Book Review: THE FLAME BEARER stumbles to a satisfying ending

The Flame Bearer is the tenth book in Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom series, and it caps off a run of faster-paced stories in over the last few novels.

In this installment, Uhtred sees the budding rivalries between the West Saxons, the Danes, and the Scots in Northumbria as both a threat and an opportunity for his claim to Bebbanburg. acts on his ambitions from the previous story (Warriors of the Storm), and the result is a brutal battle.

Leading up to the climax, Uhtred blunders his way from one step to the next, always with some semblance of a plan in mind, but loose enough for the reader to think he’s on his way to disaster. As I was reading, this felt like an intentional plot point where Uhtred’s confidence leads to drastic measures for him to gather information. In retrospect, I think these sections were a little questionable.

Uhtred has shown in the past that his overconfidence or his desperation can cause him to act quickly, if not wisely. These chapters just felt a little out of character for the older, wiser Uhtred we’ve come to know. I’m okay with chalking it up to his desperation to retake Bebbanburg, though.

I also enjoyed seeing a few younger characters get more time and development on the page. Aethelstan has quickly grown into my favorite character, and his transition from a supposed bastard into a Prince of Wessex is fully realized here in the initiative he takes in the final act and the ultimate leadership he shows on the battlefield. Uhtred the younger also displays the cunning, bravery, and ferocity he’s learned from his father in surprising ways.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It followed a familiar formula from previous books, but that is to be expected by this point in the series. I still feel like I’m learning something new about Uhtred and some of the other characters with each book, and that’s progress.

Spoiler warning: I was honestly surprised that this was not the final book of the series. However, I think Cornwell has laid the groundwork with the story of the Flame Bearer in previous novels well enough that this story does not feel like a sudden turn. I’m excited to see what further developments come in future books. Spoilers end.

Steve D


I’ve continued my listening to The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell with Warriors of the Storm. This 9th entrant in The Last Kingdom series really brought all of the elements I enjoy about this story together.

In this story, Uhtred has entered his second “prime” as a lord serving Aethelflaed, the Lady of Mercia.

Uhtred has reestablished his relationships with his children and the young Aethelstan, and he builds on these relationships in Warriors of the Storm in meaningful ways, demonstrating that he is no longer the absent father as when his children were younger. He is a father and a leader of young people, who finds young boy servants he knows can learn from him and join the ranks of his warriors as they become men.

Uhtred’s own ambitions have also been reseeded after seeming lost for a time. Through the middle few books of this series, Uhtred appears mostly aimless. He always pines to retake his ancestral home at Bebbanburg, but he has very little idea of how to accomplish that, so he is buffeted from conflict to conflict against a constant tide of new enemies. Warriors of the Storm feels like the first time in several books that Uhtred shows real ambition, where he takes proactive steps to make his claim to Bebbanburg.

This ambition gets Uhtred into some trouble with an army of Norsemen, hearkening back to his younger brasher days. But as a veteran warlord, and with some good allies, he makes his stand.

This story called back a lot of themes from previous stories, helping it feel quite familiar: a Northern threat; a mysterious sorceress; a hair-brained quest; and a last-ditch battle. It was a great story overall that reminded me of why I love this series.

The narration is serviceable, but the tone of this narrator feels underwhelming to me. I suppose nothing compares to the bellowing and growling of Jonathan Keeble, who narrated the first few stories of this series.

Steve D

Book Review: THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER and the precursor to modern fantasy

I just finished listening to an audiobook of The King of Elfland’s Daughter, by Lord Dunsany. I’ve previously listened to a short story collection of his that I had enjoyed less than I could have, most likely because of the dull voice actor.

So I came into this novel hoping I could find more enjoyment out of it (and a better voice actor).

I really enjoyed this story. The King of Elfland’s Daughter follows a family, a human lord and his elfin wife and their son, as they each navigate the boundary between the human world and the realm of magic, Elfland. The story started slowly, but the shifting of perspectives between “the fields we know” and Elfland brought an interesting dichotomy between the worlds and how each character wrestles with their desires, the relationships to each other, and their home.

This story feels like a progenitor of modern twentieth-century fantasy. It leans quite heavily on mythical creatures that would have been quite familiar to an English reader in the early twentieth century: elfs, unicorns, witches, trolls, and an enchanted forest. Where Tolkien borrowed ideas and themes from Northern European (and other) mythologies and shaped them into his own distinct world, Dunsany inserts fantasy elements into a world that feels not so far removed from our own. Thus, his story reads as if it could have been a lost fairy tale of pre-modern England.

In that way, the tone of this story is solemn and full of wonder.

Throughout The King of Elfland’s Daughter, a pervading sense of yearning is captured between the different characters: yearning for love, for lost love, for home, for the hunt, for so many small things, and this helps the solemn tone feel earned, rather than overwrought. The reader yearns with the characters and feels their losses and gains.

Like in all classic fantasy, the theme of the realms of magic receding from human knowledge stands stark, and so the entire story feels like a lamenting and a yearning for that deeper connection to a world we have lost, or perhaps abandoned.

