The Empty Throne (Anglais) Relié – 23 octobre 2014
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Revue de presse
“Excellent . .. Mysticism, history, brutality, muck, and mire combine to splendid effect in this compelling fictional version of the birth of a great nation.” (Booklist)
“Verdict: Once again, Cornwell perfectly mixes the history and personalities of tenth-century England with several doses of battles, trickery, and treachery. Is there a fan of historical fiction anywhere who has not yet read a Cornwell? If so, hook them on this series, and they will knight you.” (Library Journal)
“The Empty Throne is Cornwell’s best Uthred tale yet. If there is a throne for writers of this particular type of muscular historical fiction, then Cornwell is firmly wedged in it. And on this evidence, he is not budging.” (The Times (London))
“Cornwell once again shows his acknowledged mastery of fast-paced storytelling, full of exciting incident and an unflinching approach to bloodshed.” (Daily Mail)
“An effortlessly engaging ride.” (Mail on Sunday, EVENT Magazine) --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
Présentation de l'éditeur
The eighth installment of Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling series chronicling the epic saga of the making of England, “like Game of Thrones, but real” (The Observer, London)—the basis for The Last Kingdom, the hit BBC America television series.
My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred . . .’
Britain, early tenth century AD: a time of change. There are new raids by the Vikings from Ireland, and turmoil among the Saxons over the leadership of Mercia. A younger generation is taking over.
When Æthelred, the ruler of Mercia, dies, he leaves no legitimate heir. The West Saxons want their king, but Uhtred has long supported Æthelflaed, sister to King Edward of Wessex and widow of Æethelred. Widely loved and respected, Æthelflaed has all the makings of a leader—but can Saxon warriors ever accept a woman as their ruler? The stage is set for rivals to fight for the empty throne.
With this eighth entry in the epic Saxon Tales series, we are reminded once again why New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell is “the most prolific and successful historical novelist in the world today” (Wall Street Journal).--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
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Another great sequel from the master story teller, the narrative is fast paced from beginning to end, with Cornwell's usual flare for intertwining well researched historical fact with, thoroughly believable fiction, dry wit, visceral gritty action and the authors innate sense for the period.
The characterisations are three dimensional, so much so one feels a close affinity with the main protagonists. In this latest sequel we see Uhtred grooming the young prince Athelstan for future Kingship, Athelstan a true life character became king in approximately 924 and ruled until 939. In 927 he conquered the last remaining Viking kingdom, York, making him the first Anglo-Saxon ruler of the whole of England, (it seems Uhtred's strict mentoring paid off).
Could this latest work be pivotal in regard to a possible next generation in The Warrior Chronicles, with Uhtred the Younger and Athelstan taking more leading rolls in future sequels???? Historically there is certainly a great deal of material for the author to exploit and I for one would love to see this series continue until the final conquest.
All in all a great series from one of the greatest historical fiction authors ever.
For those who would like further information on this epoch, I highly recommend the OSPREY Campaign, Warrior, and men at arms booklets, with great overviews, excellent illustrations, and highly detailed maps.
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The forces of Wessex and Mercia have united against the Danes, but the instability of Britain’s kingdoms is made worse by the continued threat of Viking raids. Aethelred, Lord of the Mercians is dying, and there is no clear successor Uhtred supports Athelflaed to be the next ruler, but can a woman be accepted even if that woman is the wife of Aethelred and the sister of the king of Wessex? Uhtred himself is still suffering from the wound he received at the end of the previous instalment and is vulnerable. He’s in a reflective mood as well, thinking of the past and family, instructing his son on how to be a warrior.
‘Leave one alive, that had always been my father’s advice. Let one man take the bad news home to frighten the others,..’
It’s a fast-paced story, with some interesting new characters joining Uhtred and Finan, particularly Dywel, King of Dyfed. There’s plenty of action, but Uhtred himself is using his wits and cunning relying more on his experience than brawn these days.
I enjoyed this story, and while I appreciate that Uhtred cannot last forever, it’s interesting to see how his character continues to develop. This period of Saxon history, with Uhtred at the centre of the action, comes alive. And now I just have to wait patiently for the next instalment.
