This is my third blog post regarding The Pale Horseman (book two in the Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell). I began with observations on character and the complex protagonist that is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. In summary, I found that while I liked Uhtred from the first book, I was developing a strong desire to punch him in the face, or worse yet, quit reading. I persevered, which is a good thing, as I will discuss later.
The second article on The Pale Horseman discusses the voice acting skills of Jonathan Keeble. Summary: he’s awesome. Very powerful and expressive.
Now we have arrived at the payoff. Why describe the story arch and character development as a payoff? That makes it sound shady, doesn’t it?
Bernard Cornwell developed all of the characters in this book honestly, except for some of the cookie cutter priests--minor characters without much spine or depth. But I digress.
Uhtred, Son of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is a twenty-year-old saxon raised from the age of ten by Danes (called Vikings when they are raiding from the sea). He’s seen his father die and fought in the shield wall. Over the years, his survival has depended on his own strength and cunning. He is proud, violent, and a pagan like the Danes who raised him. The tender years of his youth were spent looting churches and killing priests.
Why wouldn’t he be a total barbarian? (I’ve always liked barbarians in stories, but Bernard Cornwell has a talent for showing how brutal life was in the 9th century, regardless of who you were or what God / gods you worshipped.)
By the end of The Pale Horseman Uhtred earned much more of my compassion and made me want to see more of his journey. I cared about the people he cared about, admired his strength and courage, and began to hope he will reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg.
Readers who enjoy George R. R. Martin (The Game of Thrones) or Ken Follet (The Pillars of Earth) won’t go wrong picking up a copy of The Pale Horseman.
In the previous post, I discussed the characterization of Uhtred, Son of Uhtred, of Bebbanburg and his tendency to act rashly. Today, I want to switch it up a bit and discuss a topic near and dear to my heart--the audiobook version of The Pale Horseman as narrated by Jonathan Keeble.
I listened to the sample of Jamie Glover reading this book, and thought it sounded good--a style and cadence of speech that I could listen to for a long time. Ultimately, this is the litmus test for audiobook readers.
The version I am listening to, however, is read by Jonathan Keeble, who burst into my favorites list like an axe wielding Viking of the vocal world. He doesn’t just read, he acts. It really sound like he is putting body-English and facial expression into the microphone.
This blog article is particularly meaningful today, to me at least, because I am listening to the final version of one of my own books, Son of Orlan. Most writers dream of seeing their books in print. That definitely gets me jazzed up like a monkey full of Starbucks go-juice, but hearing a talented professional narrate my stories--well, it’s like going to Disney Land after winning the world series.
Many, many times I have blogged about my love of the audiobook medium.
Why so serious?
In the past, I’ve talked about convenience and how great it is to listen to a book on a long drive. Yes, yes, that is true. But there is a lot more to my obsession. I think the spoken word is good for writers; storytelling began as an oral tradition of great importance to the tribe. When done correctly, the rhythm, range, and tension of the narrator brings good (and sometimes bad) things to life.
All of this, I have said before. This morning, it occurs to me that there is a much simpler explanation. When I hear an audiobook, I slide effortlessly into the story world. It relaxes and excites me, encourages visualization, and takes me away like a genre-hopping time machine.
Audiobooks are great. I hope you will try one out, and if you do, look for my top seven list of great narrators (which is kinda-sorta in order by the voice actor, not the actual stories):
The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell (as narrated by Jonathan Keeble) (The Last Kingdom is book one in this series),
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (as narrated by Henry Strozier),
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter (as narrated by Kathleen Early),
The Pillars of Earth Ken Follet (as narrated by John Lee),
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (as narrated by Roy Dotrice),
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (as narrated by Simon Vance),
Wool by Hugh Howey (as narrated by Amanda Sayle)
If you listen to the above series, I am confident that you will share my deep appreciation for the spoken word! (I have no financial affiliation with any of the above works, just a deep affinity for awesomeness and the need to share what I like with you, dear reader. If they wanted to send me a check, I wouldn't say no, but I ain't holding my breath:)
I also have three audiobooks available thanks to the talented new voice actor and musician, Reece Allan Morse: Dragon Badge, Dragon Attack, and also Enemy of Man. Son of Orlan will be available soon.
The more traditional versions of my science fiction and urban fantasy books are available here. The Kindle editions are available through Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime as well.
Thanks for stopping by,
The Pale Horseman (book two in the Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell) continues the bloody life chronicles of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Why does this matter? Is this just another book review?
Let me address the second question first. This is the start of a book review; I will be sharing my thoughts as I venture through Cornwell's books. He is one of my favorite writers of historical fiction. Today, while listening to the audiobook on my way to a second job, several things struck me about The Pale Horseman.
This matters because Uhtred is a complex protagonist. He has many traits that are common to heroes in other books: strength, bravery, a vicious brand of loyalty, and a sense of justice that should make him easy to appreciate. Yet he is not always likeable. In fact, I would say I dislike him more often than not--and yet I continue to listen to the story.
The Pale Horsemen starts with Uhtred foolishly drawing his sword on his rival, Ealdorman Odda the Younger, during a religious ceremony, thus offending King Alfred and violating the king's laws. Uhtred is not dumb. He should know better, but his "monstrous pride," as Cornwell describes it, constantly gets Uhtred in trouble. By the end of chapter one, he has committed an unjustifiable murder (both by modern standards and the laws of the time) and put himself and his household in danger of retribution. Why did he commit such a crime? Because he was pissed of and full of, you guessed it, pride.
This is good for moving the plot and keeping "tension on every page," as Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, advocates. It is not good for my feelings about the protagonist. I'd like for someone to take Uhtred in hand and teach him some humanity. Yes, he is essentially a Viking and their moral code at the time of the story is different than mine. Yes, he is true to his character and possesses many positive traits.
I still struggle with the heartless brutality of Uhtred. It is kind of a love-hate relationship with this character that drives me to read on. So in the grand scheme of things, Bernard Cornwell has again proved himself a master writer.
Please check back for future articles on The Pale Horseman as I strive to improve my writing, and possibly share some useful information on anyone thinking of reading the Saxon series.
My science fiction and urban fantasy novels are current available here.
Life is an adventure. I read to expand my horizons and write because I must.
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