Death of Kings
First edition cover
|Original title||Death of Kings|
|Series||The Saxon Stories|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||335 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|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.
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Alfred the Great was dying, rivals for his succession are poised to tear the kingdom apart. The country that Alfred had worked for thirty years to build was 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 book Uhtred was attacked by bandits, but defeated them. He was then summoned to go to the King of East Anglia to negotiate a treaty on behalf of Alfred. Uhtred did not trust for his safety took precautions that allowed him to catch a force of East Anglia soldiers by surprise and he captured them. He then turned to face a Danish force led by Sigurd at a bridge on the River Use. Uhtred defeated Sigurd’s men because they recklessly attacked over the bridge without regard for their safety. Uhtred then went home without ever negotiating that treaty.
Uhtred was not satisfied with the outcome of the battle because he believed that some other attack would happen next. He traveled to Ceaster because Haesten’s force was surrounded by a Mercian Army. Uhtred left some of his men under the command of his loyal follower Finan. His goal was to travel to see the prophetess Aelfadell and determine if she could see the future. Uhtred arrived and heard her prophecy, but was tied up by her and then two monks attempted to kill him. Uhtred escaped and killed the two monks, but left Aelfadell and her young assistant untouched. Uhtred then went to the Sigurd’s Winter Quarters at Snotengaham and burned their fleet of ships, taking one and sailing for Lundene.
Upon returning to Lundene, Uhtred was reunited with his children for a short time, but decided to go see the ailing Alfred in Wintanceaster. Uhtred arrived just before Alfred died, but before his death Alfred gave Uhtred a large rich estate in Mercia at Fagranforda. Upon the death of Alfred, Aethelflaed was kidnapped by Aethelwold, but Uhtred saved her. Edward is now king and Uhtred expected an attack from the Danes any day, but that attack never came for years.
Uhtred’s goal was war so he created 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 worked because the Danes raided his estate and kidnapped two of the “angels. Uhtred then followed the group of raiders as they headed toward the still encamped Haesten at Ceaster. As Uhtred neared Ceaster he ran into messengers from the Mercian force that had besieged Ceaster, a Danish invasion had come from Ceaster and they were in full retreat. Uhtred retreated to a rotten fort at Cracgelad only to be surrounded by the Danish Invasion force led by Haesten. Haesten never attacked him and retreated in the night because this was a force met to distract the Mercian Army. Uhtred now reinforced with Steapa and even Aethelflaed pursued the larger Danish force to find out where the main part of the invasions was taking place.
Uhtred found the Danish invasion and attacked it with a hit and run attack that caused the whole Danish Army to stop. Uhtred begged Kind Edward to come and attack, but he refused and commanded Uhtred to retreat to Lundene where his army was gathering. Uhtred arrived at Lundene expecting to move quickly, but Edward had been convinced by his advisors to wait, so they waited for months.
Months later the Danes finally moved toward East Anglia so Edward followed with his army. The Danes plan was to lure King Edward into East Anglia and capture him because a part of Edward’s army led by Sigelf would turn on Edward when the battle started. This failed because Uhtred figured out the plot and instead attacked the Saxons who were fighting for the Danes. This attack succeeded because he did it at night and pretended to be Danish, so he retreated, he came back in his Saxon armor and told the confused Saxons that the Danes had betrayed them. When Sigelf came to investigate what happened Uhtred killed him and then convinced all the Saxons who were fighting for the Danes and the men of Sigelf to fight for him. The real Danes attacked Uhtred’s force and a major shield wall battle ensued. The Danes overpowered and surrounded Uhtred’s force at a high cost. Just when it looked as if Uhtred was doomed Steapa arrived and pushed the Danes back, thus ending the battle with the Saxons leaving and the Danes holding the battle field. Edward marched his army back to Lundene at the conclusion of the book.
The books gained its name 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.