The Pale Horseman
The last English king is cornered in a fetid stretch of swamp in the dead of winter. His kingdom is overrun with a horde of conquering Danes (known as Vikings only when they’re at sea). His 3-year-old son is deathly ill, his coterie of priests are at their wits’ end, and his only real protection is our hero, the English noble Uhtred, a hotheaded warrior — and, worse yet, a pagan — who was raised among the Danes. And yet damn if we don’t want to be a part of the action. Such are the rousing and evocative talents of Bernard Cornwell as he re-creates, in The Pale Horseman, the second in his series about King Alfred the Great that began with 2005’s The Last Kingdom, the few months in 878 when England almost ceased to exist. Cornwell stumbles through the death of a crucial character, but since it comes during the ferocious climactic battle, you just may be too bloody to notice.