Readux: The Lords of the North

Title: The Lords of the North

Author: Bernard Cornwell

Published: 2006

Genre: Historical fiction

Date Started: April 1, 2013 Date Finished: April 9, 2013

Rating (out of 5): ★★★

Worthy of Note: Truth time? I bought The Lords of the North just so I could listen to the audiobook, as narrated by Richard Armitage…

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I’m an abysmally bad auditory learner, so I always read a book before I listen to its audiobook so I can follow what’s going on. The reason this readux is coming a bit late is because I’ve been listening to the audiobook (all 10 discs and 252 tracks…) since I finished the book, enjoying every grisly Saxon detail with my headphones on while I’m on the train. I wonder what people thought I was listening to?

I wanted darkness. There was a half-moon that summer night and it kept sliding from behind the clouds to make me nervous. I wanted darkness.

The Lords of the North is actually the third book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, following the life and exploits of Uhtred of Bebbanburg in 9th century Britain. Uhtred is Saxon-born, but was raised among Danes, which makes him a character of curious sympathies in this period of British history, when Saxons and Danes were enemies. This animosity is more than a matter of nationality. It is also a matter of religion, with the Christian Saxons tirading against the pagan Danes. Our hero Uhtred was born a Christian, but converted to the Danish religion  – Odin, Thor, Loki AKA your boyfriend Tom Hiddleston – and has never looked back. Though there are some Christians he considers allies – even friends – and he serves the very pious King Alfred, Uhtred has no love for Christianity.

I have not read the first two books of the series, so this book is my first impression of Uhtred. He is 21 years old and has already amassed quite the collection of blood feuds across England. The narrative in The Lords of the North picks up after the Battle of Ethandun, where Uhtred effectively won King Alfred the crown of Wessex and has been repaid with a rather measly strip of land. While travelling north, Uhtred encounters and frees a young slave named Guthred, who turns out to have a claim to the crown of Northumbria. Guthred is likeable, but ends up with advisors who happen to be on Uhtred’s blood feud list and who quickly see to doing away with Uhtred’s influence over Guthred. But Uhtred will not be defeated so easily and comes back mightier than before with a healthy appetite for revenge.

I got through Lord of the North pretty quickly. The story moved along at a good pace, never lingering anywhere for very long. Being narrated in the first person by Uhtred himself, the details are plainly stated, described as a warrior looking for a strategic place to stand would describe them. There’s not much for poetry or narrative subtlety, but that’s fine by me. Really, I read a book like this to absorb the vocabulary of the architecture, the warfare, the weapons, and the male narrator. Bernard Cornwell has probably forgotten more details about those things than I will ever hope to know, and this type of research is much more interesting to me than a Wikipedia freefall.

“I saw a goat vomit this morning. What it threw up reminded me of you.”

The Lords of the North was much more engrossing as performed in the audiobook. I’m a big fan of Richard Armitage after consuming pretty much everything he’s ever been in the weeks before The Hobbit came out, and my expectations were not disappointed. The performance here is spectacular. Because the book is told in first person by a man, the story was much more effective being read by a man. Though it gets a little weird when that man also has to read the female voices – which, in one scene, includes a lot of screaming – but only because Richard Armitage’s voice is so deep. In truth, he managed lot of voices, some of which were variations of his natural voice, some of which were, as mentioned above, women screaming.

Because I’m a huge nerd, I kept a list of voices I heard:

Guy of Gisborne, Thorin Oakenshield, high born lady, low born woman, little girl (who sounded like Georgie Henly as Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), little boy, feeble old man, prissy priest, a man who sounded like Lane Pryce, King Alfred sounded like Edward Norton as King Baldwin in Kingdom of Heaven, Steapa sounded like Hagrid, Ragnar sounded like Joe Armstrong as Hotspur in The Hollow Crown: Henry IV, Part I, Finan sounded like Branson from Downton Abbey, and  a collection of Danish accents!

Using several of those while having a conversation with yourself is a talent, no?

All in all, the story is enough to make me pick up the next two books in the series, to follow the adventures of Uhtred and his far-flung allies. Though I’ll miss the Richard Armitage narration. If he could just stop aging this very moment and wait about ten years, I would be more than happy to demand that he be cast in the HBO adaptation of my novel.

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