I wish I had more to offer on these Cornwell novels – I fly through them, and they’re enjoyable, but at this point I am pretty much on autopilot for the depictions of Dark Ages Britain and don’t have much new to say for each. That said, thoughts:
- The title comes from one of Uhtredd’s comrades in the shield wall who sees how terrifying a Danish warlord looks on his horse. Uhtredd then kills him by mortally wounding same horse.
- Alfred’s struggle to unite Britain is an interesting story, and one that shows Alfred’s a) leadership and b) monomaniacism. Alfred has to combine his piety and intellect with the need to be a strong leader in a time when strength equated to war strategy and military prowess, and it’s sort of cool to see how Cornwell has extrapolated Alfred’s strength as that of his mind and devotion to his god rather than the simple task of finding plunder for your soldiers.
- The sheer violence and constant thought of threat often makes me think that Cornwell wants us to realize how soft we are. He might not – his agenda might be instead to show how far we as a race have come, even if we still have that battle lust that Uhtredd describes and that Cornwell justifies by citing the epic poets of the time. In either case, the nasty, brutish, and short that Hobbes used to describe the state of nature seems to also fit the state of civilization here.
- Guthrum essentially loses the battle in the novel by being too cautious with the lives of his men. That is not an outcome I would have guessed at going in, although admittedly how these wars are fought is something I know little about.