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Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Last Kingdom (Book #4 of 13)
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 387 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 3rd September 2007 by HarperCollins
This was so good and addictive. Definitely my favorite volume in the series so far.
I am so pleased with Sword Song. It seems like taking a break and pacing my reading of the series to one book per month instead of two books might be serving my experience well. From my experience with Lords of the North, I did worry whether having watched the TV series would end up ruining my reading experience of the novels or not, because it certainly diminished my experience of Lords of the North. But that’s simply not the case with Sword Song.
“Cowardice is always with us, and bravery, the thing that provokes the poets to make their songs about us, is merely the will to overcome the fear.”
Sword Song is the fourth volume in The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell. The year is now 885, 7 years since the beginning of the previous book, and the story revolves around Uthred being tasked by Alfred to seize London for him. It felt good to be back with Uthred and his gang here. Plus, being 28 years old now, Uthred is pretty much at his best fighting skill so far in this book, and it is spectacularly entertaining watching him navigate his life through the battles and challenges brought upon him. Uthred’s love for the Danes and his oath for Alfred continues to conflict with his decision-making, and Sword Song raised a lot of thought-provoking discussion surrounding choices, oath, and fate. Fate is inexorable; does that mean that our choices are pre-determined already? It’s a thought-provoking notion about the existence of free-will, and I enjoyed reading this theme being constantly explored throughout the series so far.
“A country is its history, bishop, the sum of all its stories. We are what our fathers made us, their victories gave us what we have, and you would make me leave my descendants a tale of humiliation? You want men to tell how Wessex was made a laughing stock to howling heathens? That is a story, bishop, that would never die, and if that tale is told then whenever men think of Wessex they will think of a Princess of Wessex paraded naked to pagans. Whenever they think of England, they will think of that!”
Excluding Uthred and Alfred, Aethelflaed and Steapa have a lot of development to them both. It is intriguing; I’ve mentioned how much I loved Finan and Sithric due to the TV series, but Steapa seems to be so much well-portrayed in the books than he is in the TV show. The villains Sword Song were more complex, and the dialogues were always engaging. Also, this is the seventh book by Bernard Cornwell that I read, and it is the first time his book doesn’t have many super long paragraphs—one paragraph by him can last about one to two pages—that burdened the pacing and readability of his novel. With this, I feel that Sword Song is by far the most superbly-paced volume of the series so far. Additionally, we know that Cornwell writes great battle scenes; what surprised me in this book is the range in Cornwell’s prose that readers should acknowledge more. The passage about love, lust, and death in this book was so profound; here’s a snippet of it:
“Love is a dangerous thing. It comes in disguise to change our life… Lust is the deceiver. Lust wrenches our lives until nothing matters except the one we think we love, and under that deceptive spell we kill for them, give all for them, and then, when we have what we have wanted, we discover that it is all an illusion and nothing is there. Lust is a voyage to nowhere, to an empty land, but some men just love such voyages and never care about the destination. Love is a voyage too, a voyage with no destination except death, but a voyage of bliss.”
It’s such a beautifully-written passage, and the full version is more stunning; I can’t put it here due to spoilers. Overall, I think Sword Song is the best of the series so far; it’s an incredible historical fiction novel. If the TV series adaptation worked as a prediction, then the next book, The Burning Land, should be even better. I will be reading the next one in April.
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