Sharp blades thrusting, spear blades killing
As Aethelred Lord of Slaughter slaughtered thousands
Swelling the river with blood, sword-fed river
The Burning Land, the fifth in Bernard Cornwell’s series of novels about Alfred the Great’s struggle to defend the kingdom of Wessex against the marauding Danish armies, may not have the poetic cadences of an early English epic except for a few lines like these quoted above. But it does feature a gripping and gritty story as the book’s fictional hero the pagan Uhtred of Bebbanburg reluctantly finds himself thrown into war once again on behalf of his devout but manipulative king.
The battle scenes in the book are absolutely spectacular, giving you a gruesome taste of the brutalities of Ninth Century warfare and a real appreciation of Alfred’s incredible achievement in holding together his kingdom against the rampaging Vikings. He’s not the only king be designated “great” in English history for nothing.
Indeed, it’s the author’s account of the sick and dying Alfred’s struggle to create a unified country of England amid all the turmoil around that makes this book so interesting.
The Burning Land is an excellent historical novel in its own right, but I’d recommend that you read the preceding four novels in the series first in order to understand the full historical context.