Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
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"For a few months in early 878 the idea of England, its culture and language, were reduced to a few square miles of swamp."
This is the period of history covered by Cornwell's The Pale Horseman. This second book in the Saxon Stories series continues the story of Uhtred, born in Northumbria, raised by Danes, sworn to the Saxons. Uhtred struggles with torn loyalties, and through his thoughts and experiences, the reader gains an understanding of how the Saxons were almost decimated and why the Danes failed. Desire to join the Danes and their lifestyle that suits him better, Uhtred grows hateful toward the Christian wife whom King Alfred convinced him to marry. However, he also feels driven to support the Saxons and is tempted by the idea of someday reclaiming his inheritance in Northumbria.
Cornwell's characterizations are thoughtful and believable. Alfred the Great is not always great. He is clever and pious almost to a fault. He is overly cautious and depends too much on God to solve his problems without any action on his own part. Uhtred is first and foremost a warrior and isn't always choosy about who he is killing and plundering, yet somehow the reader is still convinced to sympathize with him. The development of quiet, barbaric Steapa Snotor reminds us that there is always more to people than what we see at first glance.
This is a great novel for anyone who enjoys detailed history without any romanticizing. Believe me, there is no way that anyone could accuse Uhtred of being romantic! Battles are detailed and gory. The time period is expertly described so that one feels transported back to the 9th century.