The young Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg must navigate the conflict between his native Saxons and the Danes who captured and raised him in ninth century England. The story is told from the first-person POV of the protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanburg. When Uhtred's sickly older brother dies, he becomes the heir to Bebbanburg, a fortress in Northumbria now known as Bamburgh Castle. The story is set at the end of the ninth century in England, at a time when the four Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria were besieged by Danish Vikings raiding all along their northern and easter coasts.
Uhtred and his father raise an army to defend the lands sword to Bebbanburg when the Danish Earl Ragnar lands on his coast and begins raiding along the shore. Uhtred's father is killed in the first battle with Ragnar's battle-hardened Danes and Uhtred is taken captive.
Ragnar raises Uhtred as his own son and Uhtred grows to love the Danes. He abandons his native Christian faith, embraces the pagan Danish Gods and learns to fight in the shield wall alongside Ragnar's sworn swords. Once Uhtred is old enough to fight, he joins the Great Heathen Army led by the sons of the Lothbrok, Ubba Lothbrokson and Ivar the Boneless. Uhtred's adoptive father Ragnar is sword to serve Ivar, so Uhtred follows his lead.
One day, Uhtred witnesses another boy named Sven torturing and humiliating his adoptive sister Thyra. Uhtred attacks Sven, saving Thyra and reporting the abuse to Ragnar. As it turns out, Sven is the son of a man in Earl Ragnar's service--a man named Kjartan. Despite Kjartan's pleas for mercy, Ragnar blinds Sven in one eye as recompense for Thyra's humiliation.
As a soldier in Ivar's army, Uhtred raids across East Anglia and Mercia, helping the Viking army conquer most of Saxon England. Uhtred realizes at this time that he was born for battle and that he numbers himself among the few men who really enjoy the slaughter and madness of the shield wall--a standard formation in ninth century combat. Uhtred witnesses the brutal treatment of Christian Priests at the hand of the Ivar's Viking horde, and he himself develops a distaste for Christianity.
Uhtred's world is turned upside down when Kjartan, still bitter over the blinding of his son Sven, leads men against Ragnar's household. Kjartan's men burn down Ragnar's hall, killing Uhtred's adoptive family. Only Uhtred and an East Anglian slave girl named Brida survive. They escape together into the wilds of Mercia. They are rescued by the new King Alfred of Wessex--the last Saxon king in England.
Although Uhtred has no affection for Alfred, he joins the cause of Wessex and becomes a great warlord in the Saxon army. He solidifies his position during a battle at Cynuit, during which Uhtred leads a charge against Ubba Lothbrokson's Danes and kills the legendary Viking warrior in hand-to-hand combat.
Best part of story, including ending:
A great bildungsroman. Uhtred is caught between the world of the Danes that he loves and the world of the Saxons he was born to. Watching him struggle between the Danes who murdered both his true father and his adoptive father and the Saxons whose religion he shuns makes for a riveting story.
Best scene in story:
Uhtred breaks from the shield wall at Cynuit to battle Ubba Lothrbokson one-on-one. He manages to defeat the Viking warlord and begins forging a name for himself.
Opinion about the main character:
There's nothing not to like about Uhtred. He's a heroic and exciting protagonist with enough character flaws to make him seem human.