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The Pale Horseman
By Bernard Cornwell

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The Pale Horseman

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The Pale Horseman
By Bernard Cornwell
Large Print Edition
Harper Large Print, (2006)
Distributed by Thorndike Press
ISBN: 0-06-087892-4
Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by Herbert White - February 23, 2006

The Pale Horseman is Bernard Cornwell's thrilling sequel to The Last Kingdom. As the story opens, Uhtred of Bebbangurg is reminiscing about the great victory he won at the battle of Cynuit when he defeated the Danish Vikings that were threatening the Wessex, the kingdom of the Saxon King Alfred. When the battle of Cynuit ended, Uhtred should have ridden to Alfred's side and cemented an alliance. Uhtred, however, was young, and elated by the battle, he returned home to his wife and child - and his fate was forever changed.

Uhtred was born in a noble Northumbrian family, but was raised by Earl Ragnar, a Viking chieftain who had kidnaped Uhtred, but then raised him as his own son. His disjointed upbringing later developed into divided loyalties. Was Uhtred a Viking or a Saxon? Not only was this a question that Uhtred had to answer for himself, but it is also a question that those around him asked themselves in the dark hours of the night. For a while, Uhtred had come to terms with the question of who he is, but after the battle of Cynuit he begins to question the choices he has made.

Wanting more than anything to regain his ancestral estates, Uhtred decides that his best chances of success lie with the Danes, rather than Alfred. Especially since, at the moment, Nothumbria is under Danish control. Yet even as he makes a decision to align himself once again with the Danes, Uhtred begins to have second thoughts. Especially after his mistress, a reputed sorceress foretells that King Alfred will eventually triumph over the Viking invaders.

The Pale Horseman is a masterful and dramatic piece of storytelling. Cornwell brings the period of Alfred the Great's reign (A.D. 871-899) vividly to life. As important, Cornwell makes it easy to understand Uhtred's changing loyalties, and the forces that make it so hard for him to make peace between the warring emotions that pull him back and forth between his Saxon brethren and his Viking cohorts with whom he identifies so strongly. In addition, through Uhtred story, Cornwell also tells the thrilling (and true) story of Alfred the Great, who help to unify the disparate regions of England into a country.

A rousing, battle filled story, The Pale Horseman illustrates Cornwell's exquisite skill in weaving togther a riveting story line with accurate historical details. In short, this is an excellent and exciting book that is well on par with Cornwell's Sharpe novels - other than being set in a much different time and place! This installment of Uhtred's story takes us up to the momentous Battle of Ethandun, where Alfred's troops met and defeated the Viking army of Guthrum. However Alfred's victory was short lived - and Cornwell's uses this mixed victory as a set-up for Lords of the North, the soon to be published third book in this enthralling series.


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