4,299 pages of bloodshed

Wyrd bið ful āræd

By Jesse Mostipak in blog

April 12, 2023

Note: this was originally published in Weighted Tangents, my Substack newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

Whether or not I read too much as a child was a constant source of tension in my household. My parents, divorced, were of two minds. My mother likened books to food, and believed that if I was hungry I should eat. However, my father and stepmother were concerned that I was getting too little sunshine and—despite playing school and summer sports—that I was physically wasting away. As I lived with my father and stepmother we needed a compromise, and eventually decided that I could read as long as it was outdoors (with exceptions for bad weather), and so I would spend hours every summer moving from location to location, reading.

Not much has changed in my adult life. Once upon a time I dated someone who insisted on buying me clothes until I broke down crying in the store, unable to contain my misery a moment longer. Absolutely flabbergasted, he asked what would make me happy instead, and an hour later I was walking out of a bookstore with more than I could carry and grinning like I had just won the lottery. I’ve taken vacations just to read, I’ve run out of space in my apartment for my books and have had to rent a storage space, and whenever I move the movers invariably exclaim “what do you need so many books for?”

Over the last four months I’ve been steadily working my way through Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Series, settling in every night (and some afternoons) to read about the adventures of Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and how his fate is inextricably woven into the creation of Englaland (not a typo).

Uhtred is a shadow character, a work of fiction born in 865 who manages to make it to every major battle on English soil, culminating in the Battle of Brunanburh. Uhtred cannot directly influence the course of fate, but through him we meet legends such as Alfred the Great, the Warrior Queen Aethelflaed, and renowned Viking berserker and poet Egil Skallagrímmson, to name but just a few.

The books are good, and fall firmly into the category of books I’ve dubbed “airplane books,” in that they’re perfect reading for a flight, where the slight hypoxia will imbue more emotion than is actually there and you don’t really need to pay attention to the details. In fact Cornwell seems to be writing for this particular audience, oft repeating phrases and descriptions to ensure that you have the context to understand what’s about to happen next. At this point you could wake me from a deep sleep and ask me to explain the difference between a sword and a seax, and not only would I instantly be able to tell you, I’d throw in some free advice on when to use each within a shield wall. Hell, I even have opinions on axes versus spears thanks to this book series.

Fight scenes and battles are my preferred brand of catnip, and so I’ll forgive Cornwell for writing solely from Uhtred’s perspective (except for that one opening chapter where it seemed we might finally get someone else’s perspective) and the dismissive treatment towards women, because after 4,000 pages of bloodshed I still haven’t gotten enough. Writing battle scenes is what Cornwell excels at, masterfully painting combat so clearly that it feels like you’re there in the thick and stink of it all, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the warriors who birth England into being. And if you don’t have the patience for 13 books of battle, check out Azincourt (also by Cornwell) to learn more about a pivotal battle in the Hundred Years’ War, with some of the most gripping battle scenes I’ve ever read.

As I close out the last pages of War Lord I’m not entirely sure what to read next in order to maintain this battle high, but I’m taking all recommendations.

Until next week!


Posted on:
April 12, 2023
4 minute read, 665 words
weighted tangents newsletter historical fiction the saxon stories
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