Tag Archives: bernard cornwell


Vagabond (Grail Quest #2) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

In 1347, a year of conflict and unrest, Thomas of Hookton returns to England to pursue the Holy Grail. Among the flames of the Hundred Years War, a sinister enemy awaits the fabled archer and mercenary soldier: a bloodthirsty Dominican Inquisitor who also seeks Christendom’s most holy relic. But neither the horrors of the battlefield nor sadistic torture at the Inquisitor’s hands can turn Thomas from his sworn mission. And his thirst for vengeance will never be quenched while the villainous black rider who destroyed everything he loved still lives.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I don’t really understand why I’m enjoying this series so much but I really am. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read but maybe that is the reason why?

Overall I’d struggle to explain what happens in this book and how the story progresses. It’s jam packed full of characters, individual small stories and great characters and while there is plenty of action the overall story doesn’t really move forward much. At the end of the book not a lot has changed compared to the start. Maybe that’s it, maybe that’s the reason why?

One definite reason are the battle scenes. I’ve read series’ by the same author set in Viking and Celtic times where the battles revolve around individual swordsmen and their experiences. With the main character being an archer it’s a different perspective. You get his viewpoint but also that of others and the overall battle scene. This combination is fantastic to read. In many battle scenes I skim through as the detail can be repetitive and boring but not in this case, here I devoured every word.

I do like Thomas, the main character. He is flawed and imperfect, very much reluctant to take up the quest and therefore much more realistic and believable. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next with his story.

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Harlequin (Grail Quest #1) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

From New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, now available in paperback—the first book in the Grail Series–a spellbinding tale of a young man, a fearless archer, who sets out wanting to avenge his family’s honor and winds up on a quest for the Holy Grail.

At dawn on Easter morning 1343, a marauding band of French raiders arrives by boat to ambush the coastal English village of Hookton. To brave young Thomas, the only survivor, the horror of the attack is epitomized in the casual savagery of a particular black-clad knight, whose flag — three yellow hawks on a blue field — presides over the bloody affair. As the killers sail away, Thomas vows to avenge the murder of his townspeople and to recapture a holy treasure that the black knight stole from the church.

To do this, Thomas of Hookton must first make his way to France; So in 1343 he joins the army of King Edward III as it is about to invade the continent — the beginning of the Hundred Years War. A preternaturally gifted bowman, Thomas quickly becomes recognized as one of England’s most deadly archers in King Edward’s march across France. Yet he never stops scanning the horizon for his true enemy’s flag.

When Thomas saves a young Frenchwoman from a bloodthirsty crowd, her father — French nobleman Sir Guillaume d’Evecque — rewards his bravery by joining him in the hunt for the mysterious dark knight and the stolen holy relic. What begins as a search for vengeance will soon prove the beginning of an even higher purpose: the quest for the Holy Grail itself.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a superb book and I read it through in less than 2 days. It’s a completely original setting for me as I haven’t read anything from this time period. The quality is of the writing is among the very best I’ve read.

In all three things made this book for me. The first, as always, are the characters. There are a small number of main characters and a host of supporting minor characters but the author manages to make all of them stand out and be memorable. He gives just enough information to make them relatable without bogging the reader down with unnecessary detail. Thomas, despite the description above, is no knight on a quest and simply wants to fight and plunder while keeping himself and his friends alive. He’s the reluctant hero.

The second is the battle scenes. The setting is the start of the Hundred Years War with a mixture of seige fighting, knight cavalry charges and hand to hand fighting. This is definitely no romantic Arthurian chivalrous combat. It’s bloody, violent and very visceral. It’s about staying alive by killing as many of the enemy as possible and then taking what you can from the survivors. The author manages to find just the right balance between detail and not losing the reader in the complexity of the writing. I’ve seen him do that with some of the Last Kingdom battles but not here.

The third element for me is how he tells the story. We are dropped into the middle of the war and into Thomas’s life with no background or back story to work from. We gradually get to know him and his quest as the book progresses and keeping the mystery keeps the interest. He also blends the stories of Thomas, Sir Simon, Guillaume and Harlequin together in a very skilled way.

