred of Bebbanburg narrates his 10th-century adventures, during which he hacks people apart so that kingdoms might be stitched together. He is known to some as the Godless or the Wicked, a reputation he enjoys. Edward, King of Wessex, Mercia, and East Anglia is gravely ill, and Uhtred pledges an oath to likely heir Æthelstan to kill two rivals, Æthelhelm and “his rotten nephew,” Ælfweard, when the king dies. Uhtred’s wife, Eadith, wants him to break that oath, but he cannot live with the dishonor of being an oathbreaker. The tale seems to begin in the middle, as though the reader had just turned the last page in the 11th book—and yet it stands alone quite well. Uhtred travels the coast and the river Temes in the good ship Spearhafoc, powered by 40 rowers struggling against tides and currents. He and his men fight furious battles, and he lustily impales foes with his favorite sword, Serpent-Breath. “I don’t kill the helpless,” though, which is one of his few limits. So, early in the story, when a man calling himself “God’s chosen one” declares “We were sent to kill you,” readers may chuckle and say yeah, right. But Uhtred faces true challenges such as Waormund, “lord Æthelhelm’s beast.” Immense bloodletting aside, Cornwell paints vivid images of the filth in the Temes and in cities like Lundene. This is mainly manly fare, of course. Few women are active characters. The queen needs rescuing, and “when queens call for help, warriors go to war.” The action is believable if often gruesome and loathsome, and it never lets up for long.

This is historical adventure on a grand scale, right up there with the works of Conn Iggulden and Minette Walters.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-06-256321-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2019


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