Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (January 2, 2008)
The year is 878, and Uhtred is returning home to Northumbria at the hands of the Three Spinners. Lords of the North is the third book in the Saxon Chronicles series (following The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman), and we continue to follow Uhtred’s journey in his quest to recover his familial inheritance of Bebbanburg. Uhtred is also seeking revenge for the murder of his adopted Danish father, Ragnar, at the hands of Kjartan the Cruel (The Last Kingdom, Book 1)
Uhtred has killed the mighty Ubba Lothbrokson (Book 1) and helped King Alfred the Great defeat the Danes at Ethandun (Book 2), and feeling slighted by his menial reward, Uhtred leaves Alfred’s service and goes north. He takes Hild the West Saxon nun with him, and when they arrive in the north and are passing through Kjartan’s lands, Uhtred frees one of Kjartan’s slaves, Guthred, who claims to come from a line of kings. Guthred is a Dane, but in order to rule, he becomes a Christian and works to bring both Danes and Christians together. Uhtred becomes Guthred’s closest advisor for a time, but in order to protect his kingdom, Guthred takes the advice of Uhtred on a certain matter, which ultimately forces Uhtred into slavery.
For years afterward, Uhtred serves as an oarsman to a Danish trader, rowing across the channel from England to Europe and back and even going as far as Iceland. Uhtred makes friends with another slave, an Irishman, and it is their vows of revenge that keep them alive, always waiting for the perfect opportunity to escape. Their chance of escape comes from an unlikely source, and with his new found freedom, Uhtred returns to Northumbria to exact revenge on Kjartan and on his uncle, who currently holds the castle at Bebbanburg.
Old friends from the first two books re-emerge to help Uhtred capture Kjartan’s main fortress at Dunholm. Ragnar Ragnarson and Brida return as does Beocca, King Alfred’s priest. The battles in this book are more violent than the last two as chaos reigns supreme in the lands of Northumbria and Bernicia.
Uhtred’s character is still the warrior, always the warrior, but his approach to handling situations is beginning to mature. While he would prefer just to kill and be done with it, he is beginning to realize that it is not always the most feasible course of action, and it seems he is starting to understand and respect Alfred a bit more. The two will never like each other, but Uhtred seems to accept on some level that Alfred is a good king, and he even advises Guthred based on what Alfred would have done. I think the maturity of Uhtred’s character is the most interesting aspect of Lords of the North. He now understands that it takes more than swords to win a war.
The book also has some nice plot twists, which are characteristic of Cornwell’s other novels, and these twists keep the story unpredictable. It’s nice to have some of the other characters return and play a more prominent role, namely Ragnar, and while Alfred’s character is not featured much, we at least are beginning to have a clearer understanding of why he was successful as a leader. The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horsemen portrayed him as a weakling that no one would want to follow, but Lords of the North shifts our view of him somewhat. Hopefully, Book 4 (Sword Song), which I’m reading now, will build on that.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars