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Pale Horseman, The
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Product Description

Uhtred is a Saxon, cheated of his inheritance and adrift in a world of fire, sword, and treachery. He has to make a choice: whether to fight for the Vikings, who raised him, or for King Alfred the Great of Wessex, who dislikes him.

In the late ninth century, Wessex is the last English kingdom. The rest have fallen to the Danish Vikings, a story told in The Last Kingdom, the New York Times bestselling novel in which Uhtred's tale began. Now the Vikings want to finish England. They assemble the Great Army, whose one ambition is to conquer Wessex. A dispossessed young nobleman, married to a woman who hails from Wessex, Uhtred has little love for either, though for King Alfred he has none at all. Yet fate, as Uhtred learns, has its own imperatives, and when the Vikings attack out of a wintry darkness to shatter the last English kingdom, Uhtred finds himself at Alfred's side.

Bernard Cornwell's The Pale Horseman, like The Last Kingdom, is rooted in the real history of Anglo-Saxon England. It tells the astonishing and true story of how Alfred, forced to become a fugitive in a few square miles of swampland, fights his enemies against overwhelming odds. The king is a pious Christian, while Uhtred is a pagan. Alfred is a sickly scholar, while Uhtred is an arrogant warrior. Yet the two forge an uneasy alliance that will lead them out of the marshes to the stark hilltop where the last remaining Saxon army will fight for the very existence of England.

Enthralling as both a historical and personal story, The Pale Horseman is a novel of divided loyalties and desperate heroism, featuring a cast of fully realized characters, from a king in despair to a beguiling British sorceress. And always, beyond the spearmen and the swordsmen are the folk who suffer as the tides of war sweep over their farmlands. From Bernard Cornwell, the New York Times bestselling author whom the Washington Post calls "perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today," The Pale Horseman is yet another masterpiece of historical and battle fiction that gives life to one of the most important and exciting epochs in the history of the English people and culture.

Customer Reviews:

  • I Wish More Could Write Like Cornwall
    I've read a lot of fantasy novels that have similar settings to this book. I can't remember being so immersed in what seems like a real midevil setting. The dirt, poverty, chaos seem so believable and real. Comic books and fantasy novels always claim to have abiguous heroes but Uthred had got to be the ultimate anti-hero. The thing is you can understand why and it all makes a crazy kind of sense. The other thing Cornwall gets right is the clash of cultures that resulted in the rich culture of England that still exists to this day. This is a real page-turner yet the drama is not made up of just giant heroic acts but seemingly small things. There is one key act by a minor character that will make you say "if he didn't do that, there would be no England" and Cornwell makes that completely believable. I'm going to be reading a lot more of Cornwall's work and I advise others to do the same. One word of warning... midevil combat is pretty gory and violent and you won't be spared that....more info
  • Ninth Century Battles
    This is an historical novel set in the southwest of ninth century England (Wessex). Few actual records survive from that time period as most records were in monasteries that were sacked and burned. Other records would have been in manor houses that met a similar fate. The author has revised a few points of history to match the story, but most of the main facts are correct enough, or as much as can be determined from the accounts which survived.

    The main story deals with King Alfred's battles with the Danes, culminating at Ethandun in 878 AD. While the actual historical details are not known, it is quite probably true that the Danes had the stronger army. It is known that the Saxons won the battle at Ethandun, and drove the Danes out of Wessex. The details of the battle found in this novel are fictional.

    The present story is told by the fictional warrior Uhtred, a pagan of mixed ancestry who could just as easily have fought fot the Danes, but finds himself pledged to fight for Alfred. He is with Alfred, hiding out on an island in the marshes when, as Uhtred puts it, the kingdom is reduced to the king, a bishop, four priests, two soldiers, the king's pregnant wife, two nursemaids, a tavern wench, the king's two young children, and a shadow queen that the priests regard as a witch. But, as Yogi Berra put it, "It's not over 'til it's over." West Saxons were still loyal to the king, and he could raise the fyrd to form an army. The army gathers slowly, a combination of trained soldiers, who are well equipped, and farmers who are armed with whatever.

    Some Saxons had allied themselves with the Danes, but others remain loyal to King Alfred, and there are some suprising loyalties. A former opponent of Uhtred becomes a loyal follower after being rescued. Uhtred also rescues a young nun who was ravished by the Danes, and he must deal with Alfred who wants to put himself in positions of danger (these were the days when kings led their armies into battle, none of the modern business of staying home while they sent others out to fight). When it comes down to the final battle, women show they can fight when they need to, but Uhtred loses his lover.

    The general attitudes (social, religious, etc.) and standards of living are probably fairly accurate. Religious attitudes have not changed much between the 9th century and the 21st century, i.e., people honor their own religion but everyone else is a heathen or infidel.

    It was common for armies to burn, rape, and pillage, and that continued into the 20th century. The only reason for taking prisoners was to obtain concubines, slaves, or hostages that could be held for ransom. Anyone who could not fit into one of those categories was killed. Genocide was a common practice. Armies were like a plague moving across the land.

    The attitude of allowing hostages to be killed was also fairly common. When one of my own ancestors was being held by a king who threatened to kill him, his father told the king that he had other sons. Family members could be sacrificed if it was to a person's advantage. Barbarian attitudes tended to prevail on both sides. Being a Christian did not make one a saint.

    Parallels can be found between the success of Alfred in raising the Saxons against the Danes, and the later success of Robert I (Robert the Bruce) in raising the Scots against the English. But that is another story. The Danes were finally defeated by Brian in Ireland, and the Saxons in England in the 11th century, and never seemed to be major players on the scene after that....more info
  • Less Action, but more excitement
    If you're looking for a sequel that is better than the original then look no further. The Pale horseman is a great book by a great author. It does have less battles than The Last Kingdom but far exceeds expectations with the great plot and character buildings. I can't wait for the final part in this trilogy....more info
  • Good follow-up to The Last Kingdom
    The Pale Horseman picks up immediately after the last moments of The Last Kingdom, with Uhtred racing from the battlefield to make sure of his wife's saftey. But Uhtred's decision to look for her is unwise--by doing so, he loses his opportunity to take credit for the victory he's just won and his rival, Odda, gets the honors. But despite this victory, King Alfred and the people of Wessex are still unsafe from the Danish threat, and as the novel progresses things grow increasingly worse for them. The Danes renege on a peace agreement and invade in the dead of winter, when Alfred's forces are at ease and unsuspecting.

    Alfred is forced into the marshes, where he hides among the bogs in tiny villages. This section of the novel--the sojourn in the wilderness--is perhaps the best part of the novel, second of course to the thrilling battle finale. Uhtred and Alfred form an unlikely team as they organize English resistance to the marauding Danes and prepare to take Wessex back.

    Cornwell, as usual, writes with energy and the many scenes of battle and combat are thrilling. He also shows a good attention to the period, with lots of small details--such as the constant wars with the Welsh--rounding out a mostly correct fictional experience of Anglo-Saxon England. I especially liked the long winter spent in the marshes and Alfred and Uhtred's mission to spy on the Danes.

    Only two things bothered me about the novel. First, Cornwell's obvious hatred for Christians is again evident. But as Uhtred frequently prays and invokes Thor (historically inappropriate, as Thor was a bit of a blue-collar god and warriors preferred to invoke Odin) and prayerfully touches his Thor's hammer amulet to ward off evil, it comes across as hypocritical in the extreme to mock Christians for praying for victory and making the sign of the cross. One wonders why Cornwell would bother writing about a person like Alfred the Great at all if he thinks him such a pious moron.

    Second, Uhtred is a bit of a sociopath. In his own eyes he never does any wrong and can always rationalize the many questionable choices he makes or the numerous hatreds he nurses toward people. And, harking back to the hypocritical attitude toward religion, he's often too willing to refuse to make a choice and just call it "destiny." While anger and sociopathy can be compelling traits in fictional characters, passivity is not.

    But these two flaws aside, The Pale Horseman is a rousing historical adventure with some great battle scenes and a--mostly--beautifully-evoked sense of the period. Upon putting this novel down, I felt as though I'd been with Alfred in the marshes and risen with him to the Danish challenge.

    Recommended....more info
  • Politics and diplomacy rather than the shield wall
    I was expecting a rousing tale such as the one found in The Last Kingdom. Not to say this novel is bad - just not what I expected.

    The tale continues to follow the times and trials of Uther Rangardson as the Danes invade Britain. I expected more of the same type of battles, hardships, and character development that was found in the previous novel, but this book tends to lean more towards Uther caught in the turmoil as King Alfred struggles to regain his throne.

    Because it is Cornwell, I liked the style and the writing, but the story was not one of his best. I still recommend it for anyone who has read The Last Kingdom. Just be prepared for lots of dialogue and less blood....more info
  • Uhtred the Unyielding

    I enjoyed this book. The Pale Horseman, a historical novel, is the second book in the "Saxon tales", a series of sagas during the reign of Alfred the Great of England in the late 800s. The series recounts the Danish invasion of England and the subsequent resistance of the Saxon population. Nominally the series is about Alfred the Great, his ascent to power as King of Wessex, his attempt to secure his kingdom and recapture the rest of England.

    This story is mostly about the preparation of Albert the Great's army for the decisive battle to drive the Danish out of Wessex. It further relates the battles against the invading Danish. The main character is Uhtred, a man who is the extant Ealdorman of in Bebbanburg, a castle in the kingdom of Northumbria.

    Uhtred is a very proud man who is constantly in trouble with his superiors, but Uhtred is also a great warrior who speaks Danish and understands both the Danish strategies and the art of warfare. Despite his troubling ways, Uhtred becomes a valued asset to Alfred and the army.

    I enjoyed the scenes in the moors of western Wessex and the cunning for human survival while building an army in the swamps. The details of Danish and Saxon culture are impressive. The battle scenes are bloody and vicious. The strategies are clear, and the pace of the battles explicit.

    If you like historical fiction, if you enjoy viewing brutal battles, and if you appreciate learning about the roots of the English culture, you will enjoy this book.
    ...more info
  • Almost too good to be true
    This second book in the series is amazing Cornwell has created one of his best characters in Uhtred Ragnarson. The fun is confined to Uhtred but also to the excellent supporting cast that Cornwell has created. It has everything I've come to expect from Cornwell books action, adventure humor and fantastic battles. With a Cornwell book you know its always going to be worth it.

    Not to be rude but Mr. Cornwell now can you get back to writing the Nat Starbuck series? Those books were excellent as well.
    ...more info
  • The Pale Horseman
    Cornwell grabs the readers interest from the very beginning and doesn't let go until the last page! His books are so well written that the reader feels a pang of regret as he nears the end of each of his books....more info
  • Riveting Narration (Review of Audio)
    I listened to the audio CD from the library. Tom Sellwood's narration is spellbinding. Each character's voice is so realistic the story comes to life. You can listen to a portion on the audible download link. I would recommend reading the series in order since character development begins with the first book....more info
  • Cornwell is the Master
    Bernard Cornwell is the master of historical fiction. I didn't think he could write a better series of books than his Arthurian trilogy, but "The Pale Horseman" puts this series slightly ahead. I have actually laughed out loud and jumped up in triumph while reading this book. "The Pale Horseman" is in a very tight race with "Shogun" as my favorite novel. Well done, Mr. Cornwell. ...more info
  • A Rousing Saga of the Saxons vs. the Danes & the Vikings!
    This novel is the sequel to THE LAST KINGDOM and it continues the exciting tale of Uhtred and King Alfred (better known as Alfred the Great). Uhtred and King Alfred's relationship is still tenuous at best, however, Uhtred is has formed respect for this resilient king. Uhtred is still divided between his allegiance to King Alfred and his Danish foster-brother, Ragnar.

    He knows that in the great battle that is to come he must choose between them. Uhtred is ultimately unhappy with the wife and farm he is given by Alfred as there is a great debt attached to it. He's bored and misses his raiding days. He eventually embarks on a raid with his former shipmates (under King Alfred) and disguises his ship as a Danish/Viking raider. His raiding adventures bring him to the Shadow Queen; Iseult who leaves with him after her husband's kingdom is destroyed.

    The adventures continue and you can feel Uhtred frustrations with both King Alfred and his former allies. This second installment was even better than the first and I look forward to the next with great anticipation!

    ...more info
  • An excellent sequal to The Last Kingdom!
    Another wonderfully told story from Bernard Cornwell. Historical fiction at its best! The continuing tale of the prince turned slave, turned warlord who struggles to reconcile his Norse(Viking) up-bringing and his true roots as a Briton. All the while in the thick of Alfred the Great's struggles to free Saxon England of the pagan hoards from the north....more info
  • Uthred, Northumbrian, helps Alfred realize his fate
    "The Pale Horseman," by Bernard Cornwell, continues Cornwell's "Saxon Stories" trilogy that began with "The Last Kingdom." Cornwell's title to the trilogy is probably more accurate than the popular description of these books as "Cornwell's story of Alfred the Great."

    It's true that Cornwell has chosen as the backbone of his story Alfred's defeat of the Danes (aka "Vikings," but Cornwell properly pointed out in "TLK" that "viking" is a verb) against seemingly impossible odds. Alfred is an important player in the books as the King of Wessex, the last of the four kingdoms of England that have not been conquered by the Danes.

    But this is not a story primarily about Alfred -- those looking for a hagiography of England's only officially "Great" king will be disappointed. "The Pale Horseman" is primarily the story of Uthred, a Saxon of Northumbria, who was raised by Danes, admires and loves them, but now finds himself fighting them alongside Alfred and the Saxons.

    Uthred and Alfred make for a jarring comparison, with Alfred generally getting the shorter end of the stick from Mr. Cornwell. Uthred is a fun character while Alfred is often disappointing. Uthred is a lusty pagan whereas Alfred is a pious Christian (to be fair, Cornwell makes clear that in his youth, Alfred did his fair share of wenching). Uthred is a mighty warrior, whereas Alfred is sickly and thin. Uthred knows that the Danes must be beaten with the sword, while Alfred is quick to offer Christian charity to his vanquished foes -- often to have those same foes rise up against him again. Uthred has faith in his pagan gods (who seem to be able to pull off a miracle or two every now and then), while Alfred doggedly follows the Christian god and his leech-like, ineffective priests. Uthred is a true warrior, Alfred is a poor politician.

    And so it goes. What saves "The Pale Horseman" from being a second-tier book is Cornwell's mastery of the details of the period. Short of a time machine, Cornwell's "Saxon Stories" are as good as it gets as far as tossing the reader into the harsh Wessex countryside -- this is a land of rough hills, dense swamps, bitter cold, numbing rain, and occasional splendour. Cornwell captures all of this with his trademark economy, and eventually you feel like you're walking and talking with Uthred and his comrades rather than reading about them.

    I have to say that "The Pale Horseman" is not my favorite Bernard Cornwell book. I don't think it rises to the heights he has attained with his other novels, and I think that may be more me than Cornwell. Cornwell's Alfred is an interesting character, but I grow impatient with him. The thesis of the books so far is that if Uthred hadn't been around, Alfred would never have amounted to much. At some point, Cornwell's going to have to show some of Alfred's mettle -- so far, Alfred has been Cornwell's most frustrating character since his take on Lancelot in the "Warlord" trilogy.

    And for some odd reason, the battle scenes in "Horseman" feel a bit truncated compared to Cornwell's other works. Nobody writes a better real-world battle scene than Cornwell, and while "Horseman" builds and builds and builds to a climactic battle, it doesn't quite deliver the goods in the way that so many other Cornwell battle scenes do. Hmm. Maybe he's just spoiled me over the years.

