Book Review: The Pale Horseman (The Warrior Chronicles) by Bernard Cornwell

Posted April 15, 2015 by @Angelized_1st in 2015 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, Books, Entertainment, Historical Fiction Reading Challenges, Reading Challenges / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Pale Horseman (The Warrior Chronicles) by Bernard CornwellThe Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell
Series: The Warrior Chronicles,
Published by Harper Collins on October 13th 2009
Genres: War & Military, Historical, Fiction, Action & Adventure
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
ISBN: 9780061144837
Buy on: AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooks

Uhtred is a Saxon, cheated of his inheritance and adrift in a world of fire, sword, and treachery. He has to make a choice: whether to fight for the Vikings, who raised him, or for King Alfred the Great of Wessex, who dislikes him.In the late ninth century, Wessex is the last English kingdom. The rest have fallen to the Danish Vikings, a story told in The Last Kingdom, the New York Times bestselling novel in which Uhtred's tale began. Now the Vikings want to finish England. They assemble the Great Army, whose one ambition is to conquer Wessex. A dispossessed young nobleman, married to a woman who hails from Wessex, Uhtred has little love for either, though for King Alfred he has none at all. Yet fate, as Uhtred learns, has its own imperatives, and when the Vikings attack out of a wintry darkness to shatter the last English kingdom, Uhtred finds himself at Alfred's side.

Bernard Cornwell's The Pale Horseman, like The Last Kingdom, is rooted in the real history of Anglo-Saxon England. It tells the astonishing and true story of how Alfred, forced to become a fugitive in a few square miles of swampland, fights his enemies against overwhelming odds. The king is a pious Christian, while Uhtred is a pagan. Alfred is a sickly scholar, while Uhtred is an arrogant warrior. Yet the two forge an uneasy alliance that will lead them out of the marshes to the stark hilltop where the last remaining Saxon army will fight for the very existence of England.

Enthralling as both a historical and personal story, The Pale Horseman is a novel of divided loyalties and desperate heroism, featuring a cast of fully realized characters, from a king in despair to a beguiling British sorceress. And always, beyond the spearmen and the swordsmen are the folk who suffer as the tides of war sweep over their farmlands. From Bernard Cornwell, the New York Times bestselling author whom the Washington Post calls "perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today," 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.

“We make children and wealth and amass land and build halls and assemble armies and give great feasts, but only one thing survives us. Reputation.” 
― Bernard Cornwell, The Pale Horseman

The Good…: 

While I enjoyed The Last Kingdom a lot, Bernard Cornwell’s sequel, The Pale Horseman, was even better. In The Last Kingdom Cornwell spends a lot of time (as he should) with world building, and it took me a while to really get into the story. Once I did, I was hooked. This problem didn’t exist for me with The Pale Horseman. 

The novel picks up where the first book ended, with Alfred defeated and forced into exile. Uhtred’s loyalties once again caught in the middle between the Danes who raised him and who he’s come to love, and Alfred. This decision is further complicated by the fact Alfred has publicly humiliated Uhtred, and made Uhtred’s hatred of the pious king grow. If Uhtred fights for Alfred, he may finally get his home back and earn respect among his countrymen. If he fights with the Danes, Uhtred will forever be hated by everyone he knows, and will never be able to return home to Northumbria. The ideas of family, patriotism, and loyalty run throughout the novel, and made me wonder which choice I would have made.

Uhtred is 19 years old at the beginning of the novel, and 21 years old at the end. By all rights he’s a man, a warrior, a husband, a father, a cheater, a fugitive, and a pagan. He loves deeply, but isn’t overly affectionate. He’s hot-tempered, and learning to be more thoughtful. This Uhtred I loved! Even though he still gets on Alfred’s bad side and remains manipulated by the King, Uhtred is now able to see the traps before the slam shut. Sadly, he often is unable to stay out of them due to Alfred’s traps being the lesser of two evils.

Alfred is still horrible. I feel bad for hating him, since he accomplished so much during his reign, but I do. I try to keep in mind that I’m viewing the monarch through Uhtred’s eyes as I read, but Uhtred’s opinions of Alfred seem pretty convincing. I wish he was a better General since Wessex is in the midst of a war with the Danes, and that Alfred didn’t seem like such a hypocrite. He claims to be a “good” Christian, but often uses his faith as a weapon against others. Ugh! I hope he’s better in the next novel.

Do I Recommend?

I really do! Bernard Cornwell writes action wonderfully. I actually feel like I’m in the midst of one of the battles. The characters are multidimensional and the intrigue makes the relationships between the characters tense and unpredictable. I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars, because it hooked me from the very first page to the very last. Loved it!
Rating Report
Overall: 5

About Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 – a ‘warbaby’ – whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years.

He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government – and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars – and so the Sharpe series was born. Bernard and Judy married in 1980, are still married, still live in the States and he is still writing Sharpe.


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