War Lord by Bernard Cornwell



After 15 years of adventures, Bernard Cornwell finally allows Uhtred of Bebbanburg to hang up Serpent-Breath. Of course, before Uhtred can finally do that, he is dragged into one final confrontation that will see Alfred’s dream realised on the bloody field of Bebbanburg.

After a lifetime of being bounds by oaths, some willingly taken and others not, Uhtred is finally free of all but one of them. Bebbanburg is securely his. His son Uhtred is keeping his lands safe and he can look forward to a life with Benedetta and peace until Valhalla calls. But his final oath to keep the boy he rescued, and raised to be king, safe has yet to run its course. Even though that boy has proclaimed himself Monarchus Totius Brittaniae, King of all Britain.

Æthelstan has consolidated his power since the events in Sword of Kings and now has called all the rulers of Britain to bend the knee. Æthelstan has become confident and he wants Bebbanburg secure to protect the north, but a pagan Lord may not be what he has in mind. With politics swirling, Uhtred welcomes visitors from Scotland and on his journey to meet Æthelstan, reunites with Welsh King Hywel. Everyone has their ambition, their pride and they are all drinking. What could possibly go wrong?

Æthelstan has spies everywhere and he hears of Uhtred’s visitors from Scotland. Secret deals are done and an offer made. With vast riches and a quiet life away from raiding Scots tempting, Uhtred’s response is to start a war that will settle everything, or so he hopes.

Following raids and invasions, things settle until a new, confident, enemy from the west lands on the Wirral. With his options once again open to chose his side, Uhtred stays true to his oath and races west, to Brunanburh.

The Battle of Brunanburh is another forgotten, drenched in blood, foundation stone of Britain and one that Cornwell frames to great effect. He builds things slowly and uses the time to say goodbye to his surviving cast of characters. Cornwell has always been a master in a fight scene and Uhtred’s experiences in the shield wall are close up and personal. Fear is admitted and then driven down as the blade is thrust forward and blood is spilt. 

War Lord is a careful balancing act because saying goodbye to beloved character is always bittersweet. Uhtred of Bebbanburg could simply be seen as the distillation of all the best elements of Bernard Cornwell’s characters. A smattering of Sharpe, the Irish sidekick, Derfel’s old man remembering his days of glory, Thomas of Hookton’s religious views and Starbuck’s finding himself in the wrong place at the right time. But despite it all, Uhtred has grown to be far more than the sum of his illustrious predecessors’ parts.

Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg in The Last Kingdom

Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred of Bebbanburg in The Last Kingdom

In Uhtred, Cornwell has achieved a rare feat, a character that grows more interesting with each book. When I wrote about the series after the new TV show (starring Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred, to whom War Lord is dedicated) was commissioned, I made the comment that the first-person style didn’t work as well as it did in the Warlord Chronicles. Over the first half of the series, there were ups and downs, compounded perhaps by Cornwell’s two books a year output at the time and a battle against cancer later. But the second half has surpassed the high water mark Cornwell set with Derfel. As Uhtred grew closer to regaining Bebbanburg, so Cornwell seemed to grow closer to his creation. The last five books have all been superb and War Lord is Uhtred signing off with a flourish.


And so it ends. It is great to see new fans discovering the books through The Last Kingdom on Netflix, which has surpassed my expectations. I hope, as they await the next season, that they pick up the books and race through to the end, to stand with Uhtred and Finnan, and us, in the shield wall one last time. I hope too that they turn that last page with a tear in their eye and smile goodbye to our friends, just like me.

Thank you, Bernard. Thank you ever so much.

War Lord by Bernard Cornwell is published by Harper Collins and is out now. RRP £20

Buy War Lord by Bernard Cornwell at Hive and support your local bookshop

Buy War Lord by Bernard Cornwell at Hive and support your local bookshop

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *