War of the Wolf: Swords, Saxons, and superstitions

War of the Wolf by Bernard CornwellWar of the Wolf by Bernard CornwellWar of the Wolf by Bernard Cornwell

War of the Wolf (2018) is the eleventh book in Bernard Cornwell’s THE SAXON STORIES series, which was adapted into The Last Kingdom, on Netflix. It’s easy to see why the series was optioned for a visual adaptation — Cornwell’s prose neatly balances battle scenes and moments when plots are quietly hammered out, and his faithfulness to his faithfulness to 9th and 10th century Britain is admirable without becoming slavish, allowing his room to invent his own characters or scenarios and fold them into established historical precedent.

Not having read any of the preceding books in the series, I was at a disadvantage when it came to jumping into Uhtred of Bebbanburg’s life; Cornwell doesn’t spend much time with exposition or info-dumps, and there were precious few “As you well know” monologues, which I count as a point in the novel’s favor. Fans of either the book or television series will surely appreciate Cornwell’s focus on the story as it propels the narrative forward. Any discombobulation on my part is solely my own fault and isn’t a knock against War of the Wolf.

Cornwell tells a compelling story, to be sure: Uhtred is an older warrior, well-experienced in the ways of battle and the odious politics playing out as Christians, pagans, Saxons, Danes, and so many others vie for control of Britain. He cares deeply for his family, particularly his children and grandchildren, and does everything he can to keep the people of his lands safe.Saxon Tales (11 Book Series) by Bernard Cornwell
Though the alliances of powerful people around him seem to be constantly shifting, particularly as King Edward’s health fails and his new wife schemes against his children, Uhtred’s unyielding devotion to his soldiers and his people is admirable.

Caught between opposing factions at pivotal moments in history, as he has been throughout his entire life, it’s not lost on him that the easiest thing to do would be to simply return to his stronghold and pretend as though none of this is happening — but Uhtred isn’t interested in doing anything the easy way, and doing so would only endanger others.

Cornwell humanizes him well, allowing for moments of genuine emotion and introspection, along with careful strategy both on and off the battlefield, creating a remarkably well-rounded figure which feels wholly credible among real-life figures like Prince Aethelstan and Queen Eadgifu.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak to how well War of the Wolf fits into the overarching story or whether character and plot developments make sense in comparison to previous books. It’s well-written and enjoyable enough that I would recommend beginning at the beginning, The Last Kingdom, to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with an emphasis on strong character work and clearly-written, almost cinematic (yet firmly grounded in reality) battles. Should I find myself with enough free time to spare, I’ll certainly do so myself.

Published in October 2018. Bernard Cornwell’s epic story of the making of England continues in this eleventh installment in the bestselling Saxon Tales series—”like Game of Thrones, but real” (The Observer)—the basis of the hit Netflix television series The Last Kingdom. His blood is Saxon. His heart is Viking. His battleground is England. And while Uhtred might have regained his family’s fortress, it seems that a peaceful life is not to be – as he is under threat from both an old enemy and a new foe. The old enemy comes from Wessex where a dynastic struggle will determine who will be the next king.  And the new foe is Sköll, a Norseman, whose ambition is to be King of Northumbria and who leads a frightening army of wolf-warriors, men who fight half-crazed in the belief that they are indeed wolves. Uhtred, believing he is cursed, must fend off one enemy while he tries to destroy the other. In this new chapter of the Saxon Tales series—a rousing adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love and battle, as seen through the eyes of a warrior straddling two worlds—Uhtred returns to fight once again for the destiny of England.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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2 comments

  1. I’d lost track of Cornwall. This isn’t quite my thing,but I wonder if a certain person would like it for Christmas.

    • It’ll depend on the person, for certain — and this is NOT the place to start with the series, as I learned. I’d start at the beginning and work toward this one.

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