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Death of Kings is the 6th novel in his 'The Making of England' series the previous books being:
The Last Kingdom
The Pale Horseman
The Lords of the North
The Burning Land
They tell the story of Alfred the Great the King with a vision to unite England into one country under the English. It doesn't matter today what your own provenance is, particularly at this time when some Scots are attempting to reclaim their nation for themselves away from the English; these are tales of a beginning, tales of honour and glory, tales of battle and honour and tales of men dying in bloody battlefields terrified of the oncoming shield walls but bravely standing, fighting and dying for the birth of their Country and their King.
'Go, go!' Broga had charged two men. One swung his sword at Broga's mouth, but he was trained well and reared up, hooves flailing, and the man ducked away. I clung to him, waited until he came down and brought Serpent-Breath hard down onto the second man's head, splitting helmet and skull. I heard a scream and saw that Broga had bitten of the first man's face. I spurred on. Dogs were howling, children screaming, and Serpent-Breath was feeding.'
These are the tales as told by Uhtred of Babbenburg a Pagan from Northumbria who is brought up to despise Wessex, Mercia, The Danes and anyone else not from Northumbria but who ends up becoming Alfred's Sword and Shield against the Danes.
The tale starts in the Last Kingdom when Uhtred is a boy in Babbenburg and we follow him through the years to this book and Alfred's death and his succession by Edward. The books are based on real events and so not only are we getting an exciting tale of our first Great King and the Birth of England but we are getting a master class in storytelling.
Uhtred, on the face of it, has a miserable life, constantly fighting for his life and so, has to be that much better at taking life than his contemporaries, and he should be and is, a foul tempered man at times. But he is not always like that and all of the books are sprinkled with his really funny humour.
Cornwell's writing through all his books improves and becomes better with each new book. The stories flow along; like soldiers marching along a Roman road without deviation, the prose is sharp and precise. You do tend to stumble a little at the pronunciations of the original place names he uses, but that is not a criticism as they give added authenticity to the story and the books do not suffer for that.
While this series of novels is telling us of the 'Making of England' they are stories of the birth of Uhtred, following his life's, his loves, his losses of the women he loved, and his ongoing fight to reconcile his Pagan beliefs with that of giving his oath to a Christian King and then to keeping that King and his successors on the throne while trying to find his way back to and reclaiming Babbenburg in the north.
These stories are truly engaging and exciting reads and I can't recommend them enough.
As I have all of the previous books in the series in hardback I continued in that theme with this one; and it was good to get back to holding a 'book' again (although I have to confess it did feel a bit unwieldy to begin with)
Reading Enjoyment: 5 out of 5
Plot: 5 out of 5
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
Page length: 330 story, 5 Historical note