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87 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Doom [Judge] very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor....,
"...Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe!" King Alfred in the Doom Book or Code of Alfred.

Bernard Cornwell has given us another smashing tale of war and love from 9th century "England". The year is 885 CE and King Alfred of Wessex struggles to consolidate his control of the Saxon lands as defined in the treaty with Guthrum that divided the...
Published on January 26, 2008 by Douglas S. Wood

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Hiccup
I love the Saxon series. Uhtred and the other characters are great, and they were intertwined quite well with the actual history (unless otherwise noted by Cornwell). Sword Song was a major disappointment. My first clue that it might be lacking was its short length. Sword Song did not help push along the history of England during Alfred's reign, and as others noted it...
Published on November 3, 2011 by ER


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87 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Doom [Judge] very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor....,, January 26, 2008
"...Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe!" King Alfred in the Doom Book or Code of Alfred.

Bernard Cornwell has given us another smashing tale of war and love from 9th century "England". The year is 885 CE and King Alfred of Wessex struggles to consolidate his control of the Saxon lands as defined in the treaty with Guthrum that divided the island between Saxon and the Danelaw.

Cornwell's once again uses the narrative voice of Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg as he reflects on his life in extreme old age (probably around 940 CE). Uhtred, now 25, is a Saxon raised as a Dane, pagan serving a most Christian king. Uhtred worships the old Norse gods and looks forward to long days of battle and nights of song, drink, and women at Odin's Death Hall (Valhalla). In Uhtred's eyes, Alfred worships the `Christian nailed god', a god who fences men in with laws and rules so limiting that a man is not allowed to lust after his neighbor's wife!

Alfred needs Uhtred because as Lincoln said of Grant, `he fights' and exceedingly well. Alfred seeks to reclaim Mercian Lundene (London) and that battle forms the centerpiece of the first half of the book. The latter half centers on battles on the lower Temes (Thames) at Beamfleot (Benfleet), including some crashing marine assaults. Sword Song does not lack for ringing swords, shield walls, smashed skulls, splintered oars, battle fear and death - and also broken hearts.

Uhtred requires assistance and Cornwell supplies with him familiar friends from earlier volumes: Steapa, the warrior priest Pyrlig, and most necessary of all, Uhtred's wife Gisela.

Uhtred is a simple man, violent in battle, bound by his sense of honor, an esteemed and rightly feared warrior, and a loving and loved husband. Gisela and Uhtred have a relationship that struck this reader as perhaps a bit too modern in its mutual respect.

Uhtred never seems to be fighting for his own interests. He longs to return and take Bebbanburg in Northumbria, but cannot or will not break his oath to Alfred. (One hopes that Cornwell will keep the Saxon stories going until Uhtred fights that battle.) The heroic Uhtred is offset by Alfred's son-in-law Aethelred, a cowering and grasping little weasel who Alfred elevates to Earl of Mercia precisely because he wants a weak ruler there - Alfred's aim is to be King of the Anglo-Saxons, King of `England', a place that doesn't even exist yet. Aethelred also turns out to be a vicious husband. (By the way, Cornwell's Aethlered is based on an historical figure, but is not to be confused with the later Aethelred unfairly tagged the Unready.)

Uhthred's worthy battle opponents are Danes with their pagan amulets (like his own), their shields and battle axes. He understands these Danes, respects them, is comfortable with them. Some of the Danes do prove to be a bit treacherous, but what do you expect from a bunch of 9th century pagan warriors?!

Cornwell's historical note admits that he has probably been very unfair to Aethelred. The fact is the historical record for this era is thin indeed. Cornwell's telling captures a plausible feel for the era, mostly limited to the perspective of a warrior lord. A small quibble: The image on the book cover shows warriors heaving lighted spears from a broken stone bridge over the Temes, an image unsupported by the historical record in at least one detail. The first stone bridge over the Thames at London was not completed until the early 14th century.

Cornwell might have explored why the Christian god with all his rules and restrictions had broader appeal than the free-spirited Norse gods. Indeed, Alfred's Christian religion eventually prevailed more effectively than warfare in uniting England. Why? Was this because the nailed god's church offered some salvation to every man whereas the Norse gods really only appealed to the warrior class? Or that the Christian church had organized proselytizers? The nailed god seems to have not only demanded more, but also offered more and to more people than Odin.

