Sword Song Lib/E: The Battle for London

By Bernard Cornwell

33,480 ratings - 0* vote

The fourth installment of Bernard Cornwell's New York Times bestselling series chronicling the epic saga of the making of England, "like Game of Thrones, but real" (The Observer, London)--the basis for The Last Kingdom, the hit television series.The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish kingdom to the north and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the The fourth installment of Bernard Cornwell's New York Times bestselling series chronicling the epic saga

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Book details

Audio CD, 0 pages
March 9th 2021 by HarperCollins
1665102764 (ISBN13: 9781665102766)

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4.5/5 stars

This was so good and addictive. Definitely my favorite volume in the series so far.

I am so pleased with Sword Song. It seems like taking a break and pacing my reading of the series to one book per month instead of two books might be serving my experience well. From my experience with Lords of the North, I did worry whether having watched the TV series would end up ruining my reading experience of the novels or not, because it certainly diminished my experience of Lords of the North. But that’s simply not the case with Sword Song.

“Cowardice is always with us, and bravery, the thing that provokes the poets to make their songs about us, is merely the will to overcome the fear.”

Sword Song is the fourth volume in The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell. The year is now 885, 7 years since the beginning of the previous book, and the story revolves around Uthred being tasked by Alfred to seize London for him. It felt good to be back with Uthred and his gang here. Plus, being 28 years old now, Uthred is pretty much at his best fighting skill so far in this book, and it is spectacularly entertaining watching him navigate his life through the battles and challenges brought upon him. Uthred’s love for the Danes and his oath for Alfred continues to conflict with his decision-making, and Sword Song raised a lot of thought-provoking discussion surrounding choices, oath, and fate. Fate is inexorable; does that mean that our choices are pre-determined already? It’s a thought-provoking notion about the existence of free-will, and I enjoyed reading this theme being constantly explored throughout the series so far.

“A country is its history, bishop, the sum of all its stories. We are what our fathers made us, their victories gave us what we have, and you would make me leave my descendants a tale of humiliation? You want men to tell how Wessex was made a laughing stock to howling heathens? That is a story, bishop, that would never die, and if that tale is told then whenever men think of Wessex they will think of a Princess of Wessex paraded naked to pagans. Whenever they think of England, they will think of that!”

Excluding Uthred and Alfred, Aethelflaed and Steapa have a lot of development to them both. It is intriguing; I’ve mentioned how much I loved Finan and Sithric due to the TV series, but Steapa seems to be so much well-portrayed in the books than he is in the TV show. The villains Sword Song were more complex, and the dialogues were always engaging. Also, this is the seventh book by Bernard Cornwell that I read, and it is the first time his book doesn’t have many super long paragraphs—one paragraph by him can last about one to two pages—that burdened the pacing and readability of his novel. With this, I feel that Sword Song is by far the most superbly-paced volume of the series so far. Additionally, we know that Cornwell writes great battle scenes; what surprised me in this book is the range in Cornwell’s prose that readers should acknowledge more. The passage about love, lust, and death in this book was so profound; here’s a snippet of it:

“Love is a dangerous thing. It comes in disguise to change our life... Lust is the deceiver. Lust wrenches our lives until nothing matters except the one we think we love, and under that deceptive spell we kill for them, give all for them, and then, when we have what we have wanted, we discover that it is all an illusion and nothing is there. Lust is a voyage to nowhere, to an empty land, but some men just love such voyages and never care about the destination. Love is a voyage too, a voyage with no destination except death, but a voyage of bliss.”

It’s such a beautifully-written passage, and the full version is more stunning; I can’t put it here due to spoilers. Overall, I think Sword Song is the best of the series so far; it’s an incredible historical fiction novel. If the TV series adaptation worked as a prediction, then the next book, The Burning Land, should be even better. I will be reading the next one in April.

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Em Lost In Books

I loved the second half of the book, first half not so much. Loved Uhtred's bargaining skills, and how he was all in for the lovers even if it meant going against King Alfred.

Sean Barrs

Uhtred is in his prime; he has name and reputation, and he also has the youth and energy to complete his goals. He is beyond tried and tested; he is the master of his craft; he is the mighty Uhtred and he is now a war lord to be feared. I pity the man that crosses swords with him.

The shield itself, rimmed with iron, was painted with a wolfs head, my badge, and at my left hung serpents breath and at my right Wasp-sting, and I strode towards the gate with the sun rising behind me to throw my long shadow on the filth-strewn street. I was a warlord in all my glory, I had come to kill, and no one at the gate knew it."


This book opens with a gory hanging that is just another necessity of war. Uhtred has learnt that a man must be brutal if his enemies are to fear him; he has learnt that in order to maintain his warrior reputation he must be merciless. Men must fear him or his reputation as a dangerous foe wouldn’t exist. The fear is part of his persona; it is part of his character, and a necessary facet of being a successful general. If his enemies can’t predict his actions or understand the way he conducts his business, then half of the job is done before Uhtred has even drawn his sword. He’s already won.

It took Uhtred a while to catch on, through serving Alfred he will never receive the deserved glory for the services he has rendered to him. The king is thankless and views Uhtred’s success on the battlefield in a different light. He can never fully trust him or allow him too much power. He fears that his dog may turn round and bite him, which is a shame because for all Uhtred’s savagery he still possesses a degree of honour and loyalty. He quite easily could have been Alfred’s man if he, in turn, treated him with respect. The king has ordered him to be an advisor to his cousin, which means Uhtred will do all the thinking, and all the killing, whilst his weak cousin will get all the rewards. Such is the life of Uhtred.


