Death of Kings – review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Death of Kings by: Bernard Cornwell

The Forever War by: Joe Haldeman

The Crown by: Nancy Bilyeau

Other Books I’m Reading:

The new Dana Stabenow is on hold for me at the Library.  I think it is called Restless in the Grave.  But don’t quote me.  My mind is on the 9th century right now.

I admit I was worried about Cornwell’s Saxon Stories series after the fifth installment The Burning Land.  I thought I detected the sort of subtle aimlessness in the book that often is the sign a series is about to founder.  I should have had more faith.

Death of Kings finds Saxon Warlord Uhtred poor and living off the estates of King Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed.  He’s still a Pagen, he’s still ready for a brawl, and he’s still very grouchy when mercenaries show up to kill him.  After foiling the attempt on his life with some sheep a shepherd and a large sword, Uhtred marches off on a peace mission to King Eohric.  Naturally it’s a trap.

The next three hundred pages are all that another installment to this series should be.  There are bloody battles, although mostly raids.  Which are actually more fun than the larger battles anyway.  There are fortune tellers and counter fortune tellers.  Traps and counter traps.  I think it’s not spoiling anything to say that Alfred finally dies, and his son Edward takes the throne.  Likewise Aethelwold who has been asking for it for several books now, finally dies in a  largely satisfying way.

Watch for the scene where Uhtred tells the people he’s attacking exactly what he’s doing, and they refuse to believe him for long enough that he has time to do exactly what he said he would.  I admit those scenes are a staple of this series.  Still I’m always amused by them.  This time their are boats.  And don’t boats make everything better?

The main problem with the book is a problem that Cornwell is saddle with by history.  There are simply an appalling number of people running around with very similar names.  Not just the Aethelwolds and Aethelflaeds and Aethelreds, but also a Sigelf, two Sigurds and a Sigebriht.  I am always tempted to wonder what these people called each other when they were alive.  Maybe Edward called Aethelflaed “Sissy”.  Maybe everyone called Aethelwold “Stumpy”.  We’ll just never know.  Yet, Cornwell pushes forward to spite the fact his word processor must be having a melt down.  I don’t blame you if you need a score card.  I certainly thought about using one.

Death of Kings does serve to remind me that Uhtred is getting old.  In his 40’s in this installment.  35 is the average life expectancy for the period.  So it seems the clock is ticking on Uhtred and his ambition of retaking his family home of Bebbanburg.  All along the books in the series have eluded to a future in which Uhtred does accomplish his goal.  Sadly, I’m thinking we’re going to have to get there soon.

As usual I’ll remind you these books are shamelessly gory and should be avoided by sensitive readers.  I’d say Death of Kings is about medium gore for the series.  Less rape than usual.  More  bodies left exposed to the elements.

Enjoyability:   Very Enjoyable.  I give Death of Kings  five stars.

Where to read this book:  Anywhere.

Further reading:  I’ve started on The Forever War, which my husband is shocked I’ve missed up until now.  Also, I’ll be headed to the Library for the new Stabenow.


Posted on February 19, 2012, in Fiction, Reading, review and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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