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Sword Song: The Battle for London (Last Kingdom Series #4) (Saxon Tales)

Sword Song: The Battle for London (Last Kingdom Series #4) (Saxon Tales)

4.4 107
by Bernard Cornwell

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"Bernard Cornwell ranks as the current alpha male of testoterone-enriched historical fiction....This satisfying tale leaves you hungry for more of Uhtred's adventures." —USA Today

The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish Kingdom to the north and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the south. Warrior by instinct and


"Bernard Cornwell ranks as the current alpha male of testoterone-enriched historical fiction....This satisfying tale leaves you hungry for more of Uhtred's adventures." —USA Today

The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish Kingdom to the north and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the south. Warrior by instinct and Viking by nature, Uhtred, the dispossessed son of Northumbrian lord, has land, a wife and children—and a duty to King Alfred to hold the frontier on the Thames. But a dead man has risen, and new Vikings have invaded the decayed Roman city of London with dreams of conquering Wessex...with Uhtred's help. Suddenly forced to weigh his oath to the king against the dangerous turning side of shifting allegiances and deadly power struggles, Uhtred—Alfred's sharpest sword—must now make the choice that will determine England's future.

Editorial Reviews

Bill Sheehan
Cornwell tells Alfred's story with wit, intelligence and absolute narrative authority…Like its predecessors, Sword Song offers a generous display of Cornwell's characteristic virtues: larger-than-life characters, direct, uncluttered prose and a precise evocation of the harsh realities of the distant past. As always, the battle scenes are particularly vivid, opening a window on the utter chaos of hand-to-hand combat among heavily armed bands of men. Cornwell remains in full control of this colorful, violent material, and his steadily deepening portrait of Alfred's nascent England continues to enthrall.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Cornwell's fourth entry in the popular Saxon Tales (following Lords of the North) is a rousing romp through the celebrated ninth-century reign of Alfred the Great. Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a 28-year-old pagan Saxon "lord of war," has pledged to serve Alfred by commanding the defensive frontier forts ("burhs"). Trouble arises when the Norse Viking brothers Sigefrid and Erik Thurgilson capture and occupy London, threatening Alfred's border and his control of the Thames River port. The Christian Alfred directs Uhtred to raise a Wessex army, expel the pagan Thurgilsons and resecure London. Commanding Uhtred is his vain, abusive cousin Ethelred, who is married to Alfred's eldest daughter, Ethelflaed. Plying his swords Serpent-Breath and Wasp-Sting, Uhtred is a stirring, larger-than-life action hero conflicted by ambition, fidelity and thirst for violence. All the major characters are well drawn, and the London battle scenes unfold quickly and vividly. A deft mix of historical details and customs authenticates the saga. And Cornwell drops in a slick twist precipitating the climatic battle to wrest control of London for the Saxons, paving the way for the story to continue. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Once more into another exciting breach, and this time, Uhtred, warrior hero of Cornwell's previous entries in the "Saxon Tales" series (The Last Kingdom), has to defend the ancient and decayed Roman city of London against the rampaging Vikings, who aim to conquer England and enslave the native Saxons. Along with great action and adventure, the novel revolves around the love-hate relationship between the devout but not yet "Great" King Alfred of Wessex and the pagan and irreverent Uhtred. Uhtred has reluctantly sworn to serve Alfred, even though he despises the man and his Christianity. Filled with bloodletting, battles, political schemes, and just a little romance, Cornell's latest tale offers excellent history and great adventure, and best yet, there will be more Saxon Tales to eagerly anticipate. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ9/15/07.]
—Robert Conroy

USA Today
“Bernard Cornwell ranks as the current alpha male of testosterone-enriched historical fiction…. As usual, Cornwell offers dramatic battle scenes with big swinging swords. There is also treachery, male bonding, plenty of historical nuggets and a skillful examination of the powerful role played by religion in the Dark Ages. Sword Song also has something new: a really terrific and moving love story…. All in all, this satisfying tale leaves you hungry for more of Uhtred’s adventures.”
Entertainment Weekly
“As expected, the warfare is ferociously bloody, the sacrilege pointedly barbed, and the story expertly paced. Heck, we’d even extol Uhtred’s budding spells of sober reflection about life and love — if we weren’t certain he’d slice an ear off for saying so.”
Washington Post Book World
“Cornwell tells Alfred’s story with wit, intelligence and absolute narrative authority.... Like its predecessors, Sword Song offers a generous display of Cornwell’s characteristic virtues: larger-than-life characters, direct, uncluttered prose and a precise evocation of the harsh realities of the distant past. As always, the battle scenes are particularly vivid, opening a window on the utter chaos of hand-to-hand combat among heavily armed bands of men. Cornwell remains in full control of this colorful, violent material, and his steadily deepening portrait of Alfred’s nascent England continues to enthrall.”
The Economist
“The direct heir to Patrick O’Brian.”
Washington Post
“Perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today.”

