Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Empty Throne: Saxon Tales Volume Eight by Bernard Cornwell

The Empty Throne is volume eight in the first person series The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell. The series follows the adventures of a pre-united England through the eyes of pagan raised Uthred.

For those who've read the previous volumes, I'm sad to say, this will be a quick read. The writing flows smoothly with one event flowing into the next until the book is over and you're looking for the next chapter. It's like visiting old friends who may have a few new things to say but whose general personality and demeanor you're going to understand right away.

Uthred continues to make a great person to tell the tale. As a native of England captured as a young age and raised as a pagan, he worships Thor and knows the lore of the 'heathens' but he fights to protect the idea of England, of a united England, from these invaders.

Even as he does that, his very nature and demeanor make him an outcast among those he protects.

Other aspects of Uthred that are well done, include his level of competency. While he's a great swordsman, he's getting older, slower. While he's a great tactician and has cunning far above what his foes usually bring to the table, he doesn't allow for others to be as smart as he and sometimes falls prey to his own overconfidence.

Uthred starts off the novel still in pain from a wound inflicted upon him previously, but uses it to his own advantage, letting others think him weaker and closer to death then he actually is. It's cleverly done but Bernard Cornwell doesn't drag the recovery process out to the end of the novel.

Another unusual thing, is that Uthred is, among his other accomplishments, a father. His 'favorite' son is Uthred. If this wasn't a first person novel that might get a little confusing with two characters having the same name. His daughter, Stiorra, is someone he doesn't know.

Sadly, the reader's don't know her either because she quickly turns out to be quite an interesting character. Sent to a nunnery initially to learn the ways of the Christian God in order to better fit into the evolving society about her, Stiorra instead is much like her father, a pagan and one who is not afraid to get her hands bloody.

I say sadly the reader's don't get to know her because her role in this novel is relatively short and her future unknown to the reader in future volumes. Still, Bernard Cornwell has taken many threads of previous books and continued to weave them through current ones, including some methods of fighting that bring things full circle.

The book includes many of the hallmarks of a Bernard Cornwell book. There is conspiracy, alliances forged and broken, exploration of foreign lands, last minute saves and plans that go horribly awry. The action is fierce, The mood of another era.

If you're a fan of the History Channel's Vikings, The Saxon Tales should be right up your alley.