The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell

The Pale Horseman is the second book in the Saxon Series written by Bernard Cornwell and published in 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers.

Synopsis: Danish invaders, headed by Guthrum the Unlucky continue their ruthless conquest of Britain but have negotiated a peace treaty with King Alfred meaning that the kingdom of Wessex remains under Saxon rule. During these peaceful times, Uhtred goes raiding along the coast of Cornwall in search of loot and plunder and there meets the Danish warrior Svein and his forces on a mission to conquer Wessex, the last Saxon kingdom in Britain.

Cornwell maintains the action filled momentum of The Last Kingdom in this sequel novel, with a lively and animated plot that was consistent throughout the book. I enjoyed the rawness of the story-telling which complemented the book’s historical setting, during an age of battles, war and rebellion. It almost added an extra layer of harsh realism to the abundant portrayals of sex and violence.

The characterisation was also a strong feature of this novel, especially in the case of Uhtred’s ongoing internal conflict, which makes him fight alongside his Saxon countrymen, but also yearn the life of a Danish warrior. He thus brings upon himself the disdain of all those around him who scorn his pagan leanings. The people of Wessex are fiercely loyal to their Christian faith, yet as an affront to his people, Uhtred openly wears Thor’s hammer around his neck, dresses like a Dane and is overly familiar with the sorceress Iseult, despite being married to Mildrith.

We also learn more about Alfred, the King of Wessex in this novel, in particular his regrets and vulnerabilities that have made him cling to his Christian faith so intensely. He finds himself confronted with dire challenges that humble his character and expose his weaknesses, making him one of the most developed characters in the book.

As with The Last Kingdom, the faced paced nature of the book didn’t stop the narrative from becoming a bit too prosaic at times, in that it felt like the book was listing sequences of events, pragmatically instead of telling a story. So this happened and then that happened and this happened and then that happened …

The Pale Horseman was overall an enjoyable and insightful read. It sheds light on the real life events of an ancient war that was fought between the Danes and the Saxons for the Kingdom of Wessex and how that war affected the England we know today. I love flavour of coarseness and dry wit in Cornwell’s style of writing and overall, I enjoyed the execution of the plot. For that reason, I rate The Pale Horseman..


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