Cornwell’s tough medieval saga continues after King Alfred’s realm is reduced to one swamp and a handful of believers.
Uhtred of Begganburg, Northumbrian narrator of Cornwell’s series opener, The Last Kingdom (2005), returns to court from his triumph at the battle of Cynuit to find that his rightful glory has been usurped by his weasely nemesis, Odda the Younger. Pious King Alfred is always ready to believe the worst of the pagan Uhtred, who should have skipped rest and recovery at home with beautiful wife Mildrith—now a serious whiner—and gone straight to His Majesty to take credit for the death of the Danish warrior Ubba. Too late. The bad career move puts Uhtred way outside the sanctimonious Saxon power circle, to the disappointment of the increasingly religious Mildrith. Just as he is about to perish from boredom on his farm, Uhtred’s old pal Leofric reappears, and the two chums hatch a plan to go plundering in the West, disguised as Vikings. On their excellent adventure, the two score copious loot and Uhtred rescues beautiful Celtic queen Iseult, who is also a bit of a witch. The loot comes in handy when Uhtred wants to settle Mildrith’s family debt to the rapacious church, but the only way he can square things with Alfred is by winning a battle with Steapa, a stupendously strong, extra-large warrior. In the middle of the contest, Vikings spring a surprise attack and the Saxons are badly beaten. The king and his family flee, taking refuge in a bog inhabited by gloomy fishermen loyal to no one. A little magic and a formidable battle begin to reverse the bad fortune.
Swords, shields, mud and blood. Great stuff, as always, from the master.