Book Review: 'The Pagan Lord'

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bernard Cornwell. Harper, 299 pp. $27.99

In his first book since "1356," New York Times-bestselling author Bernard Cornwell returns with "The Pagan Lord," a Middle-Age historical novel about loyalty, both in country and in religion.

Uhtred, a Saxon lord who worships the Danish gods, is on a mission to recapture his family's home, Bebbanburg, from his uncle, Ælfric. Along his journey he comes across Cnut Longsword, leader of the Danes who inhabit the north of England. Cnut's wife and children have been captured, and Uhtred agrees to find the person who has taken them.

I'm not generally much of a historical fiction reader, but even though this book doesn't usually fall into my wheelhouse, it was difficult for me to find anything wrong with it. As I am not a member of Cornwell's intended audience, I wasn't captivated by the plot or the characters. But Uhtred is incredibly clever, and I was impressed at his forethought. In addition, I liked how Cornwell used "The Pagan Lord" to offer bits of historical insight into 10th century England, information I would not have known otherwise. He does so seamlessly, however, in a way that doesn't disrupt the flow of the story. The characters are compelling and interesting, and the story is incredibly well-written. Uhtred is dynamic even by himself: Cornwell allows him to be both battle-hard and vicious among his men and his enemies, yet protective and often gentle with his son, Uhtred Uhtredson, and his "woman," Æthelflaed.

For fans of historical fiction, I imagine "The Pagan Lord" will be well-received. For those who are on the fence or who don't gravitate toward the genre, I still encourage the read.

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