rating: 4 of 5 stars
London is in the heart of three warring kingdoms: Wessex, Mercia, and East Anglia. King Alfred of Wessex is determined to secure the former Roman city along the Thames as part of his dream to create a unified nation he privately calls England. In the fourth Saxon Chronicle book, Bernard Cornwell continues Uhtred’s tale two years after the events of Lords of the North. In Sword Song: The Battle for London, Uhtred and Gisela are married and living under Alfred’s rule with two children and a third on the way. Given authority over one of Alfred’s burhs (a frontier-like settlement), Uhtred continues to serve out his sworn allegiance to Alfred.
A bit more philosophical than the previous books in the series, Sword Song also explores forbidden romances, abusive relationships, and loyalties where, once again, borders are little more than nebulous landmarks Uhtred and his Danish and Saxon friends are willing to cross when the need suits them. I thought I’d get tired of the fine line Uhtred has always walked throughout the series and of the thin loyalties he pledges, but I didn’t. I actually feel frustrated for Uhtred who really just wants to get back to Bebbanburg and reclaim his rightful throne. One often wonders, though, if perhaps this will never happen. Will Uhtred resign himself to a tortuous life under Alfred and his insufferable nephew or is Cornwell saving the best for last?
Fans of the series will be happy to hear the vivid blood baths, oath-breaking, oath-making, besieging, testosterone, and religious machinations are back in full force--a warring and tumultuous landscape for Uhtred’s conflicting desires: ambition, grudging loyalties, and a warrior’s thirst for battle. I think the battles and blood-letting might be even more visceral in this installment. Sword song is not for the queasy or soft-at-heart. Cornwell brings a passionate relish to his descriptions of the ever famous shield wall and Uhtred, our narrator, shares this passion. But behind his gruff exterior lies the foundation of Uhtred’s happiness and the source of his burgeoning fears. With his lovely Gisela pregnant again, will she survive the childbirth or will Uhtred lose his only joy?
The Christian religion shares in the extreme enthusiasms of Sword Song. With an exuberance never (at least than I can remember) seen in the zealous piety of Alfred and his Christian converts and followers, his nephew Aelthred goes to some lengths to protect his manhood and preserve his jealous insecurities at the expense of his wife’s dignity. I’m hoping in the next book, Aelthelfaed gets her revenge.
Sword Song builds upon Cornwall’s earlier foundations and brings back familiar characters, exciting adventures, and even more humorous moments to ease the growing pains of Alfred’s new kingdom. If you’ve read the first three, then the fourth is a must. It’s a great addition to an already entertaining action-adventure tale mixing fact and fiction into an irresistible, testosterone-charged fusion of politics, war, romance, and friendship. I can’t wait for the next!
View all my reviews.