Review: The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories #2) by Bernard Cornwell

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis

The second installment of Bernard Cornwell’s New York Times bestselling series chronicling the epic saga of the making of England, “like Game of Thrones, but real” (The Observer, London)—the basis for The Last Kingdom, the hit television series.

This is the exciting—yet little known—story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.

At the end of The Last Kingdom, The Danes had been defeated at Cynuit, but the triumph of the English is not fated to last long. The Danish Vikings quickly invade and occupy three of England’s four kingdoms—and all that remains of the once proud country is a small piece of marshland, where Alfred and his family live with a few soldiers and retainers, including Uhtred, the dispossessed English nobleman who was raised by the Danes. Uhtred has always been a Dane at heart, and has always believed that given the chance, he would fight for the men who raised him and taught him the Viking ways. But when Iseult, a powerful sorceress, enters Uhtred’s life, he is forced to consider feelings he’s never confronted before—and Uhtred discovers, in his moment of greatest peril, a new-found loyalty and love for his native country and ruler.

Review

“There comes a moment in life when we see ourselves as others see us. I suppose that is part of growing up, and it is not always comfortable.”

Thank you to HarperAudio for this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this did not influence my thoughts or opinions on this novel.

The highest praise I can give to The Pale Horseman is that every time I read it I easily got fully immersed into this world of Saxons, Norsemen, kings, lords, swords, and shield walls. Bernard Cornwell has a way of writing about characters, places, and events that makes the reader feel like they are in the story themselves. Every time I was reading I felt like I was watching these events unfold in person and for me it can’t get much better than that.

As in The Last Kingdom, we follow Uhtred of Bebbanburg as the single POV throughout the entire story. Uhtred is one of those characters that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of character development, but his presence, conviction, and passion make for a compelling POV all the same. This isn’t to say that Uhtred didn’t grow in this book. On the contrary, Uhtred often contemplates questions about religion, right and wrong, and what it means to be a good person. Ultimately however, Alfred is my favorite character of this series. I’m not sure if it is his unwavering belief in God, his courage despite his physical ailments, or his stubborn refusal to give in when all hope seems lost. It is probably a combination of all three. Alfred is an incredibly deep and well thought out character and I look forward to more of him in the coming books. In fact, all of the characters in The Pale Horseman are fleshed out, believable and have their own unique personalities.

“There is such joy in chaos. Stow all the world’s evils behind a door and tell men that they must never, ever, open the door, and it will be opened because there is pure joy in destruction.”

Although we didn’t see as much action in this one as in the first book, the stakes were raised dramatically. There is one chance, and one chance only to save not only Wessex from the Norse invaders, but all of what would become England. Uhtred, Alfred, and the men of Wessex find themselves in a very precarious situation that could end with their utter destruction at any time. This tension drove the story and gave the narrative a weight that I felt the first book lacked at times. There was never a doubt in The Last Kingdom who would ultimately be victorious, but in The Pale Horseman the danger was far more real and far reaching.

This was an engaging read with incredible characters, increased stakes, and a fascinating world that I kept wanting to come back to whenever I had the chance. I will continue to highly recommend this series and in particular, this book. Well worth the read!

2 thoughts on “Review: The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories #2) by Bernard Cornwell

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