Warriors of the Storm
© 2016 Bernard Cornwell
“May God strike me dead this moment if I lie!”
I drew Serpent-Breath, her blade scraping loud and fast on her scabbard’s throat.
“Lord Uhtred!” Æthelflaed called out in alarm. “No!”
Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a lord of war, a Saxon prince raised by conquering Danes, a pagan who nontheless serves the sole remaining Christian kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. He is a man loyal not to tribes nor institutions, but to his friends, and for love of a woman — Æthelflaed, Queen of Mercia — he patiently waits for an opportunity to invade Dane-held Northumbria and return to his ancestral home. It has been a quest long frustrated by the constant scheming of both Danish and Saxon politics, but now….now, the Danes are quarreling, the Saxons are united ,and NOW is the time to seize Northumbria. So naturally, the Irish invade.
It’s not really the Irish, of course, just a few hundred mercenaries accompanying an even larger horde of Danes who have recently quit Ireland in favor of easier takings and better fields in Britain. Warriors of the Storm opens with an invasion and will see Uhtred again taking to the field despite his age, somehow wresting defeat from death by refusing to play his enemies’ games and attacking them when it is plainly suicidal. But Uhtred isn’t just lucky, he’s long-seasoned. He can see weaknesses in a shield wall or a political alliance hidden from everyone else, and he’s daring enough to exploit them. So when an Irish-Danish horde invades Mercia, by the gods he invades them right back!
I didn’t expect Warriors of the Storm. In the last novel, The Empty Throne, Uhtred was withering away from age, gravely wounded on his deathbed, seeing shades of long-dead friends beckoning him to join them in the beyond to an eternity of sacking and feasting, and leaving his son Uhtred to do some of the narration. But now…he’s back! He’s grey, sure, but he’s not weak, and the only long-gone friends showing up are those quite alive who have just been missing a good long while. This series is plainly tacking toward the home port, however, featuring the dispatch of old enemies and the re-appearances of both Uhtred’s oldest son, who he disowned for becoming a priest; and his first lover and companion, Brida. Another sign of the end, is a bit of poetry as Uhtred rescues a boy who charges into battle to save his dying father. The circle is now complete.
Need I give the usual praise? Dramatic prose of thunder flashing as armies trudge through the mud to meet destiny, quick wits amusing each other in conversation, bombastic speeches and a few sly jokes. All the usual Cornwell strengths are here, though it’s a quick book so they’re over more quickly. The twists and turns aren’t as sharp here, possibly because once the reader has marched with Uhtred for so long, one gets used to his sudden bolts of inspiration, like paying a visit to the Irish. The book ends poised for the conclusion, however, and unlike the old man standing on death’s door from last book, Uhtred appears to be going into it strong and fierce. As much as I’ll miss him, it is high time he went home.
Next stop, BEBBANBURG!