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The Pagan Lord    by Bernard Cornwell order for
Pagan Lord
by Bernard Cornwell
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Bernard Cornwell continues to tell the story of the adventurous and violent life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg (born a Saxon but raised as a Dane) in this latest of his Saxon Tales, The Pagan Lord, seventh in the series following Death of Kings.

King Alfred is dead and has been succeeded by his son Edward, who is not a friend to Uhtred. In fact, Uhtred's only supporter amongst the Saxon nobles is his lover, Alfred's daughter AEthelflaed, who is estranged from her husband AEthelred. To the North, the Danes hold power, led by Viking Cnut Longsword. Uhtred still dreams of reclaiming Bebbanburg (treacherously taken from him by his uncle) but it seems impossible. The impregnable Northumbrian fortress is surrounded by Danes.

The story opens on a confrontation between Uhtred and Christians. He's furious that his eldest son has become a priest and renames him Judas, giving the name Uhtred to his second son Osbert instead. The priests fight back and Uhtred inadvertently kills Abbot Wihtred, causing the Christians to curse him. He returns 'home to death, smoke and ruin.' Cnut has inexplicably raided south deep inside Mercia and taken Uhtred's woman Sigunn.

Of course, Uhtred rides north to reclaim her, and learns that men carrying his banner kidnapped Cnut's wife and children. He and Cnut get on suprisingly well for lifelong enemies. When Uhtred rides south, he learns that he has been outlawed, so decides that it's time to make a reckless bid for Bebbanburg. Along the way, he learns of a deep plot against the Saxons and risks everything once more for AEthelflaed's cause. She considers him to be 'generous, kind and stubborn', though his other unwilling allies fear him.

As always, Bernard Cornwell gives us a gripping read with a flawed yet vastly appealing hero. His oft lyrical writing sets his scenes beautifully as when Uhtred declares: 'I love the whale's path, the long waves, the wind flecking the world with blown spray, the dip of a ship's prow into a swelling sea and the explosion of white and the splatter of saltwater on sail and timbers, and the green heart of a great sea rolling behind the ship ...'

Though all of Uhtred's adventures are worth reading, The Pagan Lord is one of the best in the series, definitely not to be missed.

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