Death of Kings is the 6th book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, so it continues the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg.
The story begins in 898 with the great King Alfred, sick for many years, now on his deathbed. King Alfred’s dream has always been to unite all the English speaking areas of England into a single country. But, now that he is dying, the Danes have different ideas and have their sights set on the fertile lands of Wessex that Alfred directly rules. Alfred’s nephew Aethelwold believes that he has a stronger claim to the crown than Alfred’s son Edward, but Aethelwold does not have the right character and motivation to be a good king.
Even though Uhtred fights for King Alfred and the Saxons, his priority is to reclaim Bebbanburg from the Danish. It is Alfred’s dying with that Uhtred pledge his loyalty to Edward as the new King. Uhtred is hesitant because he has his own priorities that may not agree with Edward’s.
The novel tells Uhtred’s story of the scheming, double-crossing and warfare that takes place leading up to and in the wake of Alfred’s death as the Saxons struggle to keep the Danes from expanding into the lower areas of England, and the various Kings and Lords try to decide where their loyalties lie and in which direction they have the most to gain.
Another fascinating character in the story is Edward’s sister Aethelflaed. Not portrayed as women of this period normally are, she is a natural leader of men (more so than Edward) and is Uhtred’s lover.
This is the first book in this series that I’ve read and I was absolutely fascinated with the history surrounding the uniting of England into a single country. I’m keen to read this series from the beginning to get the rest of Uhtred’s story and to find out more about this period of history. So my next Bernard Cornwell book will be the first in this series ‘The Last Kingdom’. The end of the novel was left very open to future books in the series.
Book published 2011