Review – The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell

Continuing on from the review of the Last Kingdom (here), The Pale Horseman is the second novel in the Saxon Stories, and the next book I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Continuing where The Last Kingdom left off, Uhtred returns to King Alfred of Wessex to share news of his glorious victory over Ubba Lothbrokson (which happens at the end of book one), only to find that his victory has been snatched by another. Headstrong and arrogant as always, Uhtred’s reaction leads him to further friction with Alfred.

It’s at this point where I noticed the first major difference between the novels and the TV series. Here Uhtred works on the ships of Wessex, guarding the coast from would-be Viking raiders and this section is interesting in it’s own right. While in the TV series Leofric and some of his men join Uhtred to raid Cornwall on horseback, in the novel it’s on ships that they do their raiding. The description of the time spent working on the ships is great, and you feel like you’re at sea with them – though this could be because when I read this section of the book, it was cold and raining a lot.

The second novel leads Uhtred into conflict with a savage Dane, Svein of the White Horse, who is the novel’s villain. It almost sounds feeble calling him the villain, as he’s a great character who adds a lot to the story, treachery and violence are but two of those points. It also leads Uhtred into further conflict with the church after the false words of a monk.

The Pale Horseman is a worthy follow-up to The Last Kingdom, and manages to maintain the excellent tale of Uhtred Ragnarson, following the highs and lows of someone who’s skill, bravery and will is on par only with his arrogance and determination. I mention his arrogance again here, but only because it’s put to excellent use in the tales. As a victorious and confident individual, he refuses to suffer fools, and will often come a cropper as his brash and head-strong reactions often cause him more problems. While it’s excellent to see him giving as good as he gets when facing off with his enemies, it’s uncomfortable when it’s with the Saxons he’s allied to – mainly the church and certain characters with whom he bears a grudge – and knowing that King Alfred, being the pious and godly man he is, will only cause him problems. The discomfort when you can see him digging a greater hole for himself says a lot about Cornwel’s writing, which is exceptional.

If you’ve not yet read The Pale Horseman, I’d give it a definite recommendation. It’s good enough that, on finishing it, I moved straight onto book three, The Lords of the North which will be reviewed here soon.

Thanks for reading.

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