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empty throne book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

Is there a name for a narrator, seemingly reliable to the reader, yet not so predictable to his fellow characters? I have found his name to be Lord Uhtred, a Saxon nobleman, warrior, and a sometime conniver, but a plotter to the common good of Mercia. To say I liked Lord Uhtred, the senior, is an understatement. He is strong, reliable to the reader and those in his personal command, and he exhibits a dry witty dark humor. Such is the lead narrator of Bernard Cornwell’s latest novel in the Saxon Tales series, The Empty Throne.

In 911, King Æthelred of Mercia is declining in health. The king has no heir. A Witan (council) is called amongst the Saxon nobles to meet in Gleawecestre on Saint Cuthbert’s feast day to determine the fate of Mercia. Amongst those summoned to the Witan is Lord Uhtred, a known supporter of Æthelflaed, Lady of Mercia, the king’s estranged wife. Uhtred believes there is no nobleman who can lead and protect Mercia as Æthelflaed can. Uhtred is thought also to be declining in health as he suffered serious injuries in a recent battle. He is not seen as a threat when called south as a singular voice in support of Æthelflaed’s right to the throne.

The fate of Mercia does not only hang on a successor to the throne. Viking raiders are becoming bolder. They encroach from the north and seek to lay their claim on Mercian lands. Many noblemen and holy brethren are too wrapped up with finding a new king to give the northern threat much notice. Only Uhtred and Æthelflaed stand in the way of the Viking invasion.

The Empty Throne is the first book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series that I have read. It certainly will not be my last. I chose to read The Empty Throne because the history of Æthelflaed, Lady of Mercia, has intrigued me. That Cornwell wrote a novel around the reality and myth of Æthelflaed is not surprising; there is such rich ground for epic story making within her history. Cornwell’s novel is fiction based on some facts, yet it is not dry. Cornwell brings England a thousand years ago to life in all of its mucky, blood curdling, fantastic details. Moreover, Uhtred is a warrior worth cheering for especially when circumstances seem to sway out of his favor. The Empty Throne was an entertaining and engaging read.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.