Death of Kings
First edition cover
|Original title||Death of Kings|
|Series||The Saxon Stories|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|ISBN||978-0-00-733179-6 (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Burning Land|
|Followed by||The Pagan Lord|
Death of Kings, published in 2011, is the sixth novel of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales series. It continues the story of Saxon warlord Uhtred of Bebbanburg who keeps fighting against a new Danish invasion of Wessex and Mercia.
Style and format
The novel is written as a first person narrative told by Uhtred as a reflection. The novel was also published with a family tree of Alfred the Great, a historical note, a list of Anglo-Saxon placenames and their modern-day equivalent and a map depicting Anglo-Saxon Britain and the Southern coast of the English Channel and North Sea.
Alfred the Great is dying, Rivals for his succession are poised to tear the kingdom apart. The country that Alfred had worked for thirty years to build is likely to disintegrate. Uhtred, a Saxon born warrior, who has been raised by the Danes, wants more than anything else to go and fight to reclaim his stolen Northumbrian inheritance. But he knows that if he deserts the King's cause, Alfred's dream - and the very future of the English nation - might vanish immediately.
At the outset of the story, Uhtred is attacked by bandits, but defeats them. He is then summoned to go to the King of East Anglia to negotiate a treaty on behalf of Alfred. Uhtred takes precautions that allow him to catch a force of East Anglia soldiers by surprise and he captures them. He then turns to face a Danish force led by Sigurd at a bridge on the River Use. Uhtred defeats Sigurd’s men because they recklessly attack over the bridge without regard for their safety. Uhtred then goes home without ever negotiating a treaty.
Uhtred is not satisfied with the outcome of the battle because he believes that another attack will happen soon. He travels to Ceaster because Haesten’s force is surrounded by a Mercian Army. Uhtred leaves some of his men under the command of his loyal follower Finan. His goal is to travel to see the prophetess Aelfadell and determine if she can see the future. Uhtred hears her prophecy, but is tied up by her and then two monks attempt to kill him. Uhtred escapes and kills the two monks, but leaves Aelfadell and her young assistant untouched. Uhtred then goes to Sigurd’s Winter Quarters at Snotengaham and burns their fleet of ships, taking one and sailing for Lundene.
Upon returning to Lundene, Uhtred is reunited with his children for a short time. He decides to go see the ailing Alfred in Wintanceaster. Uhtred arrives just before Alfred dies. Before his death Alfred gives Uhtred a large rich estate in Mercia at Fagranforda. Upon the death of Alfred, Aethelflaed is kidnapped by Aethelwold, but Uhtred saves her. Edward is now king and Uhtred expects an attack from the Danes any day, but it does not come soon.
Uhtred’s goal is war so he creates a Christian trinity of angels to give prophecy of their own to match the words of Aelfadell, to inspire the Saxons, and to upset the Danes. It works; the Danes raid his estate and kidnap two of the “angels". Uhtred then follows the group of raiders as they head toward Haesten, encamped at Ceaster. As Uhtred nears Ceaster he meets messengers from the Mercian force that had besieged Ceaster. A Danish invasion had come from Ceaster and they are in full retreat. Uhtred retreats to a rotten fort at Cracgelad only to be surrounded by the Danish Invasion force led by Haesten. Haesten never attacks him and retreats in the night because this force is meant to distract the Mercian Army. Uhtred, now reinforced with Steapa and Aethelflaed, pursues the larger Danish force to find out where the main part of the invasions is taking place.
Uhtred finds the Danish invasion and attacks it with a hit and run attack that stops the whole Danish Army. Uhtred begs King Edward to come and attack, but he refuses and commands Uhtred to retreat to Lundene where his army is gathering. Uhtred arrives at Lundene expecting to move quickly, but Edward had been convinced by his advisors to wait, so they wait for months.
The Danes finally move toward East Anglia so Edward follows with his army. The Danes' plan is to lure King Edward into East Anglia and capture him. A portion of Edward’s army led by Sigelf plans to turn on Edward when the battle starts. This Danish ploy fails because Uhtred figures out the plot and attacks the turncoat Saxons. Uhred does this at night and pretends to be Danish. He retreats and returns in his Saxon armor and tells the confused Saxons that the Danes have betrayed them. When Sigelf comes to investigate, Uhtred kills him and then convinces the turncoat Saxons and the men of Sigelf to fight for him. The real Danes attack Uhtred’s force and a major shield wall battle ensues. The Danes overpower and surround Uhtred’s force at a high cost. Steapa arrives at the crucial moment and pushes the Danes back, thus ending the battle with the Saxons leaving and the Danes holding the battle field. Edward marches his army back to Lundene at the conclusion of the story.
Title of the novel
The books gained its title because Alfred the Great dies, but also because King Eohric king of East Anglia, and Aethelwold pretender to the West Saxon throne die in the last battle.
A reviewer for National Public Radio said, "His characters are vividly drawn, betrayals lurk around every corner, the humor is as sharp as the swords, and the action is non-stop." In the New York Times, a reviewer wrote that Cornwell "writes morally complicated and intricate stories, and he’s won a following not just among readers but also among fellow writers." A reviewer for The Guardian wrote, "There are moments of terror, including one particularly striking episode when Uhtred goes to visit a witch and is drugged, bound and gagged while the naked, shrivelled crone cackles madness. Cornwell's plot is enlivened by passages of clear beauty as he describes the natural world in which such horrors take place".
- Penman, Sharon (December 16, 2011). "A Passion For The Past: 2011's Best Historical Fiction". National Public Radio. Retrieved April 30, 2016.
- Cowles, Gregory (February 3, 2012). "Inside the List: Writers' Writer". New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2016.
- Womack, Philip (May 19, 2012). "Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell – review: The sixth of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series taps into a particular kind of male fantasy". The Guardian. Retrieved April 30, 2016.