The Empty Throne is the eighth book in The Saxon Tales series by the king of historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell. Fans of the series will be pleased to return to brutal, bloody, and beautiful Saxon England alongside of Uhtred of Bebbanburg.
For any new readers, I must point out that it is highly advisable to begin the series with the first book, The Last Kingdom. While it is possible to enjoy each book in The Saxon Tales as an adventure from start to finish, there are so many relationships and overarching developments over the life of the series that it is much better to start at the beginning.
The majority of the story centers around Uhtred’s struggle to cement Aethelflaed’s control over Mercia. Aethelflaed, as Uhtred’s lover and the daughter of King Alfred of Wessex, is the most powerful woman in Britain and Uhtred’s loyalty to her and her family pulls him into battles against both fellow Saxons and Norsemen. The political maneuvering and intrigue involved in the struggle over Mercia’s throne leads to plenty of betrayal that is surprising and realistically calculating and unforgiving. Additionally, Uhtred’s personal quest to heal himself from a wound suffered at the end of the last novel is equally as important as his part in Mercian courtly intrigue. Uhtred will travel to the mysterious lands of Wales to find the purportedly magic blade, Ice-Spite that both caused his wound and also has the power to heal it. Uhtred’s daughter, Stiorra, also plays an important role in this tale and is a wonderful addition to Cornwell’s cast of major characters.
One notable difference between The Empty Throne and the rest of the series is that the prologue section is told from the point of view of Uhtred’s son (also named Uhtred). This marks the first time that the narration in the series is conducted by anyone other than Uhtred of Bebbanburg. The narrative shift, as brief as it is, leaves me wondering if Bernard Cornwell is toying with the idea of using Uhtred’s son as a narrator if anything happens to our main character.
Bernard Cornwell’s writing style, as always, is one of the main reasons to read The Empty Throne. His masterful ability to describe the play-by-play of a full scale battle or a one-on-one duel to the death is mesmerizing. I am constantly impressed by the level of detail that Bernand Cornwell infuses into every paragraph and his knowledge of the period is simply mind-blowing. Although not all of the story (as this is historical fiction) is completely historically accurate, Bernard Cornwell fits his story remarkably well into the actual course of events in Saxon history.
Although Uhtred is now advanced in age, he is just as cunning, rebellious, and dangerous as ever. Fans of the series will find a compelling continuation of the narrative that they have come to know and love over the past ten years. I also recommend The Saxon Tales to any new readers who are interested in the years of the Viking conquests or are simply ready for an exciting tale.
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