Recommendation: “The War of the Wolf” by Bernard Cornwell

Now an old man, Uhtred of Bebbanburg finds himself drawn back to Wessex by old oaths and the inevitable coming invasion of Northumbria. But while an ailing King Edward means that soon he’ll find himself marching south, for now he is drawn north by personal vengeance and what may be his final battle.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about Bernard Cornwall’s series being very samey. I can understand the argument. But I still find that each once is just as readable as the last, and I’ve been waiting eagerly for War of the Wolf to come out in paperback.

I think these books avoid seeming too similar by being based on history. The characters are driven by on actual events, and so while the plot and characters may undeniably have a similarity across all the books, the fact they are draped over the backdrop of history gives them a realism they might otherwise have lacked.

Saying that, I would have though I’d have liked this one less. The majority of the story in War of the Wolf is not based in real events. Essentially, the book sets up the coming death of Edward and rise of Ethelstan that I assume will be the drive of the next story, leaving the majority of the story fictional. But I still enjoyed reading this just as much as the previous stories.

There’s also the fact we’re coming to the end of this series. Uhtred is now in his sixties. And while he, our narrator, can’t die, Cornwall does a very good job of showing age catching up with him. He’s losing speed. He’s still imposing, but lacks the raw power of youth that drove him before. And at the same time, he can see that Christianity is winning, and the old religion, his religion, is passing away. He’s a man beginning to face his own mortality, but in a way that suits the character.

There’s maybe two more books left to this series, assuming that it will end with Ethelstan’s rise as the first king of England (sorry for spoilers, but I think we’re out of the statute of limitations for events over a millennia ago), and War of the Wolf kind of has the feeling of a quick breather before the final push to the climax of the story of the creation of England.

If you’re a fan of the series, that fact is going to leave you more than excited for the next instalment.

How do you miss an entire book?

So I finally made my way through my re-read of Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon Chronicles and made a start on the newest entry, Warriors of the Storm.

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My first thoughts? Well, they’ve jumped forward in time a fair bit. Well, that’s fair. Earlier installments of the series have jumped forward by years at a time. They’re historical novels and therefore kind of stuck to a historical timeline.

Second thoughts? He seems to have skipped over the cliffhanger at the end of the last book. That’s an interesting choice, but it kind of works. He’s starting the story ahead of the resolution, and I assume after a prologue the story will skip back and tell the reader what happened.

And further thoughts? Mmm, they seem to be hinting at a lot of things that have happened to the characters since the last book. An awful lot. It seems odd that he’s skipped them all forward and done so much outside of the plot of the actual books.

It was almost as if he was recapping a previous book…

So it appears I missed an entire book of the series and skipped from book seven to book nine. I thought it had been unusually long between books. I remember seeing book seven coming out in hardback, and deciding to wait for it to come out in paperback. Then a long wait, and I see the latest book in the series has come out in paperback. Only this one was book nine.

How do you miss any entire book in a series? Honestly, who even does that!?