7/10 A Solid medieval adventure; I look forward to reading through this series
Medieval England is a land split into smaller kingdoms, and a pagan warrior, Uhtred, must defend Christian Saxon land against an invading army of his fellow pagans. Outnumbered, Uhtred relies on cunning and unexpected allies to turn the conflict in his favor.
Warriors of the Storm is part of the Saxon Tales series but can be read on its own (as I did). Cornwell doesn’t assume you know these characters and turns previous adventures into backstory, making it easy to jump into the book with no foreknowledge. The story itself is easy to follow, centered on Uhtred and his strategies to outsmart the enemy army, led by Jarl Ragnall. But most of the story is about medieval warfare and clashing ideologies; if the medieval world isn’t your cup of tea, there’s little else here—no rich plot or deep character developments. I want to add that by the end, it didn’t feel much was accomplished, but there was a lot of setting up for what I assume is the next book. Characters shuffle around, some leaders change, but the book builds up on plot points that it doesn’t want to resolve here.
Going back to characters, like the story, are straightforward and easy to understand, though the large cast can get unwieldy with several secondary characters and many tertiary ones. And other than our protagonist and narrator, Uhtred, we don’t get to know most of these characters more than on a surface level. There are maybe 4 other characters with motivations all their own, but the rest of the cast simply fill roles prescribed by the narrative; which again, mostly sticks to warfare.
This may sound as if the book is nothing but mindless action, but it’s far from it. The actual battles are deliberately paced within the rest of the story, giving characters time to breathe and strategize. The characters spend a lot of time debating their strategic options, and a few other subplots thread around the main conflict. It all helps paint a rounded look at medieval life, though not a detailed look. That said, there are areas that could have used more description for the uninitiated in medieval life. Much of the action takes place in Ceaster (Chester) but very little is described other than the Roman walls and passing mention of buildings the characters occupy most often; if you don’t know what it would look like, he’s not going to tell you. Cornwell seems picky about where and how much he describes things, and he seems to prefer weapons and armor over buildings or town layouts.
I think it’s also worth discussing historical accuracy; it is historical fiction. At the end of the book, there is a brief section that directly addresses a few points where Cornwell took liberties with history, mostly in minor ways that don’t break history, just amend it with extra footnotes. Though, other elements are of questionable accuracy, such as Cornwell’s apparent obsession with swords as the main weapon of choice for the battlefield, even for mounted warriors. In reality, the spear was far more common, and was almost exclusively the weapon of choice for cavalry during the period (since lances and most polearms didn’t exist yet). There are other areas where he remains vague enough to give a sense of historical accuracy without needing to commit to details such as their diets, common health problems, dealing with injuries, and perhaps, too, the details of Ceaster mentioned earlier.
He exhibits some other questionable habits like using adverbs to describe the way a character speaks, sometimes to unintended comedy when a character says something “grimly” then “darkly” or “bitterly” all in a small span. And there’s a lot of “I snarled/growled.” It’s not a subtle style, but he’s not shooting for subtle.
For my tastes, it was a very enjoyable read, with maybe some dubious writing habits but nothing that ruined the book. I’d recommend it for those who already have an interest in the medieval period with an inclination for the grim and moody.