Product Details

Gardners Books
Publication date:
Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales) Series , #4
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sword Song
The Battle for London

Chapter One

"The dead speak," Æthelwold told me. He was sober for once. Sober and awed and serious. The night wind snatched at the house and the rushlights flickered red in the wintry drafts that whipped from the roof 's smoke-hole and through the doors and shutters.

"The dead speak?" I asked.

"A corpse," Æthelwold said, "he rises from the grave and he speaks." He stared at me wide-eyed, then nodded as if to stress that he spoke the truth. He was leaning toward me, his clasped hands fidgeting between his knees. "I have seen it," he added.

"A corpse talks?" I asked.

"He rises!" He wafted a hand to show what he meant.


"The dead man. He rises and he speaks." He still stared at me, his expression indignant. "It's true," he added in a voice that suggested he knew I did not believe him.

I edged my bench closer to the hearth. It was ten days after I had killed the raiders and hanged their bodies by the river, and now a freezing rain rattled on the thatch and beat on the barred shutters. Two of my hounds lay in front of the fire and one gave me a resentful glance when I scraped the bench, then rested his head again. The house had been built by the Romans, which meant the floor was tiled and the walls were of stone, though I had thatched the roof myself. Rain spat through the smoke-hole. "What does the dead man say?" Gisela asked. She was my wife and the mother of my two children.

Æthelwold did not answer at once, perhaps because he believed a woman should not take part in a serious discussion, but my silence told him thatGisela was welcome to speak in her own house and he was too nervous to insist that I dismiss her. "He says I should be king," he admitted softly, then gazed at me, fearing my reaction.

"King of what?" I asked flatly.

"Wessex," he said, "of course."

"Oh, Wessex," I said, as though I had never heard of the place.

"And I should be king!" Æthelwold protested. "My father was king!"

"And now your father's brother is king," I said, "and men say he is a good king."

"Do you say that?" he challenged me.

I did not answer. It was well enough known that I did not like Alfred and that Alfred did not like me, but that did not mean Alfred's nephew, Æthelwold, would make a better king. Æthelwold, like me, was in his late twenties, and he had made a reputation as a drunk and a lecherous fool. Yet he did have a claim to the throne of Wessex. His father had indeed been king, and if Alfred had possessed a thimbleful of sense he would have had his nephew's throat sliced to the bone. Instead Alfred relied on Æthelwold's thirst for ale to keep him from making trouble. "Where did you see this living corpse?" I asked, instead of answering his question.

He waved a hand toward the north side of the house. "On the other side of the street," he said. "Just the other side."

"Wæclingastræt?" I asked him, and he nodded.

So he was talking to the Danes as well as to the dead. Wæclingastræt is a road that goes northwest from Lundene. It slants across Britain, ending at the Irish Sea just north of Wales, and everything to the south of the street was supposedly Saxon land, and everything to the north was yielded to the Danes. That was the peace we had in that year of 885, though it was a peace scummed with skirmish and hate. "Is it a Danish corpse?" I asked.

Æthelwold nodded. "His name is Bjorn," he said, "and he was a skald in Guthrum's court, and he refused to become a Christian so Guthrum killed him. He can be summoned from his grave. I've seen it."

I looked at Gisela. She was a Dane, and the sorcery that Æthelwold described was nothing I had ever known among my fellow Saxons. Gisela shrugged, suggesting that the magic was equally strange to her. "Who summons the dead man?" she asked.

"A fresh corpse," Æthelwold said.

"A fresh corpse?" I asked.

"Someone must be sent to the world of the dead," he explained, as though it were obvious, "to find Bjorn and bring him back."

"So they kill someone?" Gisela asked.

