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Sword Song (The Saxon Chronicles, Book 4) Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

My review

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.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 5th, 2009 01:14 am (UTC)
I had not read the previous books in this series, but have read a few of his other works, including a few Richard Sharpes. I do enjoy his visceral description, but seems to me all his fighters go into battle frenzy. I'd probably rate it like you did, good stuff but in style so similar to his other books that it gets a bit tiring. I do appreciate his historical representations of times and places I didn't study at school.
May. 5th, 2009 01:18 am (UTC)
I've only read his Saxon Chronicle books so I can't compare them to his other series. I'll keep in mind how similar you are saying they all are in case I do pick up his Arthur trilogy. Thanks. :)
May. 5th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
I was just in that era in my English class a few weeks ago, and I couldn't keep any of the names or places. I think I'll check out these books to get a better idea of what exactly went on at that time, in an entertaining! way, so I don't have a mental fit halfway through :P

So thank you for bringing this and this series to my attention! :D
May. 5th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
You're quite welcome! There are even helpful maps and a list of translated names (Cornwell uses older spellings in text) in the beginning of every book to help navigate the 9th century from a 21st century perspective. :)

They are completely entertaining and educational books. Uhtred is based off a real person, an ancestor of the author's whom he imagines into the plot of Alfred's struggle to create a unified England.

Edited at 2009-05-05 06:28 pm (UTC)
May. 5th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
Hahah actually the question on my English midterm about Alfred is the one I couldn't answer at all..if only I had read these books beforehand, I might have a better idea. But then again, I may have just inserted tons of misinformation by accident o_o; XD
May. 5th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
Awww I'm sorry. Philippa Gregory's books helped me understand the timeline of the Tudors for my British Literature classes in undergrad. I'm terrible at history, but if I find something amusing to give it context, I'm gold.

I hope your final goes better. :)
May. 5th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
Hahaha thank you :D I actually still did pretty well on the midterm--I was given a 94/100 for a midterm that was composed of 10 10-minute essays (yes, I want to brag..I'm proud of myself, dangit!) If it weren't for that section on Albert, I may have gotten 100 :DD

And Philippa Gregory--I love her style of writing..I only read two of her books though: the Queen Mary one and Earthly Joys (which wasn't as awesome as the first, but was still pretty cool) ^^; Which one of her books had to do with the Tudors?

I did want to add as well that I put great stock in your reviews and recommendations, based on the way you write them and the fact that our tastes seem to coincide (though I'm not sure where I got that impression, exactly) :P
May. 5th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
Haha, by all means, brag!! You should be proud for doing so well. :) I completely understanding wishing you could have gotten those 6 extra percentage points.

As for Philippa Gregory.. Here is a list of her books that you have to read:

The Other Boleyn Girl
The Queen's Fool
The Virgin's Lover

She did a couple of others, I think the only one you haven't read that I might recommend is The Boleyn Inheritance (although it wasn't as good as the others). The Constant Princess is about Katherine of Aragon, but I thought it was weaker than the rest, too.

I liked Earthly Joys, but it was slow going for me. Same for the sequel Virgin Earth, although I liked that one considerably better.

And thank you! That's very kind of you. It's always great to hear someone is getting something out of my reviews! :)
May. 5th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
*keep any of the names or places straight >_>
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