As I mentioned above, the voice actor for the audiobook version is also excellent, and has definitely endeared me to Lor Dunsany’s writing in a way that the previous stories I’d listened to did not. Now I know I will need to go back and read his other work, either in hard copy or with a different narrator.

Steve D

May Write Day: Habits

April was a solid month. We spent some time with friends and family, welcomed a new baby to the family, and started making moves on our house. April felt long, but also passed quickly. As my status update post indicated last week, I made progress on a lot of things throughout April, but didn’t bring many to completion.

Progress without “finishing” it still progress, so that’s something to feel good about.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Finish two revision cycles for Uprooted, the Herb Witch Tales #1.
  2. Read three books.
  3. Exercise three times per week.

Finish two revisions for Uprooted?

No, but I’m almost done with the first. In the first half of the month, I just didn’t spend enough nights revising. In the second half of the month, we were dealing with our toddler getting Scarlett Fever, of all things, and now I have a minor bout of strep myself.

I still definitely should have finished the first revision and at least made a good start on the second. As with everything, this has more to do with not being in the habit of revising.

Read three books?

Also no. I finished one book in April and have made good progress on two others. I’m currently listening to two different books on Audible, because they are quite different and require different kinds of my attention.

The first is a parenting book, Raising Good Humans, which I’m trying to listen to earnestly, which means it requires more of my focus. I’m finding the book helpful so far, but progress is slow, because it comes with exercises. A couple times each chapter, the author stops for an exercise, typically consisting of journaling about your experiences as a parent, or your experiences being raised by your parents.

Again, because I’m trying to listen to this book in earnest, I’m doing all of the activities, which means I need to take the time to sit down and write my responses. I think it will help, though.

The second book I’m reading is The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. I have previously listened to a collection of his short stories, which I found difficult to get through. In retrospect, I think those were difficult because the narrator was awful. The narrator for The King of Elfland’s Daughter is quite good, and I’m enjoying the story far more. Reading Dunsany has been an incredible glimpse into the fantasy stories that Tolkien likely grew up on when he was a child, and the influences are obvious. Looking forward to writing a bit more about this one.

I’m also still reading A Memory of Light. I’m at the point in the story where everything is going wrong for the protagonists and it feels like everything is about to collapse around them. The dread is real.

Exercise three times per week?

I think I was not far off from this, but it was not nearly as consistent as I would have liked. I need to take a new tack. See below.

Goals for May

  1. Actually finish two revisions for Uprooted. I need to get this done.
  2. Plan next steps for The Herb Witch Tales. After the above is complete, I need to plan my next steps for this duology. It will likely depend on whether I need further revisions for Uprooted. If not, perhaps I cans end it to beta readers and/or my editor while I start revising New Earth.
  3. Read three books. I should finish the two audiobooks I’m listening to, and finding a third will not be hard.
  4. Exercise every day. Time to knuckle down. I really need to get back into a proper exercise routine, but I can’t do that unless I’m exercising habitually. Three days per week is not cutting it. I want to try to exercise every single day this month. Whether that’s some basic morning yoga, resistance training, or full yoga sessions. I’m not targeting a specific routine here, again, because I just want to do something each day. That’s it. The routine will come later.

Steve D

Mid/Late April Check-In

It’s been a long time since I wrote a “status update” type of post, but I’m in the middle of a lot of different things at the moment.

I definitely intended to title this my “Mid-April” check-in, until I realized that it is, in fact, April 25th as I write this. So, here are my status updates.


I’m still revising Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1, and hopeful I can finish the current stage by the end of the month. Really enjoying this story, which always feels weird to say about my own writing, but considering what the first draft of this story looked like, I am immensely happy with how it has evolved.


I’m in the middle of three separate books at the moment. One of them, I may actually finish this month. Another is A Memory of Light, which I’ve just decided is my reading project this year–won’t be finishing that this month. And the third is a book about parenting–Raising GOod Humans–which includes homework.

Yes, I am trying to do the homework. I’m not reading this book because I enjoy the subject matter. I’m reading it because I’ve been having issues with my older son. The book has already helped somewhat, so I’m trying to put in an honest effort. It just means it will take me longer to finish.


Part of the above improvement effort has included a realization that I need to exercise for my mental health as much as physical. I’ve always known this, but it’s really hit home for me recently. I’ve been pretty good about it this month for a seemingly obvious reason: I’ve gone back to a yoga channel on YouTube I’m very familiar and very comfortable with–Sarah Beth Yoga.

I had tried the Asana Rebel app, found it lacking, and then wondered what to do next. And I ended up just going back to a yoga teacher on YouTube, whose app I might as well get into, because she’s great. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.

I’ve also tried to get back into a meditation routine, focused on mindfulness. I’m at the point where a 3-minute meditation session feels short, so that’s probably a good sign.

That’s It

Anyway, that’s all I have this week. Lots of stuff happening, but mostly as works-in-progress, which is just the way it goes sometimes. My monthly goals post next week will be more substantive, and hopefully chock-full of updates.

Steve D