While it isn’t necessary to have read the earlier seven novels in order to make sense of this one, I’d recommend reading the novels in order.
‘The fates were laughing at me, those three hags at the foot of the tree who decide our lives.’
This book picks up the story where the previous volume ended, although it is possible to read it in isolation. To be fair, however, it is preferable – but not absolutely necessary - to read the whole series sequentially. Just like the previous volume (and just about all the others as well!), this one is a thundering good yarn, and a hugely entertaining read. For me at least (and for many others, I suspect), it is the kind of book you would do well NOT to start reading in the evening when you have to get up next morning to go to work.
Again, Bernard Cornwell has been true to form and has delivered yet another first class swashbuckler adventure story. It has a fast-paced narrative with lots of “blood and thunder”, plots, battles and treason. It is also based on a well-researched historical context and a number of historical characters that the author has somewhat adapted (or even distorted at times) to allow Uthred the warlord to continue to play the leading role that he has had throughout the series.
The characterisation is perhaps the strongest point of the book, if only because this is where it could have gone badly wrong, with descriptions of Uthred, Finan and their usual antics becoming tiresome, improbable and “déjà vu”. In fact, we do have quite a bit of “more of the same” with the violent, though, cruel, grim, headstrong warlord and his Irish henchman, but you would expect this to a large extent and there is also more to it than this. Although I readily admit to being rather partial to Uthred, I did find that the author had added some depth to his main character who is past his prime, knows it, and largely compensates for his somewhat declining warrior skills with lots of cunning and play-acting.
Also interesting are the little human touches, such as his doubts about having been a good father, and his fears more generally, which contrast with the arrogant image he wants to give of himself. Perhaps one of the nicest touches is that Uthred appears vulnerable in a large part of his volume, partly because of the serious and badly healed wound that he received in the battle that ends the previous episode. Other nice touches were to have Uthred taking care of Athelstan’s education as a future King and instructing him on how to render justice or allowing his though daughter to seek her own retribution. Further little touches are used and added to some of the other characters, including his daughter Stiorra, his son Uthred, but also Osbert and Finn, and even Aethelflaed, whose jealousy helps to make into a more believable character and adds to the iconic “Lady of the Mercians”.
New characters also make their appearance. Two of them are particularly well designed and very interestingly seen through the eyes of Uthred. One is Dywel, the King of Dyfed, whom Uthred sees as a great King and a Welsh version of King Alfred. The other is Sigtryggr, the handsome, skilful, daring and flamboyant Hiberno-Norse warlord – everything that Uthred was when he was as young.
The second big strongpoint of this book (or rather the third, since the breathless story happens to be the first!), is the skilful ways that the author has used to fit his character in and give him the leading role.
The story includes two main historical events which the author has somewhat modified. The first was the death of Aethelred, the Lord of Mercia. The second was the failed Norse attack on Ceaster (Chester).
As the author mentions in his historical note, the very strained relations between Aethelred and Aethelflaed are fictional. Just as fictional is the rather unsympathetic (and belittling) picture of the Lord of Mercia that is drawn throughout the series. It also seems that he died after a long and protracted illness rather than as the result of a battle wound, and it is this illness, which may have lasted several years, which lead his wife to assume the leadership of his troops and become the Lady of the Mercians. The point here is that the author choose to somewhat “blacken” Aethelred in order to allow for Uthred to be the leading warlord in the fight against the Danes and Norse in Mercia. For similar reasons, Edward the Elder is shown as a somewhat “lazy” and womanising King of Wessex whereas the historical character seems to have been a rather fearsome warlord and warrior.
The second event largely took place as related in the book with the Norse being tricked into what they believed was a surprise attack. Also historical are what was pored over them (read the book to learn what it was!). However, it seems that Aethelflaed was present and may even have organised the stronghold’s defence, contrary to what is shown in the book. Anyway, these liberties, and a few others (Sigtryggr was probably not as dashing as shown, for instance, and Athelstan was not in danger of being adbucted) are taken in ways that do not create major distortions.
