”Oh the joy of being young. Of being twenty-eight years old, of being strong, of being a lord of war. All gone now, just memory is left, and memories fade. But the joy is bedded in the memory.

It is Norsevember, which is the perfect time to read another installment in The Saxon Stories. I finished book four, Sword Song, yesterday. As I read on in this series, I am reminded of why historical fiction and fantasy score a spot in my heart. The battles fought in this time period seem impossible to a man in modern age. Being a skilled swordsman is obviously rather unheard of in our time. The sheer talent that it would take to stay alive during medieval times (and earlier) seems fantastical in itself, and then when you add the belief in sorcery, it’s very easy to see how these lines cross. It’s evident why medieval fantasy is such a hit, because it models itself after times that actually existed, but seem impossible. The Saxon Stories are NOT fantasy, but they are excellent representations on how real historical events can seem like something out of a fantasy book.

“I was death come from the morning, blood-spattered death in mail and black cloak and wolf-crested helmet.

Uhtred is a fictional character, but these books bring to mind all of the forgotten people that helped win wars and forge history. We may not know their names, but they were there. They fought for causes that they believed in, for the honor of their families, for glory. How many influential people have been lost to the black holes of time?

I think it is interesting that Uhtred starts getting more involved in telling this story from his old age. There’s some of mentions of a wife in his old age, one he doesn’t talk fondly of. It’s a big contrast to his loving tone towards Gisela. He refers to himself as an old man and it is a stunning contrast to his youth. I think there’s a great awareness in this novel that though we like to believe good always conquers, there’s a great deal of people that slide by while committing misdeeds. Uhtred starts picking apart his younger years with the wisdom of old age, starts pointing out (to the viewer) the evil in those around him, especially those concerned with purity.

As always, Uhtred is at odds with the Christian religion. The way women are treated by some of the priests is enough to garner disgust from him. It truly is astounding the way even noblewomen are treated and their mishandling reminds me that women have been treated quite unfairly for thousands of years, especially in the name of religion. This series manages to be wildly entertaining, but it doesn’t shy away from the harsher aspects of history.

“Lust is the deceiver. Lust wrenches our lives until nothing matters except the one we think we love, and under that deceptive spell we kill for them, give all for them, and then, when we have what we have wanted, we discover that it is all an illusion and nothing is there. Lust is a voyage to nowhere, to an empty land, but some men just love such voyages and never care about the destination. Love is a voyage too, a voyage with no destination except death, but a voyage of bliss.”

One of my favorite things about this installment is that it radiates with Uhtred’s love for Gisela. You can tell he is truly happy with her, completely content. There’s a theme of love that runs through this novel, where most of Uhtred’s love interests have been more of lust or convenience in the past. Uhtred has found a soulmate and there’s a peace in him that contributes to his victories in war. He has no use for rage at home, it all goes into battle. There’s also a theme of friendship, the previous novel really solidified Uhtred creating a safety net of followers and they carry over into Sword Song.

Another cool thing featured is Norsemen entering into the story more heavily. We often think of Norsemen, Danes, and Vikings as the same. History starts to blend these together and feel they are okay to be grouped together. Much like Native American tribes, they came from slightly different areas but adopt a lot of the same ideals and customs.

“Danes, Norse, Northmen, Vikings, pagans,” I said, “they’re all your father’s enemies.”

One of my only complaints is that sometimes there’s long stretches without dialogue. I love how balancing dialogue can be to a novel and Uhtred is in his head a lot. This doesn’t affect the book in a major way and much of the series has been this way. It is still easy reading, it is still filled with history and humor, blood and death, joy and love, honor and humiliation. It is truly wonderful! Happy Reading.

2 thoughts on “Sword Song (Saxon Stories #4) by Bernard Cornwell

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