    As an aside, Cornwell takes an interesting step here and ever-so-slightly connects two trilogies. In Uthred's time, King Arthur is cherished by the Saxons as a warrior-king. Yet Uthred observes that Arthur was King of the Britons, and he fought the Saxons (the "Sais") -- in battles that Cornwell described so vividly in his earlier trilogy. Uthred wonders, if Arthur came back, as so many Saxons pray, wouldn't he just fight the Saxons, too, as well as the Danes? These are the kinds of unexpected thoughts that Uthred has that make him so much fun.

    Again, this is not Cornwell's best novel. But he's written about fifty excellent books so far, so we can't expect him to keep topping himself. If you're a fan of Cornwell's works, check this one out. If you haven't read Cornwell yet, I'd recommend starting with Richard Sharpe, or the "Warlord" trilogy, or "Stonehenge," or the "Grail Quest" trilogy, or "Redcoat," or . . ....more info
  • The joy of battle
    This is a fantastic follow-up to The Last Kingdom. While the style and subject matter of Cornwell's books rarely changes (war and warriors, women and pillaging), the overall story is king and it is told masterfully. Yes, at times it is overstated, formulaic and even clich¨¦d in places, but Cornwell is one of those who focuses on the journey, rather than the end result. I read his books because they take me to a far off time and place and let me imagine a world such that I almost feel a part of it. It's not so much a history lesson as lived history. And its not a history that is lived by kings and princes, but one lived by the poor guy that stands in the front row of a shield wall, feeling his gorge rising and his bowels loosening in sheer terror. The king plays a bit-part as Uhtred, the deposed lord of lands he has not been in since he was 10, puppet of Alfred, more Dane than Englishmen, lone pagan in a throng of prayer-mad priests and monks, slashes and grinds and wisecracks his way to the forefront of any action.

    Next, I expect, Uhtred and his foster-brother, Earl Ragnar, have an appointment in Northumbria with Kjarten and Sven, on their way to Bebbanburg. At least I hope so.
    ...more info
  • The second novel in the amazing Alfred The Great series.
    This second novel is Cornwell's series is every bit as good as the first, you can feel yourself being sucked into the whole Dark Age period, the war the brutality and the people of this period are fascinating. And as always Cornwell's writing style is great and if a fan of action then you'll enjoy this work it's packed full of swords, axes, battles and blood, you could ask for more.

    Uhtred is faced with a dilemma, whether or not to fight for the Saxon King Alfred or fight with the Dane warriors he knows best, he finally makes his decision when Alfred offers him command of his small but powerful navy. And from here Uhtred faces numerous dangerous situations from naval battles to surviving the invasion of a massive Dane army and rescuing Alfred from the swamps of Wessex. All the while he wonders if he is doing the right thing in fighting for the Saxons....more info
  • History searching for a screenplay
    As with many of Mr. Cornwell's historical fictions, this is a wonderful read. Combinings a good narrative with well researched historical trivia from an era lost to the modern audience, you could understand why this author translates well to visual mediums like TV or film.

    I have enjoyed his characters and understand the liberties he may take in assuming the tenor and content of the imagined conversations which historical figures engage in. I am always able to accept these books for what they are, ripping good stories. I am looking forward to the next installment!

    If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Cornwell, I reccomend his Sharpe series as well. ...more info
  • As advertised
    Arrived promptly, well packaged and was in the precise condition expected. Couldn't ask for more....more info
  • Average at best
    Even though this is a short book (350 pages) the author can't seem to find a plot. There is a definite lack of direction. Sure, there is the meta-story of the King Alfred and the Danish invasion, but I can read a "traditional" history for that. All around, the book is average; not terrible but not that great either. I get the impression that this author churns out a new historical novel ever year or two regardless of whether he actually has anything to say....more info
  • GREAT HISTORICAL TALE
    THE PALE HORSEMEN is the second book in the Cornwell series focusing on England before it was England. Unlike the first book, there's less fighting and more political maneuvering and focus on relationships.

