The Burning Land is the 5th book in Bernard Cornwell’s exceptionally good Saxon Stories. The series presents the life of the Warlord Uhtred of Bebbanburg and the fight by the Saxons late in the 9th century to keep the Danes out of England and unite the country.
Once again a group of Danes decides to invade Wessex – this time led by Harald Bloodhair and his woman, the evil sorceress Skade. Uhtred defeats the Danes in the decisive battle of Farnham. But King Alfred’s priests continue to resent Uhtred for his paganism, and when one of them sets him up he is left with no choice but to flee Wessex, breaking his oath to King Alfred. His wife Gisela has died and he leaves his children in the care of the King’s daughter Aethelflaed. He saves Skade’s life and takes her with him – a decision he comes to regret.
Uhtred re-joins his foster brother Ragnar and together with other Northumbrian Danish Lords, they plan to defeat Wessex and Mercia before King Alfred can defeat them. But just as they are preparing for war, Aethelflaed calls for Uhtred’s help reminding him that he has also made an oath to her. So, Uhtred once again finds himself fighting on Alfred’s side against the Danes, alongside Alfred’s son and heir Edward.
Uhtred is now in his mid to late thirties – quite old for a warrior in those times. He has always been prone to rash decisions, but in this book he knows that some of his decisions are rash as he makes them. His luck manages to hold.
This was one of the best books of the series (although they’ve all been good). I found Uhtred to be a bit too much of a home-body in ‘Sword Song’. Now with Gisela dead, he is being manipulated by a number of strong women. The next book in the series ‘Death of Kings’ continues Uhtred’s story, and the story of the birth of England.
Book published 2009