The Saxon Chronicles 4 : Sword Song - the Battle for London


Bernard Cornwell




Date Reviewed:

December 30, 2010

word Song is the fourth book in the ongoing tale of Uhtred, a Saxon warrior serving under King Alfred during the era when Norse invaders battled the Saxons for control of the England. Though he was born a Saxon, Uhtred was raised by the Danes, and he identifies with their gods, their rough justice and their pagan world view. Uhtred despises pious King Alfred, and loathes the Christian priests, yet some how he always finds himself fighting on Alfred's side against the Danes.

At the start of the book, Uhtred is building up a small fort on the River Thames. It is Alfred strategy to populate the land of Wessex with these sturdy fortresses to prevent roving bands of Norsemen from invading his country side. But word comes that a pair of bold Vikings brothers, Erik and Sigefrid Thurgilson have seized Lundene (London) and plan to use it as a base for invading Wessex. Alfred calls for Uhtred to recapture the city, but he must do so under the command of the King's cousin, the weaselly AEthelred.

The better part of this book describes the Saxon plans, and then the launching of the attack. I think it is a testament to the story telling skills of Cornwell that Uhtred's battles are exciting reading, despite the fact that we know he survives to live to an old age. The prologue of this book (and in some of the previous books) begins with Uhtred addressing the reader directly, telling us that these stories are his memoirs. I guess since the book are written in a first person format, it was clear any way that Uhtred survives these dangerous adventures (unless he is addressing us from beyond the grave!)

The beginning of this tale does have a creepy scene where Uhtred is tricked into believing that a dead man rises from his grave to prophesize that he will be king of Mercia. Uhtred is superstitious enough to believe in gods, ghosts and prophecy - he is a man of his times. The Danes use this clever spirit trick to lure Uhtred into switching sides and joining the Danish cause. But fate intervenes.

I like this series. Uhtred and his companions are interesting, and the battles and politics continue to be exciting. Uhtred is only 28 years old in this book, so he potentially can continue on for many more years. But hopefully we eventually learn whether Uhtred is successful in recapturing Bebbanburg from his treacherous uncle and he can retire peacefully in his rightful ancestral home.