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The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Last Kingdom (Book #2 of 13)
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 432 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 3rd October 2005 by HarperCollins
Another great installment about loyalty, power, faith, friendship, and ambition.
Putting into consideration that the first season of The Last Kingdom TV shows are adaptations of the first two books in the series, and now that I’ve read both The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman, I can definitely say that I prefer the first two books over the first season. To be fair, despite being a huge fan of the TV series, it was the second season and beyond that made me a fan. Yes, I know that they’re different mediums of storytelling, but a comparison in overall quality of entertainment can still be made.
“Words are like breath,” she said, “you say them and they’re gone. But writing traps them. You could write down stories, poems.”
The Pale Horseman takes place immediately after what happened at the end of The Last Kingdom. I’m incredibly impressed by how absorbed I am by Cornwell’s writing. I mean, this is only the second book in the series, and I’ve watched TV series adaptation; I know what’s going to happen to these characters. But Cornwell’s writing was so compelling and immersive that it felt like I was in the heat of the danger together with Uthred, Alfred, and all the characters. I felt the sense of danger, which in my opinion never felt immediate and threatening in season 1 of the TV series. I loved reading Uthred’s narration; he’s no longer a kid, but he’s still young and full of anger. The dynamic in the relationship between Uthred and Alfred definitely is one of the key highlights of this book. It’s always interesting to see Uthred’s struggle and conflict; he hates Alfred, and he also wants to be accepted by him.
“There comes a moment in life when we see ourselves as others see us. I suppose that is part of growing up, and it is not always comfortable.”
The King of the Marsh sequence of events in the book felt so memorable, too. At the end of the book, the historical note by Cornwell tells just how grim and dire the situation actually was. The Pale Horseman also introduced more important side characters for the series like Hild and Steapa. I must say, the Christians and how blindly faithful they were—everything that differs from their belief is immediately justified as an act of devilry blah blah blah—can be incredibly maddening. I think this is a good sign of the narrative, though; we’re hearing Uthred’s narration, and I can only imagine just how frustrating it must be in his shoes. I did have a bit of a minor issue, there were times when the description did get a bit dense that it slowed down the pacing. This is a bit common in Cornwell’s writing, and it doesn’t help that the paragraph in his books can run for one or two pages long. Fortunately, Cornwell’s battle scenes remained great as always. Dialogues were also tense, engaging, and sometimes hilarious. The Pale Horseman reminded me once again that Uthred has suffered so much even though it’s still very early in the series.
“And that, too, was the truth, that a man cannot step back from a fight and stay a man. We make much in this life if we are able. We make children and wealth and amass land and build halls and assemble armies and give great feasts, but only one thing survives us. Reputation. I could not walk away.”
Overall, I highly enjoyed reading The Pale Horseman. Cornwell is just so good at writing historical fiction, and this is a wonderful addition to The Last Kingdom series. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in two weeks. I’m sure the best for the series are still to come, and I seriously can’t wait to meet my dudes: Finan and Sithric.
Official release date: 3rd October 2005
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)
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