By Adam B. Vary
Updated January 19, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Lords of the North, the third book in Bernard Cornwell’s ongoing saga of King Alfred and ninth-century England — as told by the pagan English warrior Uhtred — is soaked yet again in nasty political intrigue, ripsnorting battles, and pungent blasphemy. All glorious things, but Cornwell also sidelines Alfred to a cameo and skimps on the grand historical moments this time out. At times, Uhtred’s journey — rescuing a northern king from slavery, only to be repaid with betrayal — feels a wee bit arbitrary. Fortunately, there are plenty of lines like this one: ”When you are dead, I shall have your skin tanned and made into a saddle so I can spend the rest of my life farting on you.”