This is the 9th book in the Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell.
Some of you may know Uhtred through the books or through the TV show which is now on Netflix.
War Lord came out in December 2020. It is the FINAL instalment in this series and I have heard it is amazing. So, instead of launching into reading the final book, I decided to go back a little, just to make sure I remembered what was going on. However, having read the earlier books a couple of times and having watched the TV series which is now up to book 8, I decided to start my re-read with Warriors of the Storm.
I don’t usually give spoilery reviews, but seeing as this is book 9, I don’t have any option. So if this is a series you are considering reading or watching, this review might not be the one for you.
You’ve been warned!!
On the review, spoilers aplenty! ⚔️ 🐺
As usual, Bernard Cornwell’s writing makes this an exciting read. We have the battles, the Danish invaders, and court politics that we have come to expect. However, this book is a bit of a departure from what has come before.
The earlier books had such conflict between Uhtred’s love for his foster family (who are pagan Danes) and his oaths to Alfred, King of Wessex. In these books, especially 1-6, he is constantly pulled between the two. He doesn’t like Christianity and doesn’t like Alfred’s piety. Alfred’s wife, Elswith, hates him, as does most of the clergy, with the exception of the lovely Beocca who is able to see the goodness in Uhtred.
Uhtred is drawn to the Viking invaders, especially his foster brother Ragnar Ragnarsson. He identifies with their pagan religion, their lust for life, their skill in battle. But ultimately they are not his people, and if he ever wants to regain his home and title as Lord of Bebbanberg (a fort and landholding in Northumbria), he must stay loyal to Alfred.
By book 9, that conflict is gone. Alfred is dead, but so is his Ragnar Ragnarsson. Ethelflaed, Queen of Mercia, Alfred’s daughter, is a former lover and friend of Uhtred. He now fights the Viking invaders for her without the inner conflict he once had. Therefore, some of the tension, the not knowing what side Uhtred will pick, is gone.
So what does this book offer? If old conflicts and old feuds are dead, how does the story move forward?
I would say that it is something of a chess piece story. The drama is no longer over who Uhtred will follow, the drama is now moving swiftly towards Bebbanberg. The focus of the story is changing. Much of the novel takes place in Northumbria, where we haven’t been in while. Bebbanberg is close, and given that it was the only reason Uhtred swore his oaths to Alfred in the first place, this is now Uhtred’s only desire.
In Warriors of the Storm, the northern English kingdom is ruled by a Dane, but he is weak and Uhtred feels that Bebbanberg is ripe for the taking. As usual the English ruler doesn’t agree (this time Ethelflaed) but Uhtred has other ideas. 😉
I especially love that this time we see Ireland ☘️ ☘️☘️ There is magic in the land there, pagan beliefs have not quite faded, and the sea is treacherous.
Another interesting development is that Uhtred’s children are all grown up. The older son Uhtred is a priest, much to his father’s dismay. Book Uhtred is harsher than TV Uhtred, and has therefore given his oldest son a new name – Judas – the name of betrayal. His younger son, now called Uhtred, is a warrior made in the image of his father. Stiorra is married to a Dane.
All of these three children feature in Warriors of the Storm. Judas and his father come to a place of understanding (though in a rather unfortunate way). His youngest son is often at his father’s side. However, it is Stiorra who is given the most room as a character. She is most like her mother, Gisela, who was the love of Uhtred’s life, but she has Uhtred’s stubbornness. She is ruthless in her own way and this is something Uhtred respects, making him in someways a more modern father than the other men in the series.
Another strong woman who features is Brida, the last remaining character who we met in the first book in the series, The Last Kingdom. Once a lover to Uhtred, then the lover of his foster brother, Ragnall. She is a warrior, was once a friend, and now is a sworn enemy. A particularly nasty incident which occurs in the novel makes this especially so. Poor Judas!
Uhtred doesn’t hate her (to begin with), but she hates him. She hates all Christians and now believes that killing them is the only way to defeat their God. She despises Uhtred because he is pagan and yet still fights for Christian kings and queens.
This is the final reminder of the old conflict within Uhtred. The last call of his old pagan life. Thankfully, he chooses his own family and puts the past to rest.
And thus, the board is wiped clean, and we move into book 10, with eyes firmly set on retaking Bebbanberg. The only other place this story can go is with his young charge, Ethelstan, grandson to Alfred. He is legitimate, but King Edward’s second wife and family deny it. Will this be the new conflict? Will Uhtred have to put dreams of Bebbanberg to one side to help Ethelstan claim his place in the line of succession?
And so, this is why I call it a chess piece story. Pawns are moved around the board. New motivations replace the old ones. Favourite characters are dispensed with in favour of the new. And what happens when all the pawns are sacrificed? The queens and kings and rooks must come out to play. And that is what is happening here.
The pawns have been killed.
The king is dead
Long live the king
But which king?
On to book 10! That is only way to find out!!
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