Finally, I definitely agree with Bernard Cornwell’s statement that the Lady of the Mercians’ “achievements deserve to be better remembered”. One could say as much for those of both those of her husband and her brother. There is little material publicly available on any of the three, apart from a set of scholarly studies on Edward the Elder and a novel (King Alfred’s daughter: the Lady of the Mercians”) which has an interesting and different perspective than what can be found in this book. Another interesting novel about the same events (the attack on Chester in particular) but told from a Hiberno-Norse perspective, is “Viking Voices: the Sword of Amleh.”
This one was easily worth five stars…
The concept of fate that marks this series seems to show up stronger in this book, Cornwell introduces a couple of characters that he hints will play a bigger role in future books and things also seem to fall into place as it was predicted to Uhtred: "one son will disappoint you, one will make you proud, and your daughter will be the mother of kings".
In this book Uhtred is an unknown maker of real history as in all the other books. He brings about events that lead to the lady Æthelflæd becoming the Lady of the Mercians an unusual event for that time, saxons usually being led by men. This is the main historic event in this book.
I always enjoyed how Cornwell presents churchmen. The church was an important part of England's early history, King Alfred used the church to his advantage. At first you might be inclined to think that he has something against the church but this is not so. One must understand as also explained by Arnold Toynbee that christianity has been so successful over other religions because it stood outside traditional social hierarchies so it wasn't always the highest quality of people that were successful within the church. Other religions or cults that competed with christianity early on were infused in the traditional social fabric (nobles used to be high priests etc). Therefore, the churchmen that Cornwell introduces take both shapes, both good characters and extremely bad characters.
This book opens, rather disconcertingly, with an exact repetition of the opening sentence of The Last Kingdom—except that after two paragraphs it becomes clear that the character speaking the lines is not "our" Uhtred. I found this clever, both because it hints at a solution to the fundamental problem facing Cornwell as his saga progresses (Uhtred's advancing age) and because it introduces the possibility of a new narrator. At least four characters in this series bear the name Uhtred (it's a family tradition), and the possibility of a new narrator works for me as a writer, because it means that we as readers can't be so certain after all that our Uhtred will make it all the way to the end. More tension = more readers on the edge of their seats, which is a good place for a writer of historical sagas to keep them. And the new Uhtred has many of the same traits that have made the first so appealing.
But no fear, our Uhtred soon makes his appearance and regains his role as the voice of the story. He's not quite up to snuff, healthwise, due to events related in The Pagan Lord, and he uses his disability with his usual aplomb to fight his enemies, assist his friends, and protect those he loves. His daughter Stiorra also comes into her own. To say more would give away too many spoilers, but rest assured that by the end of the book Englaland is just a bit closer to its eventual formation. Cornwell is at the top of his game here, and the only downside for his readers is that we have to wait another twelve months to find out what happens next.
My thanks to HarperCollins, which sent me a free copy of this book for review. If anyone is interested, s/he can hear my interview with Bernard Cornwell for free at New Books in Historical Fiction. (The interview is the reason I received the review copy in the first place.)
Bernard Cornwell has done it again, writing of action and adventure that made me resentful when I had to put it down to continue with the mundane chores of modern everyday life. The warriors and heroes of this tale, leave you wanting more and you can almost breathe the air, feel the swish of swords and experience the terror of a shield wall, in this wonderful story.
Cornwell begins the story through the eyes of one character but then switches to another with whom, I got the impression, he is more comfortable in describing the mores and past endeavours. There is a surprising twist about three quarters of the way through, which although a bit unbelievable, leaves the reader feeling well-satisfied and willing to read on without any expectation of doom and gloom.
A fair amount of blood is spilled along the way but nothing more than you would expect from a book of this genre and from an author whose strength is warrior craft. There are surprisingly, occasional touches of humour that in the midst of carnage and bloodlust, are welcome and show a light touch.
My only criticism is that some of the characters have similar names and it takes a while to become accustomed as to who is who. However, in the scheme of things this is minor as the main character, Uhtred, fills the pages of this engaging story with his strength and vigour, bringing this historical epic tale to vivid life.