July 24, 2014

Book Review - The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

The next in the story of Uhtred and the complicated politics and battles of Dane vs Saxon after King Alfred, to see whether England would be Englaland (sic) or Daneland). Historical action with visceral battle scenes and lyrical writing. I love the whale's path, the long waves, the wind flecking the world with blown spray, the dip of a ship's prow into a swelling sea and the explosion of white and the spatter of saltwater on sail and timbers, and the green heart of a great sea rolling behind the ship, rearing up, threatening, the broken crest curling, and then the stern lifts to the surge and the hull lunges forward and the sea seethes along the strakes as the wave roars past. I love the birds skimming the grey water, the wind as friend and as enemy, the oars lifting and falling. I love the sea. I have lived long and I know the turbulence of life, the cares that weigh a man's soul and the sorrows that turn the hair white and the heart heavy, but all those are lifted along the whale's path. Only at sea is a man truly free. P.53 I have tried to explain this to women, though few have understood. Gisela did, as did Athelflaed, but most have looked at me as if I was something disgusting when I talked of the joy of battle. It is disgusting. It is wasteful. It is terrifying. It stinks. It makes misery. At battle's end there are dead friends and wounded men, and pain, and tears, and awful agony, and yet it is a joy. The Christians talk of a soul, though I have never seen, smelt, tasted or felt such a thing, but perhaps a soul is a man's spirit and in battle that spirit soars like a falcon in the wind. Battle takes a man to the edge of disaster, to a glimpse of the chaos that will end the world, and he must live in that chaos and on that edge and it is a joy. We weep and we exult. Sometimes when the nights draw in and the cold days are short, we bring entertainers to the hall. They sing, they do tricks, they dance, and some juggle. I have seen a man tossing five sharp swords in a swirling, dazzling display, and you think he must be cut by one of the heavy blades as it falls yet somehow he manages to snatch it from the air and the blade whirls upwards again. That is the edge of disaster. Do it right and you feel like a god, but get it wrong and it will be your guts trampled underfoot. P 289 Wendy

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