In today’s book review I am sharing my thoughts on The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell. The Burning Land is the fifth book in the Saxon stories series and follows one of my favourite characters to date. Having not explored much in the way of history of the period prior to picking up these books, it has been an education to say the least! Bernard Cornwell has a fantastic way of blending characters and narrative and action in a way that draws the reader in and makes his books nearly impossible to put down!
In addition to the books I’ve also been enjoying the TV series, The Last Kingdom. I’m actually a little bit further ahead with the TV series as series 3 covers both this book and the next one. However, that didn’t hamper my enjoyment in the slightest. Shall we get on with today’s review?
The Burning Land – Bernard Cornwell
At the end of the ninth century, with King Alfred of Wessex in ill health and his heir still an untested youth, it falls to Alfred’s reluctant warlord Uhtred to outwit and outbattle the invading enemy Danes, led by the sword of savage warrior Harald Bloodhair. But the sweetness of Uhtred’s victory is soured by tragedy, forcing him to break with the Saxon king. Joining the Vikings, allied with his old friend Ragnar—and his old foe Haesten—Uhtred devises a strategy to invade and conquer Wessex itself. But fate has very different plans.
Bernard Cornwell’s The Burning Land is a new chapter in his story of the birth of England and the legendary king who made it possible.
All my expectations from the previous books were met in The Burning Land. What I really like about these books is that they’re very easy to pick up even if you haven’t read the previous one for a while. The narrative almost recaps itself in a way that refreshes your memory, but also doesn’t insult your intelligence by going over every single thing again. I personally find it to be really nice balance of bringing you up to speed again and then swiftly moving on to the action.
As I’ve said before in my reviews of the previous books, I really enjoy the conflict our main character trait has within himself. Born an Englishman but raised as a Dane, he is constantly warring within himself between these two sides and the loyalties each expect from him. Whilst at heart I feel Uhtred would love to retain his Danish side, apart of him always drag him back to the loyalties of the English and the King Alfred. I feel like this is a conflict we are going to see again and again throughout this series, which suits me just fine! I really enjoy now he is perfectly positioned to inform, educate and entertain us via his unique perspective in the midst of the real history of the Viking invasion of Britain.
This conflict plays an even more integral part in this narrative than the previous books. Pushed the furthest he has been yet, Uhtred defects to the Danes after killing a Christian priest. The people he had just saved turn on him within an instant and he is forced to flee. His resentment causes him to defect to the Danes and reunite himself with his childhood friend.
Bernard Cornwell is exceptionally good at creating and maintaining dynamics between characters. They are consistent between books and also reflective of the events that have happened so far. It’s very immersive to be able to read; it’s naturally free-flowing. Not only that, but the vastly different characters in the book test the ability to be able to juggle all these pieces at once, as well as incorporate new characters and conflicts alike. I have great admiration for authors who are able to do this, especially spanning distance and time – which is certainly done in this book.
As a huge fan of historical fiction I can testify that it is books like these that keep me coming back to the genre again and again. I really can’t wait to continue this series and find out where his loyalties find him next, and what turmoil results.