Rating: 4 out of 5
I’ve read the Saxon Stories up until this point, and though it’s not a series I rush into for the next instalment, it’s one I generally catch up with sooner or later. This time the pause was was definitely a longer one. It’s nice to see Uhtred age; the first ten or so books had half the volume talking about how Uhtred loved being in the shield wall and the text could have been copied from one book into the next. The last one was a slight improvement, and “War Lord” is much better. There is still combat, of course, but Uhtred’s age gives him a different perspective.
The book is very enjoyable though it doesn’t really lead anywhere: maintaining the status quo is Uhtred’s objective and breaking it that of everyone else. There are some innovative parts to the story, like the plan to construct a fort. It would have been slightly nicer if the author had focussed on the actual purpose and possibility of building forts though, as the one that the plot centered around seemed to rise rather quickly. Nevertheless, I can appreciate that’s not Mr Cornwell’s style nor is it his purpose.
There’s a fair bit of reminiscing done by our old protagonists. They’ve seen lots go by, and bringing up Alfred and Aethelflaed is relatively common. While this adds an emotional aspect, it isn’t done very well: the information the reader gets is *old*; the same stories we’ve already read about and the same characteristics for each of the people. And, this happens several times round (almost every time Uhtred meets someone from his past). I wish this part had been done better.
The author’s catch-phrase, ‘wyrd bið ful aræd’, also comes up less often than in the previous books. It almost seems as if the author has expended the available Anglo-Saxon sources and information, so that he is trying to move away from the devices he previously depended upon. Yet, I don’t begrudge this as much as I could. The postscripts in these books have been revealing, and it is often a line from a chronicle that Mr Cornwell has expanded into months and years of in-book action. One of the few places he really didn’t know what to do about, in this book, was where a sentence was used to skip two years to bring the next conflict closer. However, these choices make sense even if they are not elegantly executed.
I liked this, and the book was stronger than many of the previous volumes… but I probably won’t be coming back to it.