The Burning Land is the fifth installment in Cornwell’s Saxon Stories. Set in late 9th century Britain, King Alfred the Great is close to death, and Uhtred breaks his oath to Alfred to ride north to Northumbria in order to reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg from his uncle. To reclaim his land, he needs money and soldiers, and after seeing the the defenses of Bebbanburg, he decides to journey across the sea to Scandinavia to steal the treasure of local lord. The local lord is the former husband of a Danish woman who joins Uhtred’s company, at the disapproval of many of Uhtred’s men who claim she is a witch.
Uhtred returns to Northumbria with a small treasure, and there he rejoins with his life-long friend Ragnar, son of Ragnar, the man who captured Uhtred as a boy and raised him as his own son. Uhtred and Ragnar make plans to attack Bebbanburg, but the Norns who determine the fates of men have other plans for Uhtred.
Once again, Uhtred is pulled south by his oath, not his oath to Alfred but rather his oath to Alfred’s daughter, Ethelflaed.
As usual, Cornwell does a a fantastic job with depicting battle scenes, and his dialogue is gritty, sharp, and earthy. He is an excellent storyteller, always on point with his historical research (with a bit of artistic liberty taken here and there) and recreation of the medieval setting. He also does a nice job of keeping the reader guessing where the story is going next.
Where he has taken criticism in the past has been his use of women characters and their lack of development in his stories. Most of his women characters come off as being fairly flat. Personally, I felt in The Burning Land, Cornwell did some of his best work in developing characters like Ethelflaed and Skade, to make you love the one and hate the other. Ethelflaed is in my opinion one of his best female characters, and I hope he continues to flesh her out more in the next novel in the series, Death of Kings, which is supposedly coming out this year.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars