“And that, too, was the truth, that a man cannot step back from a fight and stay a man. We make much in this life if we are able. We make children and wealth and amass land and build halls and assemble armies and give great feasts, but only one thing survives us. Reputation. I could not walk away.”
At the start of the story, Uthred has just won a major battle for Alfred, killing the mighty Viking Ubba Lothbrokson in the process. But his rival, Odda the Younger, claims the victory and instead of being rewarded, Uthred is humiliated in front of a large crowd. Disgusted, Uthred steals one of the king's ships and goes on a raiding spree. Fate leads Uthred back to Alfred, though, and he ends up swearing allegiance to the king. When the Danes massively invade Alfred's Wessex, Uthred will have to fight the people that raised him, including his best friend Ragnar.
Britain in the 9th century was a dark and forbidding place, with the constant threat of the invading Vikings forcing uneasy alliances between former rivals. Bloody battles and gruesome killings galore in this era. This book has all that and more. Cornwell has a knack of having history come alive, and this book is no exception - it's a fast-paced and exciting story, that Cornwell manages to cram with historical details without slowing the story down. The problem with both "The Last Kingdom" and "The Pale Horseman" is that the story and some of the characters are very similar to Cornwell's fantastic "Warlord" trilogy (one of the best things I've ever read). Only the story isn't quite as engaging, the characters just tad less likeable and the whole setting not as extraordinary. And while "The Last Kingdom" still had Uthred's fascinating 'coming-of-age-' story, "The Pale Horseman" lacks this extra dimension. It's still an excellent read, though, and I'll probably read at least some of the other novels in this series. But not right away.
Author: Bernard Cornwell
Title: The Pale Horseman
Publisher: Harper, London
Year: 2015 (orig. 2005)
Number of pages: 415 p.