Uhtred of Bebbenburg has won back his ancestral home but, threatened from all sides by enemies both old and new, he doesn’t have time to enjoy the victory.
“War of the Wolf” tells is the latest in the latest book in the Uhtred saga. By now Uhtred in his sixties but he is still a warrior, a leader of men with a fearsome reputation and a fiercely pagan faith. At a time when being a Christian was equated with being a loyal subject of the king, Uhtred’s refusal to convert makes him an object of suspicion. His own view of Christianity is highly sceptical. He sees the priests and bishops as corrupt, refusing to acknowledge the power of any other god and determined to bring everyone to their way of thinking whatever the cost.
Uhtred himself is far more tolerant. The men who fight for him worship a dozen gods and goddesses, the Christian god among them ‘but if a man believes the nonsense that there is only one god, the there’s no point in arguing, because it would be like discussing a rainbow with a blind man.’ His own belief, though he is careful when threatened to touch the symbol of Thor’s hammer he wears as an amulet, is that destiny is all. Man can try to cheat his fate but in the end he has no choice but to succumb.
This does not mean that he cannot fight and the novel is full of action. The sounds and smells of battle are vividly described. Although successful leader Uhtred never denies his fear at the onset of battle, or his sorrow at losing his men. His care for his people and especially his view of women is what makes him a rounded character. Uhtred may not be faithful to his wife, but he likes and respects women. Any man who commits violence against a woman, in a time when it was accepted as a norm, is punished.
Women, in general, played a minor part in Anglo-Saxon society, unless they were queens but Bernard Cornwell’s female characters are well drawn and convincing and one of the reasons why I enjoy his books.
Also fascinating is the depiction of an England on the cusp of being a united country − a place where the old religions and customs are giving way to the new.
I studied this period of history for A level and have always thought that the description of the period between the departure of the Romans and the Battle of Hastings as ‘The Dark Ages’ was highly inaccurate and the story of Uhtred confirms my opinion. Bernard Cornwell’s books show how just how complex and fascinating the ‘Dark Ages’ really were. They are also a great read for any lover of historical fiction.