The Pale Horseman (Saxon Tales #2)

The Pale Horseman (Saxon Tales #2)

4.3 166
by Bernard Cornwell, Jamie Glover
     
 

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Uhtred is a Saxon, adrift in a world of fire, sword and treachery. He has to make a choice -- fight for the Vikings who raised him, or for King Alfred the Great of Wessex who dislikes him.

Wessex, in the late 9th Century, was the last English kingdom. All the rest had fallen to the Danish Vikings. Now the Vikings want to finish England, and they assemble

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Overview

Uhtred is a Saxon, adrift in a world of fire, sword and treachery. He has to make a choice -- fight for the Vikings who raised him, or for King Alfred the Great of Wessex who dislikes him.

Wessex, in the late 9th Century, was the last English kingdom. All the rest had fallen to the Danish Vikings. Now the Vikings want to finish England, and they assemble the Great Army which has only one ambition -- to conquer Wessex. Uhtred lives in Wessex, though he has small love for it and none for King Alfred. Yet fate, as Uhtred learns, has its own imperatives, and when the Vikings attack, Uhtred finds himself on Alfred's side.

The Pale Horseman, rooted in the real history of Anglo-Saxon England, tells the astonishing and true story of how Alfred fights back against his overwhelming enemies. Alfred and Uhtred make unlikely allies, yet the two forge an uneasy alliance that will lead them to where the last remaining Saxon army will fight for the very existence of England.

The Pale Horseman is enthralling as both a historical and a personal story, a novel of divided loyalties and desperate heroism. The Washington Post calls Bernard Cornwell "perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today", and The Pale Horseman is yet another masterpiece of historical and battle fiction that gives life to one of the most important and exciting epochs in the history of the English people and culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Bill Sheehan
Like its predecessor, The Pale Horseman offers an unvarnished portrait of a world in transition, moving from the endemic savagery of the Dark Ages toward the more cohesive -- and civilized -- society that Alfred and his descendants will gradually create. Thus far, Cornwell's narrative has covered only a small part of this vast historical enterprise, so Uhtred's memoirs are likely to continue for quite some time. (A third volume, tentatively titled The Lords of the North Country , has already been announced.) Given the quality of the opening installments, this is a welcome prospect indeed. Historical adventures as smart and vigorous as Cornwell's are in short supply. It's good to know that more are on the way.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Outnumbered Saxon forces continue battling Danish invaders in this rousing sequel to the bestselling The Last Kingdom. It's A.D. 877, and the dispossessed Northumbrian noble Uhtred has just routed the Danes in a battle at Cynuit in southern England. Logically, Uhtred should now ally himself with Alfred, whose Wessex kingdom alone has successfully resisted Danish control. But Uhtred sees a better chance of recovering his lost estate if he finds a way to join the Danes, who raised him and whose simple life of "ale, women, sword, and reputation" he finds more congenial than Alfred's Christian piety and military caution. But when the Danes invade Wessex, Uhtred's loyalties are further divided. His Celtic mistress foretells victory for Alfred, but Uhtred can scarcely believe that the bedraggled king, camped in isolated marshes with a handful of supporters, can repel the invaders and unite England. Yet pride grows in Uhtred: "I understood that among the Danes I was as important as my friends, and without friends I was just another landless, masterless warrior. But among the Saxons I was another Saxon, and among the Saxons I did not need another man's generosity." Uhtred demonstrates his newfound patriotism in the book's climactic battle at Edington. Filled with bawdy humor, bloodlust, treachery and valor, this stirring tale will leave readers eager for the next volume in this Alfred the Great series. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While it's difficult to imagine many listeners being interested in a novel set in ninth-century England, it's equally difficult to imagine anyone who starts this thrilling book putting it down. The second volume of Cornwell's projected trilogy about King Alfred the Great, Pale Horseman continues the story of Uhtred, a young Northumbrian nobleman and warrior who is torn between his Saxon patriotism and his admiration for England's Danish invaders. In this tale, Uhtred must choose between Alfred and the Danes. As always, Cornwell blends engaging fiction with authentic historical backdrops, while bringing to life a remote era in a persuasive narrative that makes for perfect listening. Tom Sellwood's relaxed and confident narration is an improvement over his more strained reading of the novel's predecessor, The Last Kingdom, and accentuates the book's strengths. Recommended for libraries whose patrons appreciate first-class historical fiction.-R. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Cornwell's tough medieval saga continues after King Alfred's realm is reduced to one swamp and a handful of believers. Uhtred of Begganburg, Northumbrian narrator of Cornwell's series opener, The Last Kingdom (2005), returns to court from his triumph at the battle of Cynuit to find that his rightful glory has been usurped by his weasely nemesis, Odda the Younger. Pious King Alfred is always ready to believe the worst of the pagan Uhtred, who should have skipped rest and recovery at home with beautiful wife Mildrith-now a serious whiner-and gone straight to His Majesty to take credit for the death of the Danish warrior Ubba. Too late. The bad career move puts Uhtred way outside the sanctimonious Saxon power circle, to the disappointment of the increasingly religious Mildrith. Just as he is about to perish from boredom on his farm, Uhtred's old pal Leofric reappears, and the two chums hatch a plan to go plundering in the West, disguised as Vikings. On their excellent adventure, the two score copious loot and Uhtred rescues beautiful Celtic queen Iseult, who is also a bit of a witch. The loot comes in handy when Uhtred wants to settle Mildrith's family debt to the rapacious church, but the only way he can square things with Alfred is by winning a battle with Steapa, a stupendously strong, extra-large warrior. In the middle of the contest, Vikings spring a surprise attack and the Saxons are badly beaten. The king and his family flee, taking refuge in a bog inhabited by gloomy fishermen loyal to no one. A little magic and a formidable battle begin to reverse the bad fortune. Swords, shields, mud and blood. Great stuff, as always, from the master.
George R.R. Martin
“Bernard Cornwell does the best battle scenes of any writer I’ve ever read, past or present.”
Time
“A big-bellied, bushy-bearded tale of 9th century England. Our hero is Uhtred, a good-hearted lout with a pleasantly sour disposition; he’s like a 9th century Han Solo....He endows the book with an unexpectedly complex, thoughtful soul.”
Time Magazine
” [A] big-bellied, bushy-bearded tale ... [Cornwell] endows the book with an unexpectedly complex, thoughtful soul.”
Washington Post
“Superior entertainment that is both engaging and enlightening....Historical adventures as smart and vigorous as Cornwell’s are in short supply.”
Arizona Republic
“Entertaining”
Booklist
“A crackerjack adventure tale from a master of the craft.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“A suavely rendered tale … [brings] turbulent times to vivid life.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060787486
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/17/2006
Series:
Saxon Tales Series, #2
Edition description:
Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hours
Sales rank:
349,914
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 5.70(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Pale Horseman LP


