I have no idea how Bernard Cornwell does what he does. He’s incredibly prolific, and his novels help me see time periods that I shouldn’t be able to. They’ve also gotten better – Uhtred is an infinitely better, more believable character than Richard Sharpe from Cornwell’s first series.
Oh yeah, the plot. Uhtred of Bebbanbourg is a second son who lives at the time of successive waves of Danish invasions of England. Alfred becomes the only English king able to fight them, and Uhtred becomes a nobleman who, being raised by Danes, understands how they function.
- Uhtred’s disdain for Christianity contrasts with my vision of Christianity in its early days as an outlaw religion. Of course, this novel takes place 800 years after Christ, but the two world views are in some ways diametrically opposed, and the fact that the two can interact and even come to agreements sort of amazes me.
- The two intersect in the fact that both imagine the world ending. They have different definitions about who among us will still be here at the end.
- The depictions of war and its brutality are neatly aligned with what happens to those who oppose the Danes – rape and murder are common. Bending the knee can sometimes save people, but in general the strong come take what they want, which makes the appeal of Christianity that much clearer.
- Alfred’s greatness is displayed in his piety and his ability to strategize. He’s far better than the other English kings at building alliances and using information to determine courses of action, and his insistence on having priests write everything down means that he’s not simply relying on his memory. As Havelock taught us the way memory works for contemporary humans is much different than it did in our pre-literate forebearers but the problems remain the same, and Alfred helped solve them by relying on scrolls.
- Onto the next…