Report on War of the Wolf

Again, I feel I am a little late to the game (Vikings, Game of Thrones). I caught an episode of the Last Kingdom early on and despite high production value was not seized to keep watching. Additionally, as a long time Bernard Cornwell fan, I had not kept up with his more recent work and had missed out on this book series. Thanks to Declan for the recommendation, the April 2019 was book 11 of the series.

I quite enjoyed the War of the Wolf. I was particularly struck by how well one could pick a book out of a long-running series and appreciate it as a standalone tale. I give a tip-of-the-hat to Cornwell for that. However, the result for readers who have kept up with the series was a niggling complaint of repetition and excess background information. So, what I appreciated was detrimental to others. Nonetheless, this volume is an enjoyable romp through the evolution of the British Isles, exploring the turbulent times of conquest and placemaking between, Angles, Saxon, and Norse in the late first millennium. There is a broad range of characters, and the protagonist, Uchtred is particularly representative of these divided loyalties, being an orphan born into the Saxon tradition and raised in the Norse.

These divisions are not purely cultural, extending to the religious challenges of burgeoning Christian influence over Norse stalwarts and warring tribes/families within a series of Kingdoms in flux. All of this creates fertile ground for Cornwell, who once again demonstrates a mastery of interweaving broader historical currents, with a fine tale and attention to detail that creates a richly atmospheric read.

I particularly enjoyed the final chapter of the volume during which the climactic battle is related in the past tense through oral recounting to a poet/seanachie by the hero and caused me to wonder if this was foreshadowing a posthumous ghostly reflection on the outcome.

It took me a substantial time to begin to find any empathy or connection with the broad cast of characters – again possibly for jumping into volume 11 – but this led to an increasing sense of disconnection that made persisting with the read a challenge. Once achieved though it was a far more engaged and enjoyable read.

I deliberately avoided tuning back into the TV series during my reading, so I could keep a fresher appreciation of the characters and avoid connecting them to the casting choices for television. I would feel compelled to go back and pick up the TV series having read this book. However, I am not sure that I would pick up additional volumes to read. This is not a reflection on the quality of writing, as much as less of an interest in the time period with the current profusion of screen materials drowning watchers with very similar tales. A tribute to the popularity of the period currently, but drives me in contrary behavior. I was weened on Sharpe and quite enjoyed the Agincourt series that Cornwell produced. Discovering that there are 11 (and apparently more to come in this series) I am drawn to wonder how a writer changes his own trajectory in deference or servitude to an ongoing TV series. How much of this tale is being constructed for TV and does this cause him to draw it out, and produce more for an external audience than simply being an artist in his own right?

This was a book club read and for reference, the ratings were solid. Fergal 4.0, Brian M 6.0, Brian C 4.0, Jim 6.0, Declan 6.0, Joe 3.5, Mike 5.5 and myself 6.5. Am noting or posterity that there has been a marked decrease in the scoring in the book club recently as we attempt to use more of the available 10 points.

The suggested reads for May 2019 were:
Declan – Too Many Pills – James Lefanu (re-recommend)
Jim- Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 – Hunter S Thompson (re-recommend)
Shawn – The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister and the quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian Medicine – Lindsay Fitzharris
Brian C – The Walkable City – Jeff Beck

And Hunter S Thompson it is – Fear and Loathing is our read for May.

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