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War of the Wolf by Bernard Cornwell

This is the eleventh book in the series that began back in 2004, with The Last Kingdom. It follows the life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who was born a Saxon prince but captured and raised as a Viking. The first two books have been made into a TV series which is a rival to the very popular Vikings series. Time has moved on, and in this new book Uhtred has turned sixty. He is older, slower and greyer than ever before, but he can still rely on his razor-sharp wits as well as his sword Serpent-Breath. The question is, how much longer can he keep fighting?

Bernard Cornwell’s books are never going to win any literary prizes, but they are going to sell a lot of copies and bring a lot of pleasure to readers. They are an easy read, very visual, and an entertainment that will always work well as a TV show.

In War of the Wolf we find that the political machinations are building around Uhtred. King Edward of Wessex had taken power in Mercia after the death of his sister Aethelflaed. He also controls East Anglia. Only the kingdom of Northumbria, home to Uhtred, remains outside of his control, but there are alliances, oaths and obligations swirling around our hero and his family. Edward has married a second time and his sons and cousins all have an eye on gaining his throne, while Uhtred seeks only to keep his lands independent. Throughout the whole series Bernard Cornwell has cleverly woven his narrative through some of the real-life events and characters in Anglo-Saxon history. Uhtred has fought with the Viking Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons, and then he has fought against the Viking invaders for Alfred the Great and his daughter the Queen of Mercia. Although he is a great warrior, the thing I love about Uhtred is his sense of humour and his love of taunting priests and Christians. He cannot understand why the Christians would only have one god when he has several; Odin, Thor and Freyr, to call on for cunning, strength and better weather.

As always in one of the Uhtred novels, there are some great battle scenes. Uhtred finds himself fighting alongside the king of Northumbria to rid the north of Sköll, a Viking warrior of huge size who commands a force of wolf-warriors. They fight like madmen, fuelled by poisonous henbane they have no fear or regard for their own safety. They have retreated into a near impenetrable fortress in the Cumbrian hills, and are waiting for the Northumbrians to labour up the hill to fight them.

I hope there are more of these tales to come, and that we can see Uhtred live to a great old age. He has allied himself with Athelstan, who will succeed the dying King Edward, and as this book proves, there is plenty of life left in the old dog yet.

Reviewer: Marcus Hobson

Harper Collins, RRP $36.00


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