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The Burning Land LP: A Novel (Saxon Tales) (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Bernard Cornwell

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7761711,891 (3.94)12
Member:thesnowtigress
Title:The Burning Land LP: A Novel (Saxon Tales)
Authors:Bernard Cornwell
Info:HarperLuxe (2010), Edition: Lgr, Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:historical fiction

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The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell (2009)

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This fifth instalment of the Saxon Stories is set during the early 890s when Alfred the Great is ailing yet is still the most powerful man in the divided England that he hopes to unite.

As usual, the tale is narrated by the anti-hero of the piece, Lord Uhtred, who is a Saxon warrior with a liking for his countrymen’s enemies, the Danes. At one time or another he has fought on both sides, as he does is this tale, though he’s predominantly – and unwilling – on the Saxon side in this episode.

By now Uhtred is in his mid-thirties with a renowned reputation as a great warlord. He is a pagan but is also good friends with three Christian priests. His conversation with them is often amusing, as are his confrontations with priests who he doesn’t get along so well with.

Uhtred is also a man who honours his pledged oaths. This leads to him leading more great battles against the Danes, first on behalf of King Alfred – who he doesn’t like – and lastly on behalf of Alfred’s daughter Æthelflæd – who he likes well.

As always, Bernard Cornwell’s depictions of battle scenes are vivid and believable. This is one of the author’s greatest talents. Confrontation of all varieties, be it physical or verbal, is expertly portrayed. The characterization and plotting are also superb.

The thing that, in my view, prevents Mr Cornwell from being an even better writer than he is – and he’s one of my favourites – is his dialogue attribution. The actual dialogue is excellent, but for 90+ per cent of the time he interrupts the flow by needlessly reminding the reader who’s speaking, more often than not inserting this pointless information (pointless because it’s obvious who’s speaking) in the middle of sentences, as the following excerpt shows:

“He’s only doing it,” Æthelflæd said, “so my father doesn’t attack him.”
“He’s a weasel’s earsling,” I said.
“He wants East Anglia,” she said. “Eohric’s a weak king and Haesten would like his crown.”
“Maybe,” I said dubiously, “but he’d prefer Wessex.”

The reader knows whether it’s Uhtred or Æthelflæd speaking, not only because there are no other characters taking part in the conversation, but also because these are two strong characters. Mr Cornwell maybe does not realise that the strength of his characters make it clear to the reader who’s talking, just as he fails to grasp how irritating is to have his well-written dialogue swamped with superfluous attribution.

This is the best example of needless dialogue attribution, plus it’s the stupidest line in the book:

“I am Ragnar Ragnarson,” Ragnar said.

Anyway, apart from this pet hate of mine, this is a great read by a great author. I really like Uhtred, Alfred, Ragnar, Haesten, Æthelflæd, and most of the priests. I also like a character new to this series, namely Skade – beautiful but brutal. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Nov 26, 2014 |
( )
  Texas_Reaver | Mar 31, 2013 |
Cornwell weaves a compelling tale of shield walls, sieges, and the spread of christianity through the pagan lands. Definitely best to read the other books first before this one, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be half as enjoyable without the background of the characters.

I was really kind of hoping this would be the last book and there would be closure but it looks like poor Utred has more work to do before he settles into his ancestral home. ( )
  ragwaine | Jan 13, 2013 |
The Burning Land

Fifth novel in this series. Like the others, this is a good page turner, but Uhtred remains, for me, as unsympathetic as ever. It is odd that an author who clearly, to judge by his historical afterword, and rightly in my view, regards Alfred as truly deserving the title "the Great", continues to portray the King is such an unsympathetic light. His son, the future King Edward the Elder, is treated in the same way, though Uhtred's opinion of the Aetheling is improving by the end of the novel after the Vikings are defeated at Benfleet. As in earlier novels, the relentless slaughter is described graphically and is a little wearisome. ( )
  john257hopper | Jan 13, 2012 |
The latest book in Cornwell's Saxon series. If you've read any of the others there's not much to say - Vikings, shield walls, axes, death, Thor, dismemberment... A good time. I continue to enjoy the series. ( )
1 vote sgtbigg | May 27, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Bernard Cornwell is one of the kings of historical fiction — his Richard Sharpe novels, about a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars, and Grail Quest series have captivated audiences in the United Kingdom and United States. His new book, The Burning Land — the latest in his series The Saxon Tales — is currently on the bestseller list. NPR's Neal Conan talks with Cornwell about the ninth century, writing historical literature and the new PBS series based on his Sharpe novels.
added by bongiovi | editNPR (Jan 28, 2010)
 
Historical novels stand or fall on detail, and Mr. Cornwell writes as if he has been to ninth-century Wessex and back. He gives a graphic sense of what it's like to stand in a defensive shield-wall and how you go about breaking one. Each of his battles poses different tactical questions and gets imaginatively different answers. His accounts of fire and slaughter, and of Viking methods of extorting money, would seem gruesomely exaggerated if they weren't so often based on old legends or confirmed by archaeology.
 
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The Burning Land is for Alan and Jan Rust
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Not long ago I was in some monastery.
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The Danes of East Anglia and the Vikings of Northumbria are plotting the conquest of all Britain. When King Alfred's daughter pleads with Uhtred for help, he cannot refuse her request. In a desperate gamble, he takes command of a demoralized Mercian army, leading them in an unforgettable battle on a blood-soaked field beside the Thames.… (more)

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