Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Death of Kings

I just finished listening to Bernard Cornwell's Death of Kings.  If you've never read anything from Cornwell, it's time to try out this master of historical fiction.

I had the random luck of pulling one of Cornwell's books off the library shelf several years back.  Since then, I've read close to twenty of his novels, and claim him as one of my favorite authors of all time.  He writes about several different periods of history, including, the Napoleonic Wars, the Hundred Years War, the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, Prehistorical, and the Dark Ages.  I've read books set in each of these periods and all are excellent.

Death of Kings is book six in his Saxon series, centered around Alfred the Great of England.  The series is told from the point of view of Uhtred, a Northumbrian lord raised by the Danes.  Uhtred is torn between his people--the Saxons--and the Danish warlords that he loves.  He has served Alfred faithfully for years, and as the king is dying wants to finally be his own master.  But, as Uhtred would say: fate is inexorable.  He finds himself pulled back into the plots and conflicts of other men.

Cornwell's Saxon series is probably my favorite of his works.  However, by DoK (book 6) the series is becoming too formulaic.  The same types of conflicts arise in each volume; Uhtred is still the same man he was 5 books ago.  I love the character, but feel a strong character arc is sadly absent.  Also, despite the book's slim 330ish page count, DoK seems padded with phrases, descriptions, and scenes I've already read about half a dozen times.

Even with the flaws, I found myself loving the book by its final pages.  If you love vikings and early English history, you can't go wrong with this series.  Even if you don't have an interest in the period, I'm willing to bet you'll be captivated by the story of England's formation.  Don't start with Death of Kings if you are unfamiliar with the series.  Start at the beginning (The Last Kingdom), and thank me later after you've had six entertaining books to read through.

For you fantasy writers and readers out there, Cornwell is a must.  George R.R. Martin himself is a huge fan of Bernard's work, and describes Cornwell's action scenes as being among the finest in print.  If vikings aren't interesting enough for you, read Agincourt--my favorite standalone of his, or The Archer's Tale.  You'll be entertained, and learn a good deal about history while you're at it.

Death of Kings gets 4 out of 5 stars.  

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