    HISTORY: at this time England was something of a bunch of Saxon Kingdoms. Seven, if memory serves. The Saxons had actually taken most of the Kingdom from the Britons & Welsh and had held a good chunk for several hundred years. Now, it's the late 800s and the Danes are seriously beating the Saxons up. The first book opens with only one Saxon Kingdom remaining and the others having already fallen.

    Tale focuses on a young man, who was raised by Danes and appreciates many of their values, but, for various reasons from the first book, he has chosen to side with the remaining Saxon Kingdom, Wessex.

    This is a good tale for those interested in, well, shield wall warfare, lusty adventuring and a perspective on the Saxon and Danish viewpoints. Also, the take on the future Alfred the Great is interesting b/c the main character has no love for him. And, that's funny because Alfred is the only male monarch of England to be termed the great . .. all for him holding England together.

    Look for the legend where a fishwife chews out Alfred the Great, not knowing who he is, when he burns her cakes....more info
  • Because some days you wake up a Viking!
    Let me say, this is the first book that I have ever finished in one day, and I did read every word. This is a great book; good laughs and great fun! However, I don't believe it was as grand as the first in the series. It took some time for the story to fully excite me; unlike the first. However, perhaps i'm just too enthralled with Cornwell's creation of the pagan hero in the first book (and moreover his role model, Ragnar, whom I'd like to name my son after).

    The primary champion, Uhtred, is a well balanced character, who embraces the pagan lifestyle of his enemies, while serving Christian Wessex. He's very human, but very pagan. An everyday hero FOR the everyday hero! Refreshing, truly a release from structured society, and the readers know it immediately! A must read for us pagans out there!!!

    Best line of the book (278): "Life is simple," I said. "Ale, woman, sword, and reputation. Nothing else matters." (-Uhtred)

    -Cornwell himself is a champion writer. I greatly look forward to continuing the series with the next two books in the series, and all his others....more info
  • Uhtred the Unyielding

    I enjoyed this book. The Pale Horseman, a historical novel, is the second book in the "Saxon tales", a series of sagas during the reign of Alfred the Great of England in the late 800s. The series recounts the Danish invasion of England and the subsequent resistance of the Saxon population. Nominally the series is about Alfred the Great, his ascent to power as King of Wessex, his attempt to secure his kingdom and recapture the rest of England.

    This story is mostly about the preparation of Albert the Great's army for the decisive battle to drive the Danish out of Wessex. It further relates the battles against the invading Danish. The main character is Uhtred, a man who is the extant Ealdorman of in Bebbanburg, a castle in the kingdom of Northumbria.

    Uhtred is a very proud man who is constantly in trouble with his superiors, but Uhtred is also a great warrior who speaks Danish and understands both the Danish strategies and the art of warfare. Despite his troubling ways, Uhtred becomes a valued asset to Alfred and the army.

    I enjoyed the scenes in the moors of western Wessex and the cunning for human survival while building an army in the swamps. The details of Danish and Saxon culture are impressive. The battle scenes are bloody and vicious. The strategies are clear, and the pace of the battles explicit.

    If you like historical fiction, if you enjoy viewing brutal battles, and if you appreciate learning about the roots of the English culture, you will enjoy this book.
    ...more info
  • Cornwell is simply the Best. No question.
    I must say I am disappiointed. Why? Because I'm pretty sure that no other book that I'll read immediately after this can hold a candle to this amazing work by Cornwell.

    This is the second installment of Cornwell's Saxon series. The first book, THE LAST KINGDOM set the stage for the events happening in this installment. I didnt think that it could get much better than THE LAST KINGDOM, but oh, I was wrong. THE PALE HORSEMAN has all the elements of the 1st book that made it great. This time around, however, there is a little less fighting and more politics. The pacing is done well and we're introduced to some new memorable characters. (A Christian priest in the shield wall!)

    Thank God that Cornwell puts out a book or two every year... Because soon we'll finish this series (maybe?) with the book, LORDS OF THE NORTH COUNTRY.

    BRILLIANT....more info