Really a 2.5 but rounded up to a 3, The Burning Land is the fifth book in Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles and, in my case at least if not in Uhtred’s, fatigue is starting to set in.
Uhtred and Alfred are now knocking on a bit for medieval standards (even if Uhtred is still younger than me) with Alfred experiencing increasingly ill health and therefore eager for Uhtred to give his oath to his son and heir, Edward. Contrary as ever, Uhtred refuses and, following the death of his wife in childbirth, strains his relationship with Alfred further by killing a priest busy denouncing her as a whore. Ordered to perform penitence, Uhtred chooses to instead snit off to the north in the hopes of reclaiming Bebbanburg as his own (not that I can blame him. Alfred has a funny way of showing his gratitude for the man who’s repeatedly saved his country from the ravages of the Danes). Joining up with Ragnar and the other northern Danes to plot the conquest of Alfred’s Kingdom, instead a previously sworn oath to another of Alfred’s children sees him abandon Ragnar once again to defend England from its foes.
While still retaining everything I’ve loved to date about this series – the brutal battles, Uhtred’s contrariness and divided loyalties, and the eye for historical detail (this time we see the development of burhs, the fortified towns that sprang into existence thanks to the constant wars with the Danes) – The Burning Land didn’t seize hold of my imagination in the way that its predecessors had. It often felt as though we were retreading old ground – the priest killing, the sulky snits that drive Uhtred from Alfred’s side, the forever postponed reclaiming of Bebbanburg and the familiar betrayals of Ragnar’s hopes – have all happened before and this time didn’t really feel as though they drove the story much further than a quick rotation of the ladies in Uhtred’s life.
A quick squizz down the ratings on Goodreads shows that most people think highly of this outing, meaning it’s probably a case of too much familiarity in too short a timescale breeding contempt within me, so I’ll still be reading on to see how this series pans out but will be giving it a break for more than a wee while to give myself a chance to miss it.