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Monday, March 30, 2009

Sword Song

Sword Song
by Bernard Cornwell

audio book: 13.5 hours

Bernard Cornwell writes a damn good battle scene, let me tell you! Oh ... yes ... I guess you DO need to know a bit about the book to know why that is important ...

*** About the Series ***

The Saxon Chronicles (of which this is the 4th book) are set during the days before England became one nation. It is the time of the Saxons and the Danes (aka Vikings), a time of constant raids and wars, of violence and brutality. It is also the time of Christianity's clash with the native religions.

The central story of the series is that of Uhtred, a Saxon boy raised by Danes. The story follows Uhtred's growth from young boy to hardened warrior. One of the central conflicts in each book is his divided loyalties - will he side with the Saxons or the Danes?

Another very important story in the series is that of Alfred. Alfred is the only king in British history to be given the honorific "the Great"; it was he who eventually fought off the Danes and united the various kingdoms of the English Isle. Uhtred can't stand him, yet he is forced to side with Alfred over and over again.

*** About Sword Song ***

At this point in the story Uhtred has become a wealthy Lord. He has a wife and children. And he is still stuck in the service of Alfred. The latest command to come from his despised liege-lord is the command to retake the city of London from the invading Danes. That forms the basis of this book ... but there is so much more to it than simply that!

*** My Thoughts ***

I love this series. There are so many reasons why! To make it simple I'm going to give you a random list
  • The battles: As I said at the top, Cornwell writes a damn good battle scene. If you ever imagined that living in the "old days" would be romantic or desirable in any way, Cornwell's imagery sets you straight right quick. His writing is fantastic throughout the book, but his battle scenes really shine (or maybe I should say "really bleed").

  • Religion: Uhtred's conflict with Alfred provides the focus for the larger conflict between the native religions and Christianity. I love how Cornwell presents the curiosity of the Danes regarding Christianity. In our world, even if you aren't a Christian you still know pretty much what the religion is about; but then, it was a completely foreign concept.

  • Not your typical hero: Uhtred is almost an un-hero. It really should be Alfred who is the hero - he is the one who unites England after all. But Uhtred, with all his pride, bluster, brutality, and anti-Christian view, is the one whose story we follow. He is the one we root for despite it all.

  • History: The series is based on actual events in British history. Uhtred did not exist but most of the characters he interacts with did. With him as an un-hero, we get a different but likely accurate view of major historical events.

*** The Audio Book, and other thoughts ***

I've listened to all four books in the series on audio and they are all very well done. One thing to note though - the narrator of SWORD SONG is different than the narrator of the three previous books. It threw me off for a bit because his pronunciation of many names is different. But once I got used to it I had no complaints.

Cornwell also wrote STONEHENGE which I listened to on audio (review here). I HATED that book. My complaint at the time was two-fold: it was too brutal and the narrator was horrid. I can't say anything different about that narrator at this point, but I had to rethink the brutality. I mean, I love that part of The Saxon Chronicles, so why did it bother me so much in STONEHENGE? The answer I came up with was that in the Saxon books most of the violence has to do with battles - not all of it, but most of it. In STONEHENGE there was infant sacrifice and other horrible scenes that I just didn't want to hear about. And Cornwell writes in a very realistic manner so that was simply too much for me.

Two random thoughts before I go ...

  1. I LOVE the cover of this book/audio book!
  2. I thought this was the final book in the series but it looks like there will be another in January 2010 - woohoo!


Jules said...

Oooo! This looks like a good series to get into. And the cover art on the book is great. Good review, I think I'm going to add the series on my ever growing TBR list.

Meghan said...

I love these books. I agree with you that Uhtred is a great "unhero". It's so much more interesting to view events through his eyes than through a more typical narrator. =) And now I can be excited for the next one, too!

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