Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell
Uhtred of Bebbanburg is one of those characters that has survived a rocky road and not just in the situations that Bernard Cornwell, his creator, has thrown him into. Now on his 9th adventure, Uhtred has survived a variety of foes, former friends and a very ropey couple books in the middle of the series. I wrote a while ago, after the announcement of the BBC TV series of the first two Uhtred books, why I loved the series and what Bernard Cornwell's books have meant to me. The ropey books, the fourth and fifth books (Sword Song and The Burning Land) were written while Cornwell battled cancer, still kept the development of Uhtred and his cohorts going. Warriors of the Storm is brilliant fun. Bernard Cornwell knows how to tell a tale. He once told me when he gets stuck, he throws on a bunch of people for his hero to kill while he figures out what to do next. In this book, Uhtred doesn't need distractions, the pieces for the recapture of Bebbanburg, Uhtred's stolen seat in Northumbria, are falling into place and the moment we have been waiting for is getting ever closer.
Warriors of the Storm opens with Uhtred holding the northern line of Mercia for Æthelflæd in Chester, when they are surprised by Viking ships arriving on the Mersey. Uhtred is not one to be taken by surprise and strikes out to find out what is going on. I said above that this book is very much Cornwell lining up his ducks, and in places you do wonder why the characters are doing what they are, but, looking a little deeper, with a TV series in its début season on the BBC, Cornwell is up to his old tricks. When the Sharpe TV series became a hit on ITV, Cornwell put his American Civil War series (The Starbuck Chronicles) on hold and returned to Sharpe, writing Sharpe's Battle which was dedicated to Sean Bean and then writing a series of prequels in India, when Sharpe was an enlisted man. Starbuck is still waiting for Cornwell's attention. Here, we have Uhtred's old friends getting their revenge, old foes getting their comeuppance and old loves appearing out of the author's ether. The story itself is rather simple, the defence of Mercia, with Uhtred having to out think, rather than out fight his enemy. The brilliance of Uhtred is his petulance. As the series has gone on and his power increases, the licence he takes is brilliant. Granted this is a story device to create action, but in lesser hands, it wouldn't work. In Cornwell though, it is effortless and brilliant fun.
Given that this book is timed for the release of the BBC's The Last Kingdom series, it has moments of cashing in, but the set up that you can see in the subtext for the next novel, is wonderfully exciting. I've have, by hook and crook, seen the first four episodes of the The Last Kingdom series (hey, I pay my licence fee and the Bernard Cornwell books weighing down my shelves have paid for at least one or two toilet seats in either of BC's homes or boats, I deserve it.) and it is building nicely. The cast are doing a very pleasant job. While the big names a fan would have hoped for are missing, the cast are inhabiting their characters well and as we near the end of the first book of the two the first series covers, we have an exciting and very enjoyable TV show on our hands. While it is very much up in the air if we'll see more of the TV show, the books are building to an exciting climax. Bernard Cornwell is relaxing a bit these days, with only one book a year, but if they stay at the quality of Warriors of the Storm, we are in for a true treat. Hopefully, nagging again, we'll get another Rider Sandman book at some point. Maybe...
Warriors of the Storm is out now in the UK and is released in the US on the 19th of January. The Last Kingdom is on BBC2 on Thursdays at 9pm.