Sword Song is a compact, exhilarating tale of historical adventure that entertains a lot, informs a little, and won't overtax your noggin. Stoke the fire in your hearth and settle in for a good story. A fine addition to the Saxon Stories and Cornwell promises that "Uhtred and his story will continue."
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Chronicles of Uhtred, January 30, 2008
By 
Dennis J. Buckley (Harrisburg, PA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Having flown through the preceding books in this series, I was delighted to find this latest work available before leaving for a trip. No spoilers, here, but this volume continues the tale of Uhtred, the half-Saxon, half-Danish warrior who reluctantly serves at the behest of Alfred, King of Wessex, known to us as "Alfred the Great."

Cornwell's command of a relatively little-known period of British history is excellent and more importantly, entirely plausible. His characterizations are rich in detail and well-drawn. Cornwell's development and exposition throughout the series of Alfred the Great is compelling, putting flesh on the bones of a monarch who is mostly the stuff of legends.

Cornwell has found his personal "medium," in the character of Uhtred who, while appropriately grim for a warrior, has a certain sardonic sense of humor and a penchant for pointed social commentary. Cornwell's idea of creating Uhtred as a "pagan" instead of a Christian is brilliant and allows us a far more insightful hero than what might otherwise have been the case.

The narrative is clear and concise, and we are easily able to follow what the characters are doing, where and why.

Altogether an excellent novel by one of the masters of the craft.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uhtred is 1 of the GREATEST literary figures ever created!, February 5, 2008
The Saxon Chronicles, panned from the outset as Cornwell trying to return to his British roots, has proven to be a juggernaut that cannot be stopped by bad and, in this case, off-base, press reviews.

Book 4, 'Sword Song: The Battle for London', continues the story of Lord Uhtred, Saxon born, Dane raised, sworn man of King Alfred the great. In this installment, Uhtred fights to take London back from the invading Northemen, the Vikings. Uhtred, who loves the Vikings far more than he cares for the Christian religion of the king he is continually sworn to serve, now must fight to take back London and to save Alfred, and his family, from defeat at the hands of the Norse invaders.

This book, beginning in the year 885, probably doesn't see the end of 886 before the final page is turned. Unlike the first 3 offerings in this series, this book covers a very short period of time, perhaps 6-8 months. It is a fast moving, blood-letting adventure as Uhtred overtakes Danish controlled London whilst his estranged cousin, Aethelred, marries King Alfred's daughter, Aethelflaed, in search of a kingdom of his own. Uhtred is ordered to produce that kingdom as a gift to the newly married couple. Aetheflaed, a young woman whom Uhtred has known and loved as a daughter since she was a child, marries Uhtred's cousin, Aethelred, a man who Uhtred respects little and whom Uhtred, thanks to Alfred's order, owes much; begining with the city of London.

As we again hear Uhtred continue the story of his service to Alfred (All of the books in this series are told in first person), we find that a dead Dane skald (poet) is rising from his grave and announcing that Uhtred is to be King of Mercia. Uhtred witnesses this dead rising and follows the corpses instruction to meet with the Danish attackers who want to take the Saxon lands, present day England. Uhtred obeys the skald and travels to the Danish stronghold in London to meet 2 brothers, Erik and Sigefrid Thirgilson, and Haesten, a man who Uhtred once saved and who owed Uhtred an oath, which had been broken. Uhtred, if nothing else, is a man of his word, but he is tempted by the prophecy of the dead skald. He was tempted by the opportunity to fight along side the Northmen that he loved. He was desirous of seeing Alfred dethroned for he hated the pious nature of the king.

Thus begins our journey with Uhtred. A journey that will lead to the battle for London, another war with the Danes, and a twist of fate (as Uhtred repeats throughout the book, 'Fate is inexorable') that will test Uhtred's oath like no other test has in his past.

Uhtred is one of the greatest characters ever written. He was born a Saxon and rightfully the Lord of Bebbanburg, a county in Northumbria, a part of Saxon England. That birthright was stolen from him by his treacherous uncle earlier in the series. Uhtred longs to regain his birthright but, being a man of his word, he continues to fight for Alfred, and continually waits for his opportunity to return to Bebbanburg and avenge the loss of his birthright.

This book, unlike 'Lords of the North', returns to the gory battle and grisly action of the first 2 installments. 'Lords' was as excellent as the other books in this series, but it lacked the battles and the carnage of the first 2 books and this latest installment; 'Lords' was still an excellent book and I recommend that each be read to truly appreciate and understand Uhtred's story.

