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Death of Kings    by Bernard Cornwell order for
Death of Kings
by Bernard Cornwell
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Harper, 2012 (2012)
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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Perhaps no one does it better than Bernard Cornwell when it comes to early historical fiction. In Death of Kings the master story- teller returns to his Saxon Tales series. This sixth installment centers on the struggle between the Saxons and the Danes in 9th century England and the land's unification under Alfred the Great.

Taking up where The Burning Land left off, this tale opens in 898 A.D. and finds Alfred on his death bed. The question is who will now guide the fragile union the king has fashioned? Edward, Alfred's son, is the heir apparent to the throne, but there are those, both Saxon and Viking, who would claim the island.

Narrated by Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a fictional character loosely based on one of the author's ancestors, the story opens with the 'calm before the storm of succession'. Born a Saxon but raised a Dane, Uhtred awaits the pleasure of the dying king and his family. He knows all hell may soon break out and, apparently, so does the royal family.

To avoid chaos, Uhtred is asked to travel to King Eohric of East Anglia to seek an alliance between the Christian areas of Britain. Although he believes it is a futile journey, Uhtred agrees to be the king's emissary. Along the way he'll be exposed to strange prophecies that portend disaster for Edward and perhaps an end to any chance for a unified kingdom.

Uhtred, who has long had divided loyalties but is Alfred's daughter's lover, will have to make an important decision. Will he support the new king or shift his loyalties? His decision will not only change his life but perhaps also alter the course of history.

Dealing with a time in history where the records are limited, to say the least, Bernard Cornwell brings as much reliable research as possible to this series. As he recreates this period and characters, about whom little is really known, the author tries put a face on pivotal events and recreate a time when political intrigue, deal making and brutal warfare were the norm. Actually, that doesn't sound too far from where we are today, does it?

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