"How else can they send a messenger to the dead?" Æthelwold asked pugnaciously.

"And this Bjorn," I asked, "does he speak English?" I put the question for I knew that Æthelwold spoke little or no Danish.

"He speaks English," Æthelwold said sullenly. He did not like being questioned.

"Who took you to him?" I asked.

"Some Danes," he said vaguely.

I sneered at that. "So some Danes came," I said, "and told you a dead poet wanted to speak to you, and you meekly traveled into Guthrum's land?"

"They paid me gold," he said defensively. Æthelwold was ever in debt.

"And why come to us?" I asked. Æthelwold did not answer. He fidgeted and watched Gisela, who was teasing a thread of wool onto her distaff. "You go to Guthrum's land," I persisted, "you speak to a dead man, and then you come to me. Why?"

"Because Bjorn said you will be a king too," Æthelwold said. He had not spoken loudly, but even so I held up a hand to hush him and I looked anxiously at the doorway as if expecting to see a spy listening from the darkness of the next room. I had no doubt Alfred had spies in my household and I thought I knew who they were, but I was not entirely certain that I had identified all of them, which was why I had made sure all the servants were well away from the room where Æthelwold and I talked. Even so it was not wise to say such things too loudly.

Sword Song
The Battle for London
. Copyright © by Bernard Cornwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

