So what do we get?? Typical Cornwell, which will either delight you, or not.. I'd say he's at that stage of his writing career where he is well into his specific style, and no need to change it thanks very much... I approach his books in the same way I do my slippers of an evening - you know they're going to be warm and comfortable... he writes (in my view) some of the best Dark Age military fiction going... he's always been good on the depiction of close quarter battle but there's something about the nature of warfare in this age that seems to resonate with him.. "mud and the blood and the beer" as Mr Cash would say..
So in the 9th book - Alfred is long dead, but his son Edward and, far more 'forthright', daughter AEthelflaed, rule Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia (which they have settled and conquered with Uhtred's help in the previous several books)
Uhtred has been given command of northern Mercia - the frontier of the kingdom, where he has garrisoned the modern day city of Chester. To the north lies Northumbria which is in the control of the Danes who rule from the modern day city of York, but which is a collection of kings and lords rather than a cohesive kingdom.
Enter then, the splendidly tattooed warrior Ragnall Ivarson, who lands an army of Danes and proceeds to march into Northumbria with the intention of carving himself a proper kingdom. He is soon joined by disenchanted Northumbrian's and has a considerable army.
AEthelflaed tells Uhtred he'll have to defend Chester as she won't invade Northumbria without her brothers consent (which is not forthcoming as he is busy keeping his own kingdom under control) so Uhtred starts a guerilla operations against Ragnall and the Danes are forced to march north for York, before turning to start laying waste to the unprotected parts of Mercia.
Things are further complicated for Uhtred as his daughter is married to Ragnall's brother, but he then finds that the brothers are at war with each other - the secret to his problem of how to pacify Northumbria lies in this relationship.
I'll not spoil the story any further as I don't doubt some of my other readers may well be getting it - but it is an absolutely cracking story from the master story teller.. I like Uhtred, he's torn every which way and rarely if ever seems to make decisions based on rational choice, but usually on instinct, heart, or honour...
Not a spoiler to say there'll be another Uhtred book - but you sense he is reaching denouement... Steve the Wargamer rates this one 8 out of 10..