Sword Song
By Bernard Cornwell
HarperCollins £18.99, 318 pages
FT bookshop price: £15.19

Alfred, king of ninth-century Wessex, installs his new son-in-law, smug and witless Ethelred, as ruler of neighbouring Mercia to help him repel the ambitious Vikings and Danes who are continually raiding his vulnerable kingdom.

Reluctantly bound by oath to Alfred despite his Viking heritage, renowned warrior Lord Uhtred is forced to fight Ethelred’s battles and remedy his arrogant blunders – chief of which is the loss of his beautiful wife Ethelfled, King Alfred’s daughter, to bellicose Norse pretenders.

In this superb fourth instalment of the dispossessed Uhtred’s ferocious career, loyalty and deception, honour and religious animosity throng a furious adventure. Robustly drawn characters and a keen appetite for bloodshed whip the reader along in a froth of excitement.

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