Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Uhtred Strikes Again: THE PAGAN LORD by Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell
This may sound odd coming from a woman, but I identify with the main character of this series in many ways and as long as Bernard Cornwell doesn't mess with that character too much then he will always hit true with me as each new book in the Warrior Chronicles (officially known as the Saxon Stories in the US, France and some other countries) is released.

The lowest I have ever rated a book in this series is 3 stars (out of 5) and I believe, of all seven books so far in this series, I have only done that once. With Sword Song. Book Four.

The Pagan Lord, number seven in the Warrior Chronicles, was one I had been practically foaming at the mouth to read. The name alone got my guts churning. The Pagan Lord. A violent kiss of a title that had most Uhtred of Bebbanburg fans clamouring to pre order.

Would this be the book in which he won back his ancestral right? His beloved Bebbanburg? Would he be able to usurp his Christian uncle, Aelfric, and take back his home? We know it happens eventually. After all, from book one he is narrating as a very old man happily ensconced in his Northumberland fastness. Safeguarded from the judgements of Christians Kings and their nobility. A pagan lord of Northumberland in his twilight years. Only, what age he gains it all back has been a secret the author has been reluctant to share. Maybe Cornwell did not know himself when it should happen. Who knows. But it is an act of revenge the fans have longed for since the very first book, The Last Kingdom.

If he takes Bebbanburg or not, is up to you to discover. If you are a fan of this series then you would know it is the greatest of prizes and the surprise should be yours to stumble upon. I hate ruining surprises so I will only speak of  how this book made me feel, and of the non spoiler elements. The plot itself, it is all yours. So go get it when you are ready.

Considering the churning guts and the clamouring to preorder, it seems wrong to give the book less than a perfect score, but I had to give it 4 stars out of 5.

It is a great story and Uhtred is back in force. Age has not overwelmed him yet. He is as strong and as forthright as he has ever been, only he is probably a lot grumpier.
 He was always a grumpy and condescending sod of course, only now his grumpy is erring to the side of old man grumpy. You know the sort.  Bullish, quick to temper, short of tongue, a form of irascible that only age or pain can make you. And, if that were not enough, he is a father to boot. Of adult sons. What a treat that was. To see Uhtred in a whole new light. Portrayed in a way we have not seen before.

Giving Uhtred some age and some grown sons gave the book a freshness that I appreciated. I did not neccesarily like every plot turn and perhaps I did wish for more originality out of the plot turns I did get. There was also some odd repetition. Events described or relayed in the narration that were repeated nearly word for word a few chapters on (was that always the case? Did I just not notice this happening in previous books in the series?).

I also felt that Cornwell may have blown a perfectly good chance to hit the market with a crisp and shiny new formula that would excite fans for the books still to come. There was some newness to the formula in the form of, as expressed, an older main character with adult children, but it wasn't entirely what I was after in this book.

All that aside, it was terrific to be back in Uhtred of Bebbanburg's head and while the plot had it's flaws for this rabid fan, I was positively glowing as I joined my old kindred spirit once more on his life journey.
There is no character like Uhtred of Bebbanburg and for that alone I am grateful. The formula may follow the same lines in a way and the books are always too short, but my gratitude translates to unashamed joy and I will line up in a couple years, frantically foaming at the mouth once more, to feed my unhealthy Uhtred addiction.

*NB: I got to interview the author, Bernard Cornwell, about The Pagan Lord and the series in September for the Historical Novel Society. To read the interview, go here:

- MM


  1. I a struggling to figure out how I have never discovered your blog before. Your review starts off exactly like mine would, if I did one instead of diving straight into a new book. Foaming at the mouth, check. Identify with Uhtred, Check. Hanging on him busting into Bebbanburg and slaughtering the betrayers, Check. Straining at the bit for the next book, Check. I am just wishing the books would stretch longer as I finish it in a day. Of course I reread but only after my brain has fully digested it all. Thanks for the review.

    1. Hi Matthew,
      Thanks for liking the review, and glad you found my blog. I have really enjoyed reading your comments on some of my reviews. Seems we share similar tastes in Hist Fic.
      Like you, I wish the Uhtred books were longer. The last three books in the series felt a bit underwritten. More pages may have forced Cornwell to get deeper with his story.

    2. I love the deeper stories. The immersion I find especially in Uhtred is amazing. If you have ever watched that vikings crap on tv then you would know that Uhtred would slaughter Ragnars band single handedly. Its just a story about a myth (the actual saga is nothing like the show) and it prevents me from enjoying it because it is so fake. Not many people understand my fascination with books and history in particular, I think tv has a lot to answer for. Anyway I am ranting (again) so keep the blogs coming. I wish there was a search function here so I could see if you enjoyed any books I am thinking about getting. Thanks again.