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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Audiobook Week: The Burning Land, by Bernard Cornwell

Book 5 of the The Saxon Stories
written by Bernard Cornwell
audiobook: 11.25 hours
narrated by: Stephen Perring

*** About the Book ***
The Burning Land: A Novel (Saxon Tales)

This book is part of the continuing saga of Uhtred, a 9th century Saxon warrior who was raised by the Danes (aka Vikings). He has sworn allegiance to the Saxon ruler, Alfred, King of Wessex, despite his hatred of the King and the King’s Christianity.

In this 5th entry in the series, Uhtred and the King have a severe disagreement that leads Uhtred to break his oath and flee to the Danes. There he rejoins his foster brother, a Danish jarl named Ragnar, and helps to plan the Danish invasion of Wessex. But when Alfred’s daughter sends Uhtred word that she is in trouble, he is forced to abandon his Danish family yet again and ride to her aid, thereby ensnarling himself in another of Alfred’s wars …

*** Why I Read It ***

A few years ago I randomly picked up the first audiobook in this series at the library and completely fell in love with Cornwell’s characters and their stories. I’ve written before about his skill in writing battle scenes and the fact that Uhtred is something of an unhero (not exactly, but he’s not exactly a hero either). I was surprised to find that there was a new book in the series as I thought it had ended, but it was a good surprise!

As as aside, my review of book 3 was one of the first on my blog and it is ridiculously short.  My thoughts on book 4 are quite a bit more thorough.

*** The Real History ***

Although Uhtred himself is a creation of the author, Alfred and many of the other characters are based on actual historical figures. The major battles in this book are all taken directly from history and are part of the story that explains how England became a single, united kingdom. The author provides a historical note at the end of the book that clarifies which characters he’s taken liberties with and where you can find more information on them. He also translates some of the ancient city names to modern ones so the reader/listener can associate them with today’s English cities. I just LOVE it when authors give me info like this!

*** My Thoughts ***

I’m already of fan of this series so I had high expectations for this latest installment. I was NOT disappointed. Cornwell carries on Uhtred’s tale as he has in the past; he makes it appear that Uhtred will finally get what he wants (to regain control of his family’s land), and then, like a child putting a stick through a spinning bicycle wheel, Cornwell throws something in Uhtred’s path that completely derails all his plans. The story moves quickly, the battles are vivid, the characters are compelling (though not all are fully developed) and it is a pleasure to listen to.

I really enjoy learning about English history through Cornwell’s books. Through this series I’ve gained a clearer understanding of the Saxon-Danish conflict during this 9th century, and also the way that Alfred’s kingship let to the development of an English-speaking nation.

My only complaint is that I waited too long between books so I’ve forgotten some of the character details. This doesn’t make the book harder to understand – each book could be a stand-alone novel – but I like recalling all the events that led each character to be who he or she is.

*** About the Narrator ***

The first four books in the series were narrated by Jaime Glover.  He did an amazing job creating voices for the characters and he has wonderful skills with accents.  After hearing his name pronunciations and particular voices for the entirety of the series it was difficult to get used to a new narrator.

Stephen Perring did a great job narrating this book, and I had I not gotten used to Glover I'd likely have had no complaints.  However, Perring's Norse accent - which is a huge part of the book - was simply not as good as Glover's version and this did bother me at times.  In all other areas Perring did a fantastic job; I'd definitely listen to his work again.

*** Your Thoughts ***

When I think of the term “historical fiction” my mind usually goes straight to the Tudor era, or to books with a romantic storyline. I feel like this genre is considered to be "girly".  I don't know why I think that, especially since that is not the type of historical fiction I usually read, but that is the simple truth. So books like this one are excellent reminders for me that all historical fiction isn't "girly".  When you hear "historical fiction" what do you automatically think of?  Have you read/listened to this series?  What historical fiction audiobooks would you highly recommend?   

Note: This review is part of Audiobook Week. Today I’m reviewing a Historical Fiction book; other genres will be featured throughout the week.


Jen - devourer of books said...

I do feel like there's a gender division in historical fiction with the girlier stuff and the more male-dominated works, which often have a fair amount to do with battles, etc.

Jen - devourer of books said...

I do feel like there's a gender division in historical fiction with the girlier stuff and the more male-dominated works, which often have a fair amount to do with battles, etc.

GMR said...

Sounds like you're having loads of fun with this Audioweek bit. Never could quite get into them inner narrator won't be quiet long enough to hear the recorded one speak. LOL. Happy reading..I mean, listening! ^_^

Just Mom said...

I did think of Historical Fiction as Tudor-only until I joined the HF book club on Facebook and they read from some different time periods. I haven't hit the 5th century yet!

dolleygurl said...

I actually just finished Agincourt by Cornwell on audio yesterday. I loved the narrator and it made me actually enjoy the battles - I try to avoid those sort of books in hardcopy. I can't wait to read more of his works - I will have to look into this series.

Heather J. said...

Jen - I'm glad I'm not the only one!

GMR - Thanks! I get that they're not for everyone but I totally LOVE them. :)

Just Mom - That sounds like a great way to be introduced to different time periods.

dolleygurl - I didn't enjoy Agincourt nearly as much as this series - you definitely need to try these out, I think they are MUCH better!

Beth F said...

Oh I hate it when the narrator changes in the middle of a series. But I love Cornwell and have listened to a couple of his series. I have the first one from this on my mp3 -- maybe I'll start this summer.

Heather J. said...

Beth F - I hope you do listen to it - no one I know has read/listened to it, and I'd love to compare notes!

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