The Pagan Lord is the seventh book in The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell, and this has been my least favorite of the series so far.
This installment has all the trappings of a classic “middle book”: no major plot progression for Uhtred or other main characters, stagnant action that lacks excitement or real stakes, and no new characters to liven up the story.
After several years of relative peace, the Saxons and Danes feel restless and wary for the next war that most don’t truly believe is coming. Uhtred, as always, if on the lookout for the next war, and his instincts end up proving correct.
However, this book feels like a regression for Uhtred as a character, who makes a rash mistake that leads to him being outcast by the Saxon kingdoms. Uhtred is bitter in his old age and still clings to his dream of retaking Bebbanburg, which makes him more desperate than in previous stories.
The wisdom and growth as a leader we had seen from Uhtred in recent stories seems to have eroded, perhaps because he has been rudderless for several years. It is perhaps fitting that this story also feels largely rudderless, like its protagonist, but it does not make for a very enjoyable read.
With both of his sons grown into men, Uhtred’s successes and shortcomings as a father are also on display. He is ashamed of his eldest son for becoming a priest, but his actions are those of a petulant child who did not find his heir in a son whom he largely neglected as a child. His second son is a brave lad eager to prove himself as a warrior, but Uhtred does more to put him down than build him up. Uhtred’s daughter, Stiorra, another child to whom he hasn’t paid much attention, is also notably absent from his life.
This was a decent story, but I’m hoping Uhtred snaps out of his funk. The narrator was okay, but did not bring the same intensity to the story that previous narrators have. Here’s hoping book eight picks up the pace again and Uhtred finds his way.