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Excalibur (Warlord Chronicles #3) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

In The Winter King and Enemy of God Bernard Cornwell demonstrated his astonishing ability to make the oft-told legend of King Arthur fresh and new for our time. Now, in this riveting final volume of The Warlord Chronicles, Cornwell tells the unforgettable tale of Arthur’s final struggles against the Saxons and his last attempts to triumph over a ruined marriage and ravaged dreams.

This is the tale not only of a broken love remade, but also of forces both earthly and unearthly that threaten everything Arthur stands for. Peopled by princesses and bards, by warriors and magicians, Excalibur is the story of love, war, loyalty, and betrayal-the work of a magnificent storyteller at the height of his powers.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

There is a tendency among many authors to keep a good idea going and going until they degrade the story and spoil it. It’s a refreshing change to see a traditional trilogy and to see it completed with no hints of more to come. The Arthurian legend naturally limits the story of course, but it’s still nice to have it finish completely.

Overall I’ve really enjoyed this version of Arthur. His story and that of the rest of the characters are portrayed in a very unique way and solidly placed within the history of ancient Britons. The arrival of Saxons and Christianity is particularly interesting for anyone that has already read the Last Kingdom books by the same author.

This last chapter deals mainly with the rise of Christianity and the final decline of the pagan Gods of Britain. It folds the final pieces of our characters’ stories into this and also melds the Arthurian story with them. This is done really, really well. Lots of questions are answered especially filling in the final pieces of Derfel’s story. However, despite delivering a very satisfying conclusion the overall feeling is one of sadness at the end.

The introduction of one new character has prompted me to rediscover another author from a long time ago. The new character is Taliesin the Bard who features heavily in another Arthurian based storyline by Stephen Lawhead called The Pendragon Cycle.

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enemy of god

Enemy of God (Warlord Chronicles #2) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

The balance of King Arthur’s unified kingdom is threatened by Merlin’s quest for the last of Britain’s 13 Treasures; by the conflict between the ancient religion and the new Christianity; and by Britain’s war with the Saxons. A master storyteller continues his retelling of the Arthurian legend.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The first book introduced us to a new version of Arthur and the Arthurian story but this second installment takes it to anther level.

Derfel is still our guide. He’s a grown man now, Arthur’s trusted friend and key to the success of Arthur’s plans. He’s in love with the beautiful princess but it’s not a fairytale story for them. We also see him in his later years as he continues to write the story for the young Queen Igraine and there are tantalising hints of what happens to him through the years to bring him into Sansum’s care.

The story is obviously based around the Arthurian legends but this is a much darker tale than the traditional stories of gallantry, romance and chivalrous knights and so much better for it. The author takes the traditional characters and layers then with ambition, violence and even downright evil on occasion. It’s probably much closer to the truth!

This isn’t a particularly long book but it’s packed full of detail from the storyline to character development that it seems long – in a really good way though. When it finished I just wanted it to keep going, thankfully there’s a third instalment still to come!

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the winter king

The Winter King (The Warlord Chronicles #1) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

Uther, the High King, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos – threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade. As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the enemy at the gates, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere. Will the old-world magic of Merlin be enough to turn the tide of war in his favour?

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A very original take on the story of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s written as a retrospective from the point of view of Derfel, a young British orphan and eventual friend of Arthur, now in his latter years.

This is similar to the author’s Last Kingdom novels and the similarities don’t end there. In fact it took me a while to shake the feeling I was reading another chapter of Uhtred’s life.

Once over that this was a great read. There are a number of great characters and just enough of the Arthur legend to make it seem familiar. If this first book is a true reflection of the rest of the series then it should be a cracker!

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sword of kings

Sword of Kings (The Last Kingdom #12) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

An oath of loyalty.
Two warring kings.
A destiny he didn’t choose…

England is in turmoil as Vikings and Saxons battle for territory. Rumours build about the fatal sickness of the King, and the country awaits an heir.