Thankfully, the end of this book is not the end of Uhtred's tale. Cornwell has promised more works about the displaced warrior. With all hope, I can only wait for the Saxon Chronicles to grow to a library the size of which Cornwell has grown his 'Sharpe' series. A continued focus on this man and his adventures in establishing England for Alfred is deserving of at least a large fraction of the number of books produced on Sharpe.

If fate is inexorable, I hope against hope that Cornwell will be fated to continue to write Uhtred's tale for many years to come. There is no greater fictional warrior that I can think of that is deserving of a library of books.

If you have read the first three books of this series, buy this immediately. If you haven't read the Saxon Chronicles, I strongly recommend that you start from the beginning (The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman and Lords of the North) and read all of the books in this series. Cornwell is the master of historical fiction and, with this latest installment, has proven that he continues to excel. But, as great as this book is, don't skip to book 4; read the entire series. I demand that you read the entire series!

Highly recommended to anyone that enjoys Viking, Anglo-Saxon, or medieval/dark ages history or historical fiction.

THIS ENTIRE SERIES IS PHENOMENAL!!!
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ' I was death come from the morning.', March 19, 2008
'Sword Song' is set in a 9th century England divided between the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the south and the Danish kingdom of the north.

As in the preceding three novels, Uhtred dominates this story. While his heroic actions are generally physical, his capacity to analyse situations and act quickly endow him with some very attractive leadership qualities. I enjoy the action in these novels and while I have a different mental picture of Alfred the Great, I can accept the picture as painted through Uhtred's eyes.

These are good novels in an historical setting, and breathe life into a time long past.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Note: this review was first posted for the hardcover edition on 26/11/2007
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another WINNER by Bernard Cornwell!!, February 19, 2008
By 
Jerry K. Belew "jkb" (Llano, TX United States) - See all my reviews
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This fourth in the "Saxon Chronicles" series by Mr. Cornwell is outstanding! As are all of his books in this series. I wish there were more writers out there who could take us back to little known periods in the past and bring them to life in historical fiction with the skill that Mr. Cornwell puts into each book in this series. I've read all four of his books (The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, and Sword Song) TWICE! These books are just wonderfully entertaining and captures the very essence of life (and death) during the period as the "Dark Ages" come to an end. I anxiously await Mr. Cornwell's next book in this series! In a word, I'm hooked. You will be too, if you like exciting, true to life historical fiction!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Meager Review, June 2, 2009
Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg returns to give battle and bring death to his enemies in Bernard Cornwell's Sword Song, the fourth book of the Saxon series. In Sword Song Uhtred, oath bound, still serves the pious King Alfred of Wessex, though his heart longs to return to his beloved home in Northumbria. It seems like his fate takes him everywhere but north. Fate, Uhtred understands, is inexorable.

The year is 885. England is still a dream in the mind of an ambitious Christian king, and Lord Uhtred is charged with holding Wessex' northern frontier against any Viking threat. A new group of Northmen have taken refuge within the derelict walls of the ancient Roman town of London, and are impeding trade up and down the Thames. King Alfred has shrewdly married his daughter to the heir of the Mercian throne, Uhtred's cousin, Aethelred. And it is left to Uhtred to secure their wedding gift, London, from the hands of the hated men of the north. But a corpse named Bjorn (who winds up being a Dane pretending to be a dead man) and two Norse brothers conspire to tempt Uhtred into betraying his oath to King Alfred and joining the Viking quest to destroy Wessex forever. Uhtred ponders the question of choice over fate. If fate is unavoidable, why do men make oaths?

Sword Song is a good book, but it is not great. It feels like a bridge book that mostly serves to move the overall story arc forward. The battle for London is told, and it is exciting and bloody, but this book's Viking villains are neither likeable, nor scary. The story is fairly short, and nothing of any real significance happens. The story just doesn't have the sweeping feel of the last three, nor does the danger feel all that real at anytime.

I enjoyed the book immensely, and I finished it very quickly for me. Sword Song, when compared to other historical fiction, is a great piece of work. When compared with the other stories in the Saxon series, it is just pretty good. But it does leave this reviewer wanting more, and Uhtred's tale is far from over.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely fascinating, November 27, 2007
I just couldn't put it down...
I don't care if it's not historically perfect...
it gives you a very good idea of how people must've lived in those days...
can't wait for the next installment...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Hiccup, November 3, 2011
I love the Saxon series. Uhtred and the other characters are great, and they were intertwined quite well with the actual history (unless otherwise noted by Cornwell). Sword Song was a major disappointment. My first clue that it might be lacking was its short length. Sword Song did not help push along the history of England during Alfred's reign, and as others noted it was a very straight forward tale no twists, no betrayals. The battles were poorly portrayed with more chance heroism and luck than usual. The ending was also a let down. Feel free to skip Sword Song, but not any of the previous 3 Saxon books
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More emotional thrilling than historical, September 15, 2007
"But fairness is not the historical Novelist`s first duty."
(B. Cornwell in his Historical Note, page 317)

