The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell (Historical/Adventure Novel, 2016).
Set in the year 917 AD, this one is the latest in a series of historical adventure novels from one of the field’s best-known and most successful authors. These “Saxon Tales” deal with the time when various Saxon Kingdoms were in the process of recapturing what would eventually be called England from the Vikings. While the central character here (Uhtred of Beddanburg) and his quest to regain his ancestral castle are fictional, very many of the supporting characters are actual historical figures. Cornwell sorts out who actually existed and in what cases he altered things for dramatic effect for the novel in a handy afterword.
Uhtred is Saxon by birth and (like most of his people) was raised a Christian. But long ago he converted and now follows the Viking Pagan tradition. His uncle stole his inheritance (including the great Beddanburg Castle) from him in his youth and he’s been scheming/fighting to get it back ever since.
In the process, Uhtred has made himself into the most respected/feared warrior of his time. Shifting loyalties have had him fighting for both sides at one time or another in the ongoing clash of the two cultures. He helped the West Saxon King Edward (son of Alfred the Great) liberate Mercia from the Norse invaders and fell in love with with Edward’s sister (who became Queen of Mercia). But as the book opens, he and his private army (in which both Christians and Pagans serve) have been working with/more-or-less for the King of Northumbria (the last Viking-held area) for sometime.
Navigating the tangled and often changing, always underhanded web of alliances proves difficult indeed, as various factions struggle for power behind the scenes–sometimes aiding and often hindering, even betraying those they are officially loyal to. It’s a dangerous world and Uhtred’s mixed loyalties and his fixation on regaining control of Beddanburg at almost any cost only makes it more so.
North of Beddanburg, the Scottish kingdom of Alba provides yet another threat to Uhtred’s dreams and then there are scheming churchmen with their own, often unknowable and sometimes unsavory agendas to content with.
The novel achieves a high level of interest as it sorts out all this and provides many stirring, yet unsentimental battle scenes. The brutality of the time is dealt with honestly.
Cornwell manages to make Uhtred a believable and somewhat admirable figure–obsessed with his goals, but still by the standards of his time honorable and fairly humane when the situation allows.
A good, action-packed medieval adventure–not for the fainthearted due to its violence, but worth a look.