A violent clash at sea forces the warrior lord Uhtred to lead his men from his Northumbrian fortress to London and plunge into the eye of the storm. For two kings claim the empty throne, and a new kingdom cannot be born without bloodshed.

Uhtred’s sword will leave one king dead and the other victorious. But sometimes it is hard to know the will of the gods…

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

One of the best books in the series and a real return to what I love about Uhtred’s character and the series in general. Although there is one more, final book to come it has a real feeling of a finale and it’s obvious that Uhtred’s story is drawing to an end.

What I liked most about this book is that it is much more contained than previous books. Although Uhtred still gets around geographically the storyline is kept mainly to a small number of locations and the main focus is on Uhtred and his group of warriors.

Overall the story is quite dark. There’s a real sense that Uhtred is coming to the end of his story but also that pagan Britain is also coming to an end as Alfred’s Englaland begins to approach reality. The close relationship between Finan and Uhtred is a poignant theme through the whole story as Finan’s concern for his old friend becomes more real.

As much as I’m looking forward to seeing how Uhtred’s story finishes I would be quite happy if the series ended here. As I said above it leaves the reader with a sense of finale.

war of the wolf

War of The Wolf (Last Kingdom #11) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

While Uhtred might have regained his family’s fortress, it seems that a peaceful life is not to be – as he is under threat from both an old enemy and a new foe. The old enemy comes from Wessex where a dynastic struggle will determine who will be the next king.  And the new foe is Sköll, a Norseman, whose ambition is to be King of Northumbria and who leads a frightening army of wolf-warriors, men who fight half-crazed in the belief that they are indeed wolves. Uhtred, believing he is cursed, must fend off one enemy while he tries to destroy the other. In this new chapter of the Saxon Tales series—a rousing adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love and battle, as seen through the eyes of a warrior straddling two worlds—Uhtred returns to fight once again for the destiny of England.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I dithered about this rating. I did really enjoy it and it’s definitely better than 3 stars but not quite good enough to get 4. It could be that the series had now been going so long that it’s hard to do anything different with Uhtred and his story.

There is a lot of good in this book. The writing, as ever, is excellent and the historical connections really interesting to the point that I’d often divert to Google to learn more about the background and surrounding stories. I particularly liked the political machinations of this book. There’s a lot of twisting and turning as the main characters try to use and manipulate each other for their own good and to see both the successes and failures of these plans.

I also really like how the author is allowing the characters to get older. Although this means he is limiting the length of the story it does create a new perspective as the series develops. I particularly liked how he described the changes in battle for Uhtred, how he struggled to accept his limits and how those around him helped and supported but also restricted him when he was getting carried away.

I am disappointed with two aspects of the story. I thought there was much more scope for Sigtrygger and Stiora’s story and the feeling throughout this book is that they are now relegated to very minor characters. At the end of the book I got the feeling that their stories are both pretty much over.

I am also disappointed with the Bebbanburg element. So much has been invested in securing Uhtred’s family home to have it pretty much disregarded in this chapter. Maybe the author has other plans, possibly involving Sigtrygger, but I haven’t read any future synopsis yet so I’m not sure.

Finally I found the culmination of the battle with Sköll very clumsy. It was a real Hollywood ending and just felt very unrealistic. It was as if the author had painted himself into a corner and created such an insurmountable task that he needed this unbelievable stroke of luck to save our hero. It just didn’t sit right with me, especially as Uhtred is a wiley enough warrior by now to have avoided it all.

I am very much looking forward to the next installment. Hopefully back to Bebbanburg but I feel that time is now running short for Uhtred as he gets older and Saxon Englaland grows in power and turns its eyes towards Northumbria which has now become “The Last Kingdom“.

the flame bearer

The Flame Bearer (The Last Kingdom #10) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

Britain is at an uneasy peace. After their bloody defeat of Danish-held East Anglia, the West Saxons stand victorious while the Mercians have taken back their land on the border of Northumbria, the last kingdom of Britain still ruled by the pagan northmen. A precarious truce exists between Æthelflæd’s Mercia and Northumbria, now ruled by Uhtred of Bebbanburg’s son-in-law, Sigtryggr.

