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Sword of Kings: Saxon Tales #12    by Bernard Cornwell order for
Sword of Kings
by Bernard Cornwell
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2019 (2019)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

No one does early historical fiction better than Bernard Cornwell and he's proved it again in Sword of Kings, which follows War of the Wolf as the twelfth in his superlative Saxon Tales.

The series follows the tumultuous life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg (born a Saxon but raised a Dane). At this stage, he has reclaimed the impregnable northern fortress of Bebbanburg, treacherously stolen by the uncle who sold him into slavery. The kingdom of Alfred's son, now King Edward, encompasses all British lands south of Northumbria and east of Wales.

At the end of the previous episode, Uhtred vowed to aid Prince Aethelstan (falsely rumored to be a bastard) in the inevitable succession war on the death of his father Edward. This oath, which commits him to killing Aethelhelm (who aims to put his nephew Aelfweard on the throne), drives his actions in Sword of Kings.

The story opens with sea action, and naval battles continue throughout, as Uhtred, Finan and a small company head south into Wessex. First they rescue a damsel in distress - the dying Edward's wife Eadgifu - and her small children. Uhtred is attracted to Eadgifu's lovely companion Benedetta.

There are worrisome reports of the plague in the north as they head towards Lundene. They hope to join forces with Aethelstan there, but are trapped when enemy troops take the city. Their way out adds children (freed from slavery) to Uhtred's growing train of noncombatants - how can he protect them with such a small force and still keep his oath?

Readers know he will, but the journey is, as always, a thrilling one and leads to 'the day that would decide the fate of Englaland.' Afterwards, Uhtred goes home. I look forward to more of this brilliant series, whose author promises to complete his coverage of 'the creation of a country called England' and that 'Uhtred will live to see it.'

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