The Warrior Chronicles (2) - The Pale Horseman (Alfred the Great 2)

9780007210985: The Warrior Chronicles (2) - The Pale Horseman (Alfred the Great 2)

Continuing the outstanding success of The Last Kingdom, this is the second installment of Bernard Cornwell’s fantastic series, following the fate of Alfred the Great, and the forging of Britain.

Uhtred, Northumbrian born, raised a Viking and now married to a Saxon, is already a formidable figure and warrior. But at twenty he is still arrogant, pagan and headstrong, so not a comfortable ally for the thoughtful, pious Alfred. But these two, with Alfred’s family and a few of Uhtred’s companions, are apparently all that remains of the Wessex leadership after a disastrous truce.

It is the lowest time for the Saxons. Defeated comprehensively by the Vikings who now occupy most of England, Alfred and his surviving followers retreat to the trackless marshlands of Somerset. There, forced to move restlessly to escape betrayal or detection, using the marsh mists for cover, they travel by small boats from one island to another, hoping that they can regroup and find some more strength and support.

They seek refuge in Athelney, a tidal swamp to which Alfred’s kingdom has shrunk. Uhtred finds himself torn between his Danish foster brother and the winning Vikings, and his growing respect for the stubborn leadership of Alfred. He must decide whether to rebuild the Saxons’ strength from his watery base and help them to take on the Vikings once more.

THE PALE HORSEMAN is a splendid story of divided loyalties and desperate heroism, with a wonderful range of characters from Vikings to British kings in their Cornish fortresses, from political but passionate priests to enduring fishermen and farmers desperately striving to survive as the battle sweeps over them. Uhtred and Alfred, Vikings and Saxons, are a winning combination for Bernard Cornwell.

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The Pale Horseman is the second book in Bernard Cornwell's Alfred the Great sequence, and this highly experienced author will be well aware of the pitfalls awaiting the creator of any second book in a series -- particularly when its predecessor, The Last Kingdom, was so enthusiastically received. The fact that Cornwell's Sharpe books are so beloved (for their immense colour and vivid recreation of a very lively period of history) was not a guarantee that this latest venture for the author would succeed. But succeed it did, and The Last Kingdom conjured an era of Vikings and massacres, with a brilliantly drawn (and complex) King Alfred at the centre of the narrative. So -- does Cornwell bring off this second book with equal panache?

No need for suspense -- The Pale Horseman is just as exhilarating a recreation of an age of heroes as its predecessor, delivered with the brio that is the author's trademark. Uhtred was born in Northumbria but rais! ed as a Viking. Married to a Saxon, he has achieved fame as a doughty warrior. But the more reflective Alfred has problems with the aggressive, self-serving manner of his young friend. An alliance, though, is necessary: these two are the sole remnants of those who commanded Wessex, after ill-judged bargains have destroyed the union. The Vikings now reign over most of England, and Alfred and his company are obliged to hide in the swampy netherland of Athelney, trying to regain the support they once enjoyed. Uhtred cannot shake off his Viking training, but finds himself acquiring an admiration for Alfred, who he comes to sense is a great man. As the narrative progresses, the conflict between the two men must be resolved before bloody battles will change the fate of England.

One expects the heroic endeavours of Bernard Cornwell's novels to be dispatched with panache, but there is another element which his admirers rely on: the conflict between his strongly drawn characters,! exemplified here by the two proud leaders. It'll take a while! before this new sequence achieves the immense popularity of the Sharpe novels, but the auguries are good. --Barry Forshaw


'Cornwell is a virtuoso of historical fiction.' Sunday Telegraph

'Bernard Cornwell is a literary miracle. Year after year, hail, rain, snow, war and political upheavals fail to prevent him from producing the most entertaining and readable historical novels of his generation.' Daily Mail

'Cornwell's narration is quite masterly and supremely well-researched.' Observer

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