Under the cover of this fragile calm, Uhtred must begin his campaign that will end with the assault on Bebbanburg, the great fortress that is rightly his and was stolen from him in childhood. But his plans are shattered when the Scots surge down and lay claim to the north of England, as the West Saxons, under Uhtred’s old enemy, Æthelhelm, invade Northumbria from the south. If Uhtred is to succeed in recapturing Bebbanburg he must both defeat Æthelhelm’s forces and drive the Scots away before he can attack the formidable fortress by the sea. He has a small army and many enemies, but Uhtred is not the supreme warlord of Britain for nothing…

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Finally after so many books and so many years Uhtred gets the chance to break free from the Saxons and make his claim for Bebbanburg in blood and violence.

Unlike so many of the other books in this series this one focuses solely on Uhtred and his ambitions. There is of course, some dealings with his Norse and Saxon allies as well as his Scots enemies but it’s all in the context of the assault on Bebbanburg.

(spoilers follow)

I was really pleased that the Bebbanburg storyline was brought to a conclusion. I was beginning to wonder how long it could be kept going before it became ridiculous and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Uhtred’s story continues now as he ages and finally as Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg.

the empty throne

Saxton Chronicles #8 by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

“My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred . . .”

Britain, early tenth century AD: a time of change. There are new raids by the Vikings from Ireland, and turmoil among the Saxons over the leadership of Mercia. A younger generation is taking over.

Æthelred, the ruler of Mercia, is dying, leaving no legitimate heir. The West Saxons want their king, but Uhtred has long supported Athelflaed, sister to King Edward of Wessex and widow of Aethelred. Widely loved and respected, Athelflaed has all the makings of a leader—but could Saxon warriors ever accept a woman as their ruler? The stage is set for rivals to fight for the empty throne.

Uhtred is still suffering from the wounds he received in battle. To recover his strength he needs to find the sword that caused the injury, but lost amid the battle’s blood and mud, how could it be traced and who among the Vikings or Saxons might be holding it?

In the end it is one champion, one hero, who will destroy the new Viking threat to Mercia and ultimately decide the fate of England.

My Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

This was so much better than the preceeding “A Pagan Lord“. The characters were interesting, the story was snappy and full of detail and the story was well developed. Unlike Pagan Lord the story was kept within a short timeline and despite taking Uhtred to Wales it didn’t aimlessly wander across half of Britain.

Like most of the other books there was plenty of political shenanigans but this time Uhtred was back in the thick of it, manipulating the Saxon Lords and getting his way despite their best efforts.

As usual there are plenty of battles but the details are kept tight with just enough to picture the scene without getting bogged down in unnecessary complexity.

I particularly liked the introduction of the next generation. Uthred’s children, Uhtred and Stiorra, are great characters as is his adopted son Aethelstan. The relationships between them all is excellently described. Using Uhtred jnr to introduce the story was really enjoyable and the scene is set as Uhtred snr is gearing up to train the first King of Englaland.

the pagan lord

Saxon Stories #7 by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

At the onset of the tenth century, England is in turmoil. Alfred the Great is dead and Edward his son reigns as king. Wessex survives but peace cannot hold: the Danes in the north, led by Viking Cnut Longsword, stand ready to invade and will never rest until the emerald crown is theirs.

Uhtred, once Alfred’s great warrior but now out of favor with the new king, must lead a band of outcasts north to recapture his old family home, that great Northumbrian fortress, Bebbanburg.

Loyalties will be divided and men will fall, as every Saxon kingdom is drawn into the bloodiest battle yet with the Danes; a war which will decide the fate of every king, and the entire English nation.

My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

I enjoy Uthred and I enjoy the style of the author’s writing but this book didn’t seem to add anything to the story. It was focused solely around Uthred and his band and didn’t build anything on his relationship with Edward or any other significant character. It felt very much like a filler, killing off some other characters and moving forward some of the historical background. A good read but not great. Hopefully #8 will make use of this and take the story on a new direction.