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Review: The Last Kingdom 02: The Pale Horseman

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The second 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.

This is the exciting—yet little known—story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.

At the end of The Last Kingdom, The Danes had been defeated at Cynuit, but the triumph of the English is not fated to last long. The Danish Vikings quickly invade and occupy three of England’s four kingdoms—and all that remains of the once proud country is a small piece of marshland, where Alfred and his family live with a few soldiers and retainers, including Uhtred, the dispossessed English nobleman who was raised by the Danes. Uhtred has always been a Dane at heart, and has always believed that given the chance, he would fight for the men who raised him and taught him the Viking ways. But when Iseult, a powerful sorceress, enters Uhtred’s life, he is forced to consider feelings he’s never confronted before—and Uhtred discovers, in his moment of greatest peril, a new-found loyalty and love for his native country and ruler.

GoodreaDs, Synopsis


I mentioned in my review of book one that an awful lot of book one was missing from the TV show, which was such a shame. This is not the case in book two. For those of you who have watched the TV show The Pale Horseman will be familiar. It is the basis of most of season one.  

As with book one, this is a great book and I’m very excited about the full series. Though I’m early in my challenge to read all 12 books in June I must admit I am reconsidering reading all 12 books, because I love the show. Watching the show before reading the books hasn’t impacted my experience of reading the books. There is a lot of depth and detail in the first two books, which is missing from the show. Also, though many evet outcomes are the same, the process of reaching that outcome and the people involved are not. I imagine if I read books 9-12 (I believe the first 4 season of the TV show are based on books 1-8) it will completely ruin my enjoyment of the show, because from the first two books I don’t believe the show can live up to the books. I was originally worried that my knowledge of the show would ruin the experience of reading the books… not so, Maybe I’ll stop at book 8 and donate to the charity event in place of the 4 books.  

As you can probably already guess, I really enjoyed The Pale Horseman. The development of characters is brilliant and as I mentioned outcomes are similar to the TV show, but the process is different. Uhtred and Leofric operate on ships in Alfred’s Navy, which doesn’t happen in the show, where they are also involved in battles on land and ride to their destinations. Leofric is also very different in regard to how involved he is. In the books Steapa is far more involved in Uthred’s journey than he is in the show. Much of Steapa’s role was given to Leofric in the show. There are lots of smaller things that add up to make a huge difference to.

Having watched the show and now read the books, it’s very difficult to separate the two when writing a review and I cannot seem to write a review in a traditional sense. I think a lot of these reviews will be very similar, particularly considering Uthred’s journey has a similar theme throughout. He’s always torn between his oath, his family, Alfred, his friends, and his ultimate aim of reclaiming his birth right. For this reason, I imagine future reviews may be shorter than my typical reviews.

The Pale Horseman is a great book which takes you on a winding journey. Uthred’s loyalty is tested. His debt seems insurmountable. He meets Svein. Conducts raids. Is betrayed. His achievements are ignored. Meets Iseult. It’s a wonderful book.