Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Pale Horseman

The Pale Horseman

by Bernard Cornwell

2 out of 5


BBC2’s major Autumn 2015 TV series THE LAST KINGDOM is based on Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling novels on the making of England and the fate of his great hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg. THE PALE HORSEMAN is the second book in this masterful series.


Wessex, led by the pious King Alfred, is the last Saxon stronghold against the savage strength of the Vikings. Now it is struggling for its very existence. Uhtred, a Saxon raised by Vikings, is no ordinary warrior. As sharp of mind as he is of sword, his lust for life and battle sits badly with Alfred and his priests. But they face dire odds and Uhtred’s unique knowledge and fearlessness mean that he may be their only hope in the coming battle …

Uhtred, a Saxon raised by Vikings, is a man made for war.  He fights for the King that would betray him, and the land that would deny him.

I won a paperback copy in Goodreads First Reads.
I've never read a Bernard Cornwell book, and I was keen to.  After all, I religiously watched Sharpe when I was younger, so this was surely going to be from the same mind and a perfect match.

I was bored.  I normally start with the good stuff, but let's jump to the main course.  I didn't get on with the writing style, at all.  It seemed... basic, suitable for a 12 year old reader (although the content definitely isn't!).  This was this, and that was that.  You are told everything.
It is mainly written from a first person point-of-view in the present tense; but suddenly there will be paragraphs or the odd sentence that jumps to an older man remarking on his younger self.  To say that he was arrogant back then; or more keen to plow his wife than serve the King back then; or that he couldn't know that this brand new character would become very important.
As far as the last one is concerned, I don't want to jump forward and know what is going to happen; I personally like the development in stories to happen naturally.  I didn't feel that any relationships, or characters, had any development.

It felt almost like it could have been an accompaniment of The Last Kingdom screenplay.  Yes, I know the book was released ten years before the programme came along; but the book had as much depth as script instructions.
He said this.  She went there.  He killed a man.  They raped the girls.  He drank ale.
There's a monotonous level of interest for each.
Seriously, there's pillaging churches; piracy; impersonating Danes; betrayal... the list goes on and it is awesome on paper.  How did it become so dull?

Uhtred, our main character, left a lot to be desired.  I couldn't really tell whether it was the writing style that sapped him of all character; but I didn't like him.  For a man that was well-travelled, educated, a warrior and a leader of men - he was very two-dimensional.  He came across as petulant, rather than arrogant, when he refused to see reason, or made certain choices.  There wasn't an ounce of humanity in any of his thoughts or actions (I kinda wish the author had turned him into a villain and had a bit of fun with it, it was all so dreary).

The supporting cast are all as flat and easily forgettable.
Aethelwold - the king's nephew - was the only one that broke the mould.  He had something about him, and brightened the few pages that he featured on.

So why two stars?
I might not have enjoyed the book, but I have to admit that I respect all the fine historical detail that has gone into it.  You can tell there has been a lot of research into the era, the people and the details.  It comes across very well in the text, being informative and immersive.  It never feels like a history lecture.

Goodreads link

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