Warriors of the Storm follows straight on from the events of The Empty Throne. Æthelflaed has become ruler Mercia. The lady, who the Danes regard as a witch, is establishing control over her lands and taking back areas from the Danes with some help from her oathsworn champion Uhtred currently with the garrison at Chester.
Æthelflaed’s brother, King Edward of Wessex, has warned her not to venture into the Danish-held kingdoms of Northumbria currently ruled by a number of Danes who pose no immediate threat to them as they are busy fighting the Scots and among themselves.
So a form of fragile peace governs Saxon lands until Norsemen, along with Irish allies, venture up the river Mersey at night in a fleet of ships and burn the Saxon ships at the new burh Brunanburh. The army is united under the axe banner of the fearsome Viking warrior, Ragnall Ivarsson, brother to Sigtryggr who Uhtred’s daughter Stiorra unexpectedly went off with at the end of The Empty Throne.
At first it is unclear to Uhtred what the Viking army is up to. The invading forces set up camp at nearby Eads Byrrig and appear to mending its fortifications, but to Uhtred this makes little sense. He fears that Ragnall, rather than intending to let a large portion of his army die on the walls of Chester, intends instead to move into Northumbria, take the city of Jorvik, and become ruler of Northumbria and unite the Danes for a massive invasion of Mercia.
As usual the book, shorter than most (it took me the space of weekend to read), mixes historical battle sequences with questions of family loyalties, oaths, politics and a war between the ‘nailed god’ of the Christians, whose priests are always interfering with Uhtred’s plans, and the Viking gods of Asgard such as Thor and Odin. Cornwell admits in the usual historical note at the end of the book that the story bear little resemblance to any battles in that period and it feels like a filler between greater historical events.
However, it is a noteworthy book in the Last Kingdom series as it features the demise of two of Uhtred’s long time nemeses. It also features a fun trip to Ireland to save Stiorra and her husband Sigtryggr from a siege and some interesting back-story for Uhtred’s Irish sidekick Finan. By installing Sigtryggr as king of Jorvik near the end of the book, it seems that Uhtred has laid the foundations for getting his beloved Bebbanburg back in a later novel. Time will tell. As Uhtred says, “Wyrd bið ful āræd.” (Fate is inexorable).