Apart from his assertion about what's not a historical Novelist`s first duty Bernard Cornwell in addition grants in his epilog that "Sword Song" contains more fiction than each of the prevoius novels about King Alfred. For this the poetical title already has a forebonding. While the first part "The Last Kingdom" to a great extend follows the historical chronicle (shown by a lot of dates) Cornwell confessed in his epilog of "The Pale Horseman" that in order of "dramaturgical reasons" he for one year had advanced the anglo-saxonian victory in the battle of Cynuit. In the third book "The Lords Of The North" the "dark age of Northumbria in the 9th century" allowed him a large poetic licence, that he took brightly. The "Historical Note" of "Sword Song" however only shows a half-hearted separation between facts and fiction.Beside Cornwell confesses, that he put the old testamentary "Ordeal of Bitter Water" (Numeri 5,11-31) in the plot, the reader doesn't get any information about which characters are historial or fictional and that the author again has changed the events chronocical order.In Cornwells 4th novel that starts in the year of 885 the marriage between Aethelreds II of Mercia and Alfreds' daughter Aethelflaed is followed by the saxonian conquest of Lundene (London) and the siege of Rochester. Actually the former Hrofeceastres had been besieged already in 884 belagert, London was conquered had handed over to the Lord of Mercia in 886 and earliest date for the marriage could be in the year of 887....

....after Uthred has come back from Northumbria his since two year lives with his second wife Gisela (sister of king Guthred of Northumbria) and their children in Coccham (Cookam/Berkshire). He has the order to build a "burgh" and to save the river Temes as frontier against the continual raids of the northmen. Suddenly King Alfred gives him the instruction to conquer Lundene....

Beside the already known characters Cornwell also brings two new antagonists, the norwegian warlords Sigefrid und his brother Erik. Remarkable again is that the presentation of the characters again isn't a simple black & white painting, because friendship an loyality doesn't depend on tribal or religious memberships. Cornwell succeeds that the reader rather have a liking for the "pagan" Uhtred and his camerads than for King Alfred and favourites and clerical advisers.At the beginning of the book there is a list which confronts the anglo-saxonian names of villages, forts, rivers, islands etc. of the ninth century to their today designations. After this the reader also can find two maps that give a geographical overview of the former saxonian kingdom Wessex, danish kingdom Eastanglia and the devided Mercia, as well of Lundene (London) in the corner of those three countries. "Sword Song" is a must für alle Cornwell-Fans, who have read the previous Parts of his "Saxon-Chronicle" an forces the reader to leran more about the history of Britannia. Anyway the the progressive loss of historical substance Cornwell succeds again in presenting a emotional thrilling story which again prooves that "wyrd biđ ful arćd"......

Therefore and in hope that the next sequel will be also thrilling but more historical there is an evaluation with 4 Amazonstars.

"Yet dreams, as the more fortunate of the authors characters discover, can come true, and so Uhtred ans his Story will continue....." (Page 318)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adventure amid Darkness and Doom, September 28, 2013
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These books are generally excellent but far from, I guess you could say, cheerful. There are very few really likable characters. Modern historians do not treat the Christians of this period as very admirable people and these books tend to make them quite unattractive. For instance, Alfred is really a jerk and it is a wonder, as one reviewer pointed out, that Uhtred doesn't just kill him. However, this would be really problematic for the author as the details of Alfred's death are well-known. What is equally true is that the pagans, who have tended to get a better press lately, come off no better. They are, many of them treacherous and vile, just as bad as their enemies. Only the powerless tend not to do anything vile.
The narrator/protagonist is about as bad as anyone. His greatest virtue in this reader's eyes is that he doesn't try to mask his actions under a guise of piety or loyalty to a ruler. What he cares about is his reputation, mainly as a warrior and that he dies with his weapon in his hand.
However, the action scenes and the plots and treachery that swirl from page to page make the series fascinating. Also, the author makes one aware that the armies of the time were divided between the almost useless militias and the professional soldiers that made up the fighting force of the great leaders.
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Sword Song: The Battle for London (Saxon Tales)
Sword Song: The Battle for London (Saxon Tales) by Bernard Cornwell (Paperback - December 23, 2008)
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