Reviewed by David Maclaine
The fourth novel in the "Saxon Tales" series is titled Sword Song and subtitled The Battle for London. There is indeed much sword-play in the novel, and a fierce battle for what is here spelled “Lundene,” but an equally apt title might have been River of Blood. The action in this novel ranges up and down the great river “Temes.” First comes the bloody ambush of a Danish warship, and then a desperate pre-dawn passage through the plunging torrent in a bridge-gap to achieve an unexpected river entry to assault a city. More bloody fights on the water lead to the climax in an epic struggle of men and ships whose outcome will determine the fate of a royal princess. The fights are all portrayed with Cornwell's usual verve; fans of blood-drenched hand-to-hand action will find ample satisfaction. But while the death toll has mounted steadily in the course of the "Saxon Tales," so too has the number of characters whose personalities add life and sprinkle cheer across these otherwise dire tales.
The band of warriors includes Steapa, a huge and deadly Saxon, somewhat dim but firm in any fight; the lively Irishman Finan, a lightning-swift dealer of death; the cheerful, hard-fighting Welsh priest, Father Pyrlig; and the narrator himself, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who again dispatches scores of foes to Valhalla with his swords Wasp-Sting and Serpent-Breath. Others who step forward to play key roles in the drama include King Alfred's haplessly scheming nephew Æthelwold; his bastard son Osferth, whom Uhtred rescues from the path of priesthood; and most crucially, Alfred's daughter Æthelflaed, whose marriage to the unpleasant lord Æthelred of Mercia provides both heart-rending drama and a heartening signal that this series will continue to the crucial wars fought by the royal family's next generation. (2007, 314 pages)More about Sword Song at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository