The year is 876 A.D. and the protagonist, the dispossessed Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg, finds himself estranged from the Danes who raised him and grudgingly sworn to King Alfred of Wessex, the only Saxon king that history would award the title "The Great."
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Alfred and Uhtred have an uncomfortable alliance. Alfred is a man of peace and a devout Christian, while Uhtred is a vicious warlord raised by Danish Vikings and loyal to the pagan gods. Regardless of their religious and philosophical differences though, Alfred knows that he needs Uhtred to defend Wessex from the Viking invaders that have taken up residence in the neighboring kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia.
By 877, the sons of Lothbrok are all gone and the Great Heathen Army is led by a Danish Earl named Guthrum. Bored by the fragile peace that Alfred has brokered with Guthrum's Danish horde, Uhtred steals one of the king's ships and goes raiding in the British kingdom of Cornwall. During his raid, Uhtred makes common cause with a Danish Viking named Svein. Together, they double-cross a minor Christian King of the Britons and steal his treasures, greatest among them the beautiful shadow queen Iseult.
Uhtred takes Iseult back to his lands in Wessex where they become lovers. Alfred quickly gets wind of Uhtred's unauthorized raid from an escaped British Priest named Asser. The king summons Uhtred to Wintanceaster (Winchester Castle) to answer for his crimes against fellow Christians. Uhtred refuses to humble himself before Alfred and he is sentenced to a trial by combat against Alfred's champion, the mighty Steapa.
Steapa and Uhtred's fight is interrupted by an invading band of Vikings. After Uhtred escapes the slaughter, he learns that the surprise attack was engineered by Guthrum and that the fragile peace between Wessex and the Danes in East Anglia has been broken. Guthrum's army overruns Wessex, capturing Wintanceaster and the surrounding lands. Alfred barely escapes with his life and is forced into hiding in the swamps outside Defnascir.
Uhtred protects Alfred during his darkest hour and eventually crafts a plan whereby the remaining Saxon loyalists are able to defeat Svein in the swamps and recapture Wintanceaster from Guthrum's Danes. The climactic scene is the historic Battle of Ethandun, a massive campaign that sees Saxon rule restored in Wessex. Despite Uhtred's victory, his lover Iseult is killed in the tumult.
Best part of story, including ending:
The Pale Horseman is action packed and depicts a fictionalized account of the events leading up to the Battle of Ethandun. If not for Alfred's success at Ethandun, the English people would be speaking Danish today.
Best scene in story:
Iseult users her shadow queen magic to heal Alfred's son Edward of a fever during their exile in the swamp.
Opinion about the main character:
Uhtred is portrayed in the best light in the Pale Horseman. He has no love for Alfred the man, but he has given him his solemn oath and so he serves even when all seems lost.