The familiarity of these novels really gives the series a sense of cohesion. When you pick up the next instalment, there is absolutely no doubt as to what you are going to get: more Uhtred. You’re going to get another chapter of his life; you’re going to get the next stage of his development; you’re going to see the narrative change as he comes closer and closer to the retrospective Uhtred that is telling the tale. Uhtred must bide his time in service to Alfred because one day he will be able to reclaim his family home by himself. It’s only a matter of time.

The Saxon Stories
1. The Last Kingdom- A fine five stars
2. The Pale Horsman- A brilliant five stars
3.Lords of the North-A vengeful four stars
4.Sword Song- A familiar four stars
5.The Burning Land- A loyal five stars
6. Death of Kings A mighty five stars

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading this series; I could read twenty books on this character. You’re more than likely to get tired of seeing my reviews of the Saxon Stories before I get tired of reading the series. It will be interesting to see how it all ends.

James Tivendale

Another cracking read with an awesome ending. That's four of these books read this month!

Dana Ilie

Promise to review as soon as possible

Athena Shardbearer

"So long as there is a kingdom on this windswept island, there will be war. So we cannot flinch from war. We cannot hide from its cruelty, its blood, its stench, its vileness or its joy, because war will come to us whether we want it or not. War is fate, and wyrd bið ful ãræd. Fate is inescapable."

The one thing I love most of this series is the beautiful writing. Cornwell has such a way with words, how to twist them together to make these beautiful scenes even when its a horrible killing. These warriors are warriors, I want to get up and fight and drink with them!

This book was much slower than the last three and I think it has a lot to do with Uhtred growing up....a little. I hate Aethelred, love Aethelflead, Gisela and Alfred is growing on me. I guess I can see reason now with him and all he does.

I feel like if I say anymore I will give away more than I want to. There are so many things that have happened that now I think I'm with the Saxons....WHAT...NOT THE VIKINGS????? I know?! But it makes sense...right?

I can't wait to get into the next book.

Scott Hitchcock

As good as book one of the series. I really like the story line and villains in this one.


„Wyrd bið ful ãræd.“ – „Fate is inexorable.“

I had a super long review written for this series but I deleted the document accidentally so let me share with you at least some major points to explain my reasons for loving this series so much:

* Astonishing storytelling skills. Bernard Cornwell brought 9th century England alive for me.

* Unforgettable narrator. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is unapologetic and ruthless yet lovable and admiration worthy character with brilliant military strategic mind. He is a true hero!

* Complex and fascinating side characters that you will love to come back to.

* Constant philosophical battle between paganism and Christianity that depicts given period precisely.

* Well thought-out storyline and twists.

* War and fight scenes are chillingly realistic. I really felt like I was there with Uhtred, fighting every new enemy or being part of countless shield wars.

All in all, The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories series (all 10 available books) is spectacular story with spectacular writing. It is one of the best historical fiction stories I have ever read and it is the perfect example of how to write engaging historical fiction series that never get boring or predictable!

Moreover, I loved author’s note at the end of every book where author explained which parts were based on historical facts and which parts of his novel he made up.



Cornwell still hasn't let me down with this series. The villains are still easy to hate and there were even characters I wholly liked (Pyrlig is great.) The relative lack of major events in Lords of the North made it a slower read for me than The Pale Horseman, and although this one seemed still primarily focused on the smaller stories of Uhtred and Æthelflæd there was a ton of action and purposeful movement.

I have to say that I'm proud of Uhtred. A whole 300+ pages and he didn't commit a single brutal murder of a defenseless person. Either he's getting soft in his old age of twenty-eight or that spark of developing character I saw in the other books is slowly coming to fruition. Either way it definitely makes me like him a lot more and thusly I get a lot more invested in his story and ultimate fate.

Cornwell's writing still surprises me with not only its vivid depiction of day-to-day life and war in 10th century Britain but its devotion to describing the beauty and detail of the island. I never thought that I would enjoy in-depth descriptions of estuaries and inlets and that kind of thing but I definitely did while reading this book. He obviously has a strong affection for Britain and it shows with these books.

After four books in a row I'm still enjoying them a lot and I'm excited to start the next one but I have to say I'm not sure how Cornwell's going to keep them so entertaining. I enjoy his formula but only because he manages to mix up the situations, characters, areas, etc. within that formula. With each passing book I'm sure this is going to get harder and harder, but he hasn't let me down yet. Onto the next one and I'll see how he pulls it off.

Amanda Hupe

And the adventure continues!! Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell is the 4th book in the Saxon Stories series. As always, this book continues the chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. The year is 885 and Uhtred has given his oath to Alfred and lives with his wife, Gisela. There is peace but peace is very fragile. There are rumors that a man has come back from the dead and predicts the next king of Mercia. Aethelflaed is the daughter of Alfred and is married to Aethelred of Mercia. When she is kidnapped, Alfred sends Uhtred to bargain for his daughter but also maintain peace…


I almost forget where one book begins and the other ends because once I finish one book, I immediately start the next one. I seriously cannot get enough of this story, the history, and the characters. Uhtred is one of the characters who is impossible not to love. He is a fierce warrior, demands justice, and is passionate about honor. In fact, he is always mentioning how he places a sword in his enemy’s hands at their death so they may live in Valhalla. He is also hilarious. He has a quick wit which I just adore.

“He still has a removable head…”

Uhtred is the narrator of the story and he is not the only character. As a narrator, he is very perspective. There are many wonderful additional plotlines in this novel. Some that completely broke my heart. I want to live in a world where two particular characters can be together.

This book can be read as a standalone, but I do not recommend it. There is so much backstory that helps readers understand the characters and the reasons for the events that have occurred. I recommend that readers begin with book one. Also, if you listen to the audiobooks, you are in for a treat. Jonathon Keeble is one of my favorite narrators! This book gets 5 out of 5 stars!