This is the first of a series. The series is good, and they’re making it into a show (miniseries? I’m not entirely sure) at the BBC.
The series traces the struggle between the native peoples of what is now England and the Viking invaders.
There’s no “England” as such. There’s a bunch of kingdoms, none of which are very big and most of which are minimally powerful. Hence, the island seemed like easy pickings for the Vikings. The books trace the life of Uthred, the heir to Northumbria.
This first book starts with a Viking landing and attack on Northumbria. Uthred goes to battle with his father. His father is killed and he is captured by the Vikings. The Vikings are good to him, training him as one of them. He learns Danish and follows the Danish gods and becomes a solid warrior.
After a happy childhood among the Vikings, there’s a dispute with one of the other Viking bands, and Uthred escapes likely death by joining King Alfred of Wessex. Alfred likes having the heir to Northumbria in his hand and teaches him to read and write. Then he offers Uthred a deal: he can control Alfred’s new ships if he marries an orphaned Wessex woman with lands. It sounds like a good deal, but there’s a catch. The woman’s land is indebted. By marrying her, he’s marrying the debt. He’ll spend way too much of the next few books trying to get that taken care of.
He gets captured by Vikings. The Vikings kill off the captives, but Uthred survives because of his friendship with the son of his adoptive father. He then finds out that his wife and son were taken by another Wessex minor lord, and he chases them down. As he’s looking for them, he stumbles into a major battle between Wessex and the Vikings.
These books are great to read. They’re fast and they’re exciting. Highly recommended.