I was made aware of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories through the reviews of fellow readers on Goodreads whom I share similar taste in books with. The main impetus that nudged me to finally pick up this book was in fact History Channel's Vikings - I didn't even know that this book itself has inspired a television series given I don't spend much time in front of one. Through watching Vikings, I've developed a fascination for the history of these misconceived barbarians, or whom the Christian world liked to call pagans, and how they shaped Western Europe through their expansive invasions and eventual settlement.
This book almost read like a sequel to the Vikings series as it relates to the rise of King Alfred the Great. Uhtred was an intriguing main protagonist who has all the virtues and vices of a warrior of two conflicting worlds, torn between loyalty to his kin or the foreigners who took him under their wings and treated him as family. Even portrayed as ruthless invaders, I actually liked the Danes more than the English given the latter's excessive religious piety and self-righteousness.
With the breadth and depth of characters, and the names (especially all the Athel-this and Athel-that), it took me awhile to feel invested. Bernard Cornwell also has this tendency to string together, with the use of a lot of commas, amazingly long sentences that can span an entire paragraph. I definitely was not used to his writing style but in the end the strength of the story and the well-written battle and action scenes won me over.
In short, this is great fiction with fascinating characters that contained as much historical accuracy as possible, while maintaining a cohesive and engaging tale of destiny, loyalty, love, war and death without turning into a history lesson.