Britain, early tenth century AD: a time of change. There are new raids by the Vikings from Ireland and turmoil among the Saxons over the leadership of Mercia. A younger generation is taking over.
Æthelred, the ruler of Mercia, is dying, leaving no legitimate heir. The West Saxons want their king, but Uhtred has long supported Æthelflaed, sister to King Edward of Wessex and widow of Æthelred. Widely loved and respected, Æthelflaed has all the makings of a leader—but could Saxon warriors ever accept a woman as their ruler? The stage is set for rivals to fight for the empty throne.
This is the exciting—yet little known—story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.
The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides. By now he is a young man, in love, trained to fight and ready to take his place in the dreaded shield wall. Above all, though, he wishes to recover his father’s land, the enchanting fort of Bebbanburg by the wild northern sea.
This thrilling adventure—based on existing records of Bernard Cornwell’s ancestors—depicts a time when law and order were ripped violently apart by a pagan assault on Christian England, an assault that came very close to destroying England.
Britain is in a state of uneasy peace. Northumbria’s Viking ruler, Sigtryggr, and Mercia’s Saxon Queen Aethelflaed have agreed a truce. And so England’s greatest warrior, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, at last has the chance to take back the home his traitorous uncle stole from him so many years ago—and which his scheming cousin still occupies.
But fate is inexorable, and the enemies Uhtred has made and the oaths he has sworn conspire to distract him from his dream of recapturing his home. New enemies enter into the fight for England’s kingdoms: the redoubtable Constantin of Scotland seizes an opportunity for conquest and leads his armies south. Britain’s precarious peace threatens to turn into a war of annihilation. Yet Uhtred is determined that nothing—neither the new adversaries nor the old foes who combine against him—will keep him from his birthright.
“Historical novels stand or fall on detail, and Mr. Cornwell writes as if he has been to ninth-century Wessex and back.”
—Wall Street Journal
The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish kingdom to the north and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the south. Warrior by instinct and Viking by nature, Uhtred, the dispossessed son of a Northumbrian lord, has land, a wife and children—and a duty to King Alfred to hold the frontier on the Thames. But a dead man has risen, and new Vikings have invaded the decayed Roman city of London with dreams of conquering Wessex... with Uhtred’s help. Suddenly forced to weigh his oath to the king against the dangerous turning tide of shifting allegiances and deadly power struggles, Uhtred—Alfred’s sharpest sword—must now make the choice that will determine England’s future.
At the end of the ninth century, with King Alfred of Wessex in ill health and his heir still an untested youth, it falls to Alfred’s reluctant warlord Uhtred to outwit and outbattle the invading enemy Danes, led by the sword of savage warrior Harald Bloodhair. But the sweetness of Uhtred’s victory is soured by tragedy, forcing him to break with the Saxon king. Joining the Vikings, allied with his old friend Ragnar—and his old foe Haesten—Uhtred devises a strategy to invade and conquer Wessex itself. But fate has very different plans.
Bernard Cornwell’s The Burning Land is an irresistible new chapter in his epic story of the birth of England and the legendary king who made it possible.