Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Burning Land set to reignite the Saxon Stories

The cover blurbs on Bernard Cornwell’s books read “Perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today,” and frankly, you’ll get no arguments from me. I've come to love Cornwell, who is in every sense a Man's writer. There's no romance in his books and no literary pretension, so if you're looking for those elements, try something else. On the other hand, if you like bloody battles, cowardice and heroism, grim suffering and cruel murder, oath-making and breaking, hard drinking and mirth, and, most importantly, darned good storytelling, Cornwell's your man. His greatest strength is probably his ability to spin a compelling, fun tale, and he does it with a keen eye for historic accuracy.

Cornwell's ongoing series The Saxon Stories features vikings, shield walls, axes, dark ages combat, hall-burnings, and general mayhem. If this stuff sounds appealing (and if you're a reader of The Cimmerian or this blog, how could it not?), you owe it to yourself to pick up the first book in the series, The Last Kingdom, and get started.

The Saxon Stories is an ongoing historical fiction series about the reign of Alfred the Great and the clash of Danes and Saxons in 9th century Britain. The stories are told through the viewpoint of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a warrior who was born a Saxon and fights for their cause, but was raised among the Danes, and so has an iron-plated boot in each camp. Uhtred is a fun character, as he's torn between hereditary love for his ancestral homeland and a passion for the Danes. Although they're murderous raiders, the Danes drink deep of life, scorn Christian "virtues" of humility and pity, and worship the pagan gods of Thor and Odin. These qualities appeal strongly to Uhtred, who grew to love the Danes during his capture and upbringing under Earl Ragnar.

I read the first four books in the Saxon Stories with gusto (these include The Last Kingdom (2004), The Pale Horseman (2005), The Lords of the North (2006), and Sword Song, published in 2007), and eagerly anticipated the next book in the series, so much so that Cornwell's decision to interrupt Uhtred's saga with Agincourt was a bit of a let-down, even though I wound up enjoying the heck out of it.

But I was very pleased to find out that the fifth book, The Burning Land, has been released in the UK and will be available in the United States in January 2010, according to Bernard Cornwell's official Web site.

Looks like 2010 will be off to a fine, blood-soaked start.

(Cross posted from The Cimmerian ).


David J. West said...

This is awesome news. I was bummed that the 5th got held back in luie of Agincourt-I still want to read that too-but I read all 4 Saxon tales in 3 months and was hungry for the next one.

Rick Marshall said...

Great news. I love this series. I love his ability to bring the combat to life - for real - almost the only place I've read realistic portrayals of shield-wall combat. I love his demythologizing of the saints and priests and kings and lords of the era, sweeping them off the table completely to reveal the far more plausible inhabitants of a dark age too few people care to portray realistically. I love the personality and character of these people he breathes life into, how much more they seem like people than like characters. I love his ability plausibly move Uhtred through all the important events of his era.

It's a great series. Thanks for the great news.

mhensley said...

I may have to go back and reread the others to prepare for this. Uhtred is 100% badass.

Gabriele C. said...

I'm an evil German, lol, I already have the book because has it in stock. :)

Have you read his take on the Arthurian legends, the Warlord trilogy? His Arthur is not a Mediaval Knight but a 5th century warlord, and his druids are not tree hugging pseudo-Wiccans but guys (and girls) who piss on an enemy's skull and things like that.

Oh, and if you like some action with Romans, check out Ben Kane and Harry Sidebottom. Both have the second book of trilogies out and the third scheduled for 2010. Could be a fun year for action-oriented historical fiction / historical Fantasy.

Brian Murphy said...

Rick: Agreed 100%. You almost feel like you're in a shield-wall when you read Cornwell's books. He's good.

Gabriele: Oh yes, I've read The Warlord Trilogy and it is my favorite series by Cornwell. According to his Web site, they're his personal favorites too (which is surprising, given that he's really known for the Sharpe series). They're fantastic, a must-read.

Thanks for the Kane and Sidebottom recommendations!

davidf said...

Awesome news -- hadn't heard this! I loved the Saxon series. Uhtred ranks in the top 5 of my all time favorite characters. Nice helmet on the cover of the book, too -- the Coppergate helmet; it'll be interesting to see if Cornwell somehow ties this to Uhtred, though I think the helmet is dated to a slightly later period.