I realize I’ve been talking about this series a lot lately (I’m sorry!) but it’s only because I’m so excited for the next book, Sword of Kings, due out in November. I had put off reading this one, scared it was finally going to be over, but with another book scheduled for release it felt like it was finally time to put my fears aside.
I read a handful of other reviews on GoodReads when I finished, and multiple times I saw this series accused of being formulaic, and perhaps it is, but I’m not one to mind formulaic when the formula works. What I love about these books is the characters. This late in the game I do find myself missing some of the older characters, Alfred, Brida, Ragnar… and Aethelflaed, but aside from being Uhtred’s story, this is really the story about the making of England, and in a story that epic the characters will inevitably change.
Uhtred is in his 60s for this book. He’s more cautious, superstitious, he’s less impulsive, less confident, anger doesn’t control him the way it used to. I found myself missing some of his other qualities as a younger man, but his wit is still fully intact and there were several parts of this book that made me laugh out loud.
I found myself tripped up again and again by the names. Specifically the Aethelhelms, Older and Younger, (or was it the Aethelweards? seriously I can’t remember). Then there seems to be a whole slew of other Aethel-somethings.. sigh. I remember Svein of the White Horse and Ubbe Lothbrok, and the Ivars and Haesten and Odda… I can’t remember where the heck the Aethelhelms came in.
Anyway- this book actually felt less formulaic than the previous 10. I think it had a lot to do with Uhtred’s character development, but also, this is the weakest he has ever been physically. His victory in this book never feels guaranteed. There are no last minute, evil genius save-the-day plans (like bee-bombs, although there is a hysterical smiting). A looming dread blankets the whole book, from beginning to end.
The other elements of a Saxon Story are all there: the fun action scenes, the witty comebacks, the general disdain towards Christianity from Uhtred. Most of all – the laughs. It’s what generally what keeps me coming back, so I’ll end this review with a little pagan humor:
“You’ve got dirt on your forehead,” I said, “so has he,” I pointed to the other priest.
“Because it’s Good Friday, lord. The day our Lord died.”
“Is that why they call it good?”