BERNARD CORNWELL is the author of the acclaimed New York Times bestselling Saxon Tales series, which includes The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, The Pagan Lord, and, most recently, The Empty Throne and Warriors of the Storm, and which serves as the basis for the hit television series The Last Kingdom. He lives with his wife on Cape Cod and in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Sword Song: The Battle for London (Saxon Tales #4) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ignore the first review. It's either a joke or a mistake. Having enjoyed the 3 previous saxon stories, this one is the best. As always, Cornwell excels at battle scenes. He also brings to life a bygone age with great detail that never weights down the page. Throw in a touch of humor and you have a great book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very good and it is a great addition to the series, read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the books. Somebody make a series of movies, HBO forget Spartagus, go with Uhtred. He is loyal to the king, though sometimes reluctantly, and a dispossed son of a Lord, trying tirelessly to regain his birthright. He's a warrior, a leader, treats his woman with respect and is a hulk to boot.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Saxon Chronicles, panned from the outset as Cornwell trying to return to his British roots, has proven to be a juggernaut that cannot be stopped by bad and, in this case, off-base, press reviews. Book 4, 'Sword Song: The Battle for London', continues the story of Lord Uhtred, Saxon born, Dane raised, sworn man of King Alfred the great. In this installment, Uhtred fights to take London back from the invading Northemen, the Vikings. Uhtred, who loves the Vikings far more than he cares for the Christian religion of the king he is continually sworn to serve, now must fight to take back London and to save Alfred, and his family, from defeat at the hands of the Norse invaders. This book, beginning in the year 885, probably doesn't see the end of 886 before the final page is turned. Unlike the first 3 offerings in this series, this book covers a very short period of time, perhaps 6-8 months. It is a fast moving, blood-letting adventure as Uhtred overtakes Danish controlled London whilst his estranged cousin, Aethelred, marries King Alfred's daughter, Aethelflaed, in search of a kingdom of his own. Uhtred is ordered to produce that kingdom as a gift to the newly married couple. Aetheflaed, a young woman whom Uhtred has known and loved as a daughter since she was a child, marries Uhtred's cousin, Aethelred, a man who Uhtred respects little and whom Uhtred, thanks to Alfred's order, owes much begining with the city of London. As we again hear Uhtred continue the story of his service to Alfred (All of the books in this series are told in first person), we find that a dead Dane skald (poet) is rising from his grave and announcing that Uhtred is to be King of Mercia. Uhtred witnesses this dead rising and follows the corpses instruction to meet with the Danish attackers who want to take the Saxon lands, present day England. Uhtred obeys the skald and travels to the Danish stronghold in London to meet 2 brothers, Erik and Sigefrid Thirgilson, and Haesten, a man who Uhtred once saved and who owed Uhtred an oath, which had been broken. Uhtred, if nothing else, is a man of his word, but he is tempted by the prophecy of the dead skald. He was tempted by the opportunity to fight along side the Northmen that he loved. He was desirous of seeing Alfred dethroned for he hated the pious nature of the king. Thus begins our journey with Uhtred. A journey that will lead to the battle for London, another war with the Danes, and a twist of fate (as Uhtred repeats throughout the book, 'Fate is inexorable') that will test Uhtred's oath like no other test has in his past. Uhtred is one of the greatest characters ever written. He was born a Saxon and rightfully the Lord of Bebbanburg, a county in Northumbria, a part of Saxon England. That birthright was stolen from him by his treacherous uncle earlier in the series. Uhtred longs to regain his birthright but, being a man of his word, he continues to fight for Alfred, and continually waits for his opportunity to return to Bebbanburg and avenge the loss of his birthright. This book, unlike 'Lords of the North', book 3 in the series, returns to the gory battle and grisly action of the first 2 installments ('The Last Kingdom' & 'The Pale Horseman'). 'Lords of the North' was as excellent as the other books in this series, but it lacked the battles and the carnage of the first 2 books and this latest installment 'Lords' was still an excellent book and I recommend that each be read to truly appreciate and understand Uhtred's story. Thankfully, the end of this book is not the end of Uhtred's tale. Cornwell has promised more works about the displaced warrior. With all hope, I can only wait for the Saxon Chronicles to grow to a library the size of which Cornwell has grown his 'Sharpe' series. A continued focus on this man and his adventures in establishing England for Alfred is deserving of at least a large fraction of the number of books produced on Sharpe. If fate is inexorable, I hope aga
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cornwell has a knack for weaving historical fact and fictional characters. 'Sword Song' is an interesting study of life and wars in the late first millinium.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to say that I felt that this book was a good read and a good addition to Uhtred's story. However, I feel that out of the four books it was my least favorite. I feel that Mr Cornwell spent a lot more time in descriptions and politics as opposed to story , action, and character development. I still cannot wait for the 5th book to be written and absolutely love this series.
Lilo02 More than 1 year ago
The dispossessed son of Northumbrian Lord Uhtred, once again finds himself back in the hands of King Alfred. This is the period where the Vikings started kidnapping for ransom. The King Alfred's daughter Athelfaed (sp?) is kidnapped all due thanks to her abusive husband Athelred who, through this marriage becomes a nobleman. Uhtred is, once again sent out on a battle mission, this time to rescue Alfred's daughter. The story, especially at the end, takes the reader through lots of twists and turns that will keep your nose in this book until your finished with it. THIS SERIES IS A MUST READ!
JohnP51 More than 1 year ago
Lord Uhtred's saga continues in this, book #4 of the 5-book series. Sword Song loses none of the punch and excitement of the first three books in this series and leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, #5 is out "The Burning Land" and I have started it. I know that once finished, I will be wanting more books in this series. If you like historical fiction, you will love this series.
kirkwood59 More than 1 year ago
This story provides some interesting historical insights into early english history. It is an enjoyable book as well as a quick read, quite suitable for airline travel.
J_Cobol More than 1 year ago
Aside from academics, I suspect there are few of us who know what life was like in the 9th Century. Corwnwell has done a great job of opening up this world to us. If nothing else, I came away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for life in England at a much earlier time. People were both more civilized than I thought, and even more uncivil than I expected. This lens of history also made me appreciate much more the world we live in today.
cjhTX More than 1 year ago
Formulaic- If you like Cornwell's style this is enjoyable but he sticks to his formula and it does seem to get old after a couple books.
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
Sword Song continues the epic saga of Uhtred, the Saxon with the heart of a Viking. Now twenty-eight, Uhtred is still energetically running opposing warriors through with his sword and lopping off various body parts as the occasion demands. In ninth-century Britain, the Vikings and the Saxons still struggle for supremacy, so there is plenty of opportunity for mayhem. Uhtred dislikes both Christianity and its accompanying priests, yet must continue to honor his oath to serve the pious King Alfred and rid the country of the Norsemen. Never one to balk at risky undertakings, Uhtred keeps the action heart-stopping, with battle scenes and skirmishes vividly described in gory detail.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But still a good read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
These are the things of Uhtred's life and story. The battles are starting to run together for me since they mak up at least 50% of the book. I will read on after a break. Becoming a labor of love and pursuit of history.
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Phasma More than 1 year ago
I love these books, can't get out of it!
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