I’ve heard much good about Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction, but I’ll have to say that I was a bit disappointed with this book. Although I find the history and the details interesting, the story is about as dry as dust. The characters are so poorly developed that I don't care about any them. Uhtred, aside from achieving heroic status while he was yet a teenager, is most impressed by whoever he’s standing next to. He goes whichever way the wind blows him—and who does he worship and adore? The man who slaughtered his family.
The priests are all milksops and weasels.
King Alfred the Great (who the author took care to reduce from a status of inherent nobility to one of sinful degradation) acted whiney and arrogant in the meetings Uhtred had with him, but seemed fairly intelligent at a distance.
The women in Uhtred’s life get scant mention, which makes it unconvincing when he puts on his battle gear to go rescue one of them. He has no principles to support his action. In fact, his entire purpose for existence seems to be centered on hacking people to death.
There is plenty of action, almost entirely centered around gory battles, and lots of description about the countryside. The conflict—Danes taking over England—takes the center stage. Minor conflicts, such as that of King Egbert in Wessex, exist only to showcase the might of the Danes, and don’t carry much emotional weight either way. Uhtred’s personal conflict, which might be his inability to make his own decisions, gains some ground in the final chapters, but doesn’t offer much satisfaction. Granted, this is the first book in a series and one can hope that the reader will eventually be brought to care one way or the other...
After an uninspiring beginning, the writing style was good enough to keep me turning the pages (if you don’t mind run-on sentences), but when I had to put the book down it was some time before I picked it up again. Idle curiosity prompted me to discover how it ended—which was exactly how it began: uninspiring.