By Bernard Cornwell

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Bernard Cornwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060878924

Chpater One

These days I look at twenty-year-olds and think they are pathetically young, scarcely weaned from their mothers' tits, but when I was twenty I considered myself a full-grown man. I had fathered a child, fought in the shield wall, and was loath to take advice from anyone. In short I was arrogant, stupid, and headstrong. Which is why, after our victory at Cynuit, I did the wrong thing.

We had fought the Danes beside the ocean, where the river runs from the great swamp and the Saefern Sea slaps on a muddy shore, and there we had beaten them. We had made a great slaughter and I, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, had done my part. More than my part, for at the battle's end, when the great Ubba Lothbrokson, most feared of all the Danish leaders, had carved into our shield wall with his great war ax, I had faced him, beaten him, and sent him to join the einherjar, that army of the dead who feast and swive in Odin's corpse hall.

What I should have done then, what Leofric told me to do, was ride hard to Exanceaster where Alfred, King of the West Saxons, was besieging Guthrum. I should have arrived deep in the night, woken the king from his sleep, and laid Ubba's battle banner of the black raven and Ubba's great war ax, its blade still crusted with blood, at Alfred's feet. I should have given the king the good news that the Danish army was beaten, that the few survivors had taken to their dragon-headed ships, that Wessex was safe, and that I, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, had achieved all of those things.

Instead I rode to find my wife and child.

At twenty years old I would rather have been plowing Mildrith than reaping the rewards of my good fortune, and that is what I did wrong, but, looking back, I have few regrets. Fate is inexorable, and Mildrith, though I had not wanted to marry her and though I came to detest her, was a lovely field to plow.

So, in that late spring of the year 877, I spent the Saturday riding to Cridianton instead of going to Alfred. I took twenty men with me and I promised Leofric that we would be at Exanceaster by midday on Sunday and I would make certain Alfred knew we had won his battle and saved his kingdom.

"Odda the Younger will be there by now," Leofric warned me. Leofric was almost twice my age, a warrior hardened by years of fighting the Danes. "Did you hear me?" he asked when I said nothing. "Odda the Younger will be there by now," he said again, "and he's a piece of goose shit who'll take all the credit."

"The truth cannot be hidden," I said loftily.

Leofric mocked that. He was a bearded squat brute of a man who should have been the commander of Alfred's fleet, but he was not well born and Alfred had reluctantly given me charge of the twelve ships because I was an ealdorman, a noble, and it was only fitting that a high-born man should command the West Saxon fleet even though it had been much too puny to confront the massive array of Danish ships that had come to Wessex's south coast. "There are times," Leofric grumbled, "when you are an earsling." An earsling was something that had dropped out of a creature's backside and was one of Leofric's favorite insults. We were friends.

"We'll see Alfred tomorrow," I said.

"And Odda the Younger," Leofric said patiently, "has seen him today."

Odda the Younger was the son of Odda the Elder who had given my wife shelter, and the son did not like me. He did not like me because he wanted to plow Mildrith, which was reason enough for him to dislike me. He was also, as Leofric said, a piece of goose shit, slippery and slick, which was reason enough for me to dislike him.

"We shall see Alfred tomorrow," I said again, and next morning we all rode to Exanceaster, my men escorting Mildrith, our son, and his nurse, and we found Alfred on the northern side of Exanceaster where his green-and-white dragon banner flew above his tents. Other banners snapped in the damp wind, a colorful array of beasts, crosses, saints, and weapons announcing that the great men of Wessex were with their king. One of those banners showed a black stag, which confirmed that Leofric had been right and that Odda the Younger was here in south Defnascir. Outside the camp, between its southern margin and the city walls, was a great pavilion made of sailcloth stretched across guyed poles, and that told me that Alfred, instead of fighting Guthrum, was talking to him. They were negotiating a truce, though not on that day, for it was a Sunday and Alfred would do no work on a Sunday if he could help it. I found him on his knees in a makeshift church made from another poled sailcloth, and all his nobles and thegns were arrayed behind him, and some of those men turned as they heard our horses' hooves. Odda the Younger was one of those who turned and I saw the apprehension show on his narrow face.

The bishop who was conducting the service paused to let the congregation make a response, and that gave Odda an excuse to look away from me. He was kneeling close to Alfred, very close, suggesting that he was high in the king's favor, and I did not doubt that he had brought the dead Ubba's raven banner and war ax to Exanceaster and claimed the credit for the fight beside the sea. "One day," I said to Leofric, "I shall slit that bastard from the crotch to the gullet and dance on his offal."

"You should have done it yesterday."

Continues...


Excerpted from The Pale Horseman LP by Bernard Cornwell Copyright © 2006 by Bernard Cornwell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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