From Bernard Cornwell, the undisputed master of historical fiction, hailed as "the direct heir to Patrick O'Brien," comes the third volume in the exhilarating Saxon Chronicles: the story of the birth of England as the Saxons struggle to repel the Danish invaders.
The year is 878, and as Lords of the North begins, the Saxons of Wessex, under King Alfred, have defeated the Danes to keep their kingdom free. Uhtred, the dispossessed son of a Northumbrian lord, helped Alfred win that victory, but now he is disgusted by Alfred's lack of generosity. Uhtred flees Wessex, going north to search for his stepsister, who was taken prisoner by Kjartan the Cruel, a Danish lord who lurks in the formidable stronghold of Dunholm.
Uhtred arrives in the north to discover rebellion, chaos, and fear. His only ally is Hild, a West Saxon nun fleeing her calling, and his best hope is his sword, Serpent-Breath, with which he has made a notable reputation as a warrior. He needs other partners if he is to attack Dunholm, and chooses Guthred, a seemingly deluded slave who believes he is a king. Together they cross the Pennines, where fanatical Christians and beleaguered Danes have formed a desperate alliance to confront the terrible Viking lords who rule Northumbria.
Set in A.D. 878, Cornwell's splendid third Saxon novel (afterThe Pale Horseman andThe Last Kingdom) chronicles the adventures of 21-year-old Saxon warrior Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who believes "my swords could win me the whole world." Uhtred, who despite his Danish upbringing supported King Alfred of Wessex in the fight against the Danes inThe Pale Horseman , helps free Guthred, an enslaved Dane, who proclaims himself king of Northumbria. "Fate is inexorable," Uhtred constantly bemoans as he attempts to destroy such enemies as Kjartan the Cruel, Sven the One-Eyed and?lfric (Uhtred's thief of an uncle) and woos his beloved Gisela, Guthred's Valkyrie-like sister. Uhtred must overcome many challenges, notably King Guthred's shocking betrayal that leads to Uhtred's spending two years as a shipboard slave. Cornwell, best known for his Sharpe series (Sharpe's Battle , etc.), breathes life into ancient history with disarming ease, peppering it with humor and even innocence. (Jan.) Copyright (c) 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 23, 2007
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Excerpt from Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell
Thorkild let the boat drift downstream a hundred paces, then rammed her bows into the bank close to a willow. He jumped ashore, tied a sealhide line to tether the boat to the willow's trunk, and then, with a fearful glance at the armed men watching from higher up the bank, scrambled hurriedly back on board. "You," he pointed at me, "find out what's happening."
"Trouble's happening," I said. "You need to know more?"
"I need to know what's happened to my storehouse," he said, then nodded toward the armed men, "and I don't want to ask them. So you can instead."
He chose me because I was a warrior and because, if I died, he would not grieve. Most of his oarsmen were capable of fighting, but he avoided combat whenever he could because bloodshed and trading were bad partners. The armed men were advancing down the bank now. There were six of them, but they approached very hesitantly, for Thorkild had twice their number in his ship's bows and all those seamen were armed with axes and spears.
I pulled my mail over my head, unwrapped the glorious wolf-crested helmet I had captured from a Danish boat off the Welsh coast, buckled on Serpent-Breath and Wasp-Sting and, thus dressed for war, jumped clumsily ashore. I slipped on the steep bank, clutched at nettles for support and then, cursing because of the stings, clambered up to the path. I had been here before, for this was the wide riverside pasture where my father had led the attack on Eoferwic. I pulled on the helmet and shouted at Thorkild to throw me my shield. He did and, just as I was about to start walking toward the six men who were now standing and watching me with swords in their hands, Hild jumped after me. "You should have stayed on the boat," I told her.
"Not without you," she said. She was carrying our one leather bag in which was little more than a change of clothes, a knife and a whetstone. "Who are they?" she asked, meaning the six men who were still fifty paces away and in no hurry to close the distance.