Book Review: The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell has built up quite the repertoire of best-selling historical fiction novels. However, his ‘Last Kingdom’ series is likely his biggest having been made into a critically acclaimed and very successful Netflix series too. The Pale Horseman is the second in the series and carries on the story of Uhtrid and everyone he comes up against.

The Pale Horseman book review
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The Last Kingdom was a book that I had a lot of respect for. I love history and so love historical fiction – I enjoyed Cornwell’s writing style and the massively flawed Uhtrid. The Pale Horseman continues to follow Uhtrid as he encounters different personalities along the way, staying close to King Alfred whom he is watching develop into a very intelligent King.

Plot – 4/5

In a similar vein to The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman takes us on quite a few journeys with Uhtrid. There isn’t really one overarching goal, it’s more about Uhtrid wandering around and finding different places to get involved with, whilst always coming back to King Alfred and Father Beocca. The story itself didn’t blow my mind. I didn’t find myself totally hooked by a lot of what was going on, but did find myself, at times, pulled in by certain moments and action scenes.

The final section of the book gripped me and instead of listening to the audiobook, I picked up the physical copy so I could fully immerse myself in it. It was worth it.

Due to the shortness of the books, there’s a certain element of not quite being able to fully immerse me in these books though. They’re probably 100-200 pages too short to be able to fill in with as much detail as I would have liked. Also, the writing is a tad too passive and caused me to zone out every now and then. However, Cornwell’s impressive knowledge of the time period made me concentrate hard to learn as I read.

Characters – 4/5 

Cornwell carries on where he left off with The Last Kingdom in continuing Uhtrid’s imperfect and almost insolent personality. He isn’t your stereotypical hero with a north-facing moral compass. There are actually times when (because it’s written in the first person) Uhtrid proclaims that that day he simply didn’t want to be nice or to be compliant. It’s interesting how Cornwell writes each of Uhtrid decisions and isn’t afraid to be honest about how some people simply aren’t as good as we’d hoped.

Alfred’s character continues to develop into the famed King he was renowned for. He’s not a physically large or particularly loud man, which most Kings in those days tended to be. However, he’s highly intelligent and has a different vision of the future of England where the whole country is run by one king rather than many. His intelligence and decisiveness shine through on quite a few occasions – sometimes impressing Uhtrid and sometimes annoying him as he simply wants to fight.

There’s a love interest in this book again. Uhtrid has a wife and a child who were the main interests of the last book, yet there’s a new one in this one whom he seems far more captivated by. I won’t say much more as to avoid spoilers but I found this relationship far more engaging than his with his previous love.

The Pale Horseman summary – 4/5

Overall, The Pale Horseman is a solid follow-up to The Last Kingdom. Though it hasn’t quite gotten me obsessed and fully immersed into the series quite yet. I love reading about Vikings, I think Cornwell writes fantastic action scenes and I’m a growing fan of Uhtrid and the imperfect characters that Cornwell writes. However, the passive writing style and the lack of there being an overarching goal do hamper this for me a little. Though its shortness works to its benefit in this matter but also hinder it from filling in more detail or expanding on the story a bit.

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