The graphic descriptions in this book, some of them very violent and gory, others depicting the smells and sights of the ninth century, are wonderful. They do what historical fiction should do: bring the history of the age to life.
Cornwell bends recorded historical recorded fact, which is something by which I am never fully convinced, to suit his good story.
Uhthred is the leading character. We witness his development over ten years from the age of ten. He becomes heir to a minor lordship in the north east of England, on the mainland coast opposite Lindisfarne, when his brother is captured and beheaded by the marauding Vikings.
Uhtred is captured and adopted by the very Viking leader who killed his brother. He comes to enjoy the Danish ways and finds them much more exciting than the Saxon and Christian ways. This leads to difficult personal choices as he gorws up. His loyalties are severely tested all the way through, and he is never completely sure of where he should be. This becomes even more difficult after he is summoned by King Alfred the Great.
I cannot tell you much more with out spoiling it for you.
Some of the characters, including Uhtred, develop very strongly, whilst others remain shallow and weak. I fear for the development of King Alfred's character in particular. As one of the main characters in the entire series, he should have more depth and colour by the end of the first book. He has his own weaknesses and flaws, but these should be part of a rich character development. I actually came to believe that Cornwell disliked the King that he researched, and his prejudice comes shining through. I may be wrong, but my hope is that the weaker characters will build in the second book, which I intend to read very soon.