A new-to-me Richard Armitage character has just joined the ranks of my all-time favourites. And this character is not seen, but only heard! In the words of his boast asserting his warrior status, he is:
Uhtred of Bebbanburg…
The man who killed Ubba Lothbrokson by the sea…
The man who spilled Svein of the White Horse from his saddle at Ethandun
The Lords of the North is the third book in the Saxon Stories series of historical novels by Bernard Cornwell. It follows the story of noble warrior, Lord Uhtred Ragnarson, through three years of his saga beginning when he is 21 years old in the year 878. A Saxon who was raised by Danes, he has been a key force in helping King Alfred overpower the Danes and regain his kingdom in Wessex. Feeling underappreciated, Uhtred travels with his lover, Hild, to the North to try to avenge his adopted father’s death and reclaim his own lands at Bebbanburg. But as he himself repeats many times, fate is inexorable, and the three spinners laugh at our attempts to mold it to our wishes.
The story is exciting and well-written, with descriptions that easily transport the listener to the black night on the rock face or the terrible storms on the sea. There are memorable characters and stories of love, betrayal, honour, fighting, and death. There is a lot of violence, as you might expect, and while some of it is shocking, the lack of visuals make it a bit less graphic for the listener.
The audiobook was released in 2007 and is an early example of a Richard Armitage narrative, but it is an exceptional performance. Over the 12 hours, he brings Uhtred to life in all of his wonderful strength, ruthlessness, and arrogance, which hide an honourable and even kind man. Uhtred is cynical and sees things with an offbeat sense of humour, with observations delivered in just the right tone by Armitage. When the Abbot Eadred mistakes the face of someone apparently shown to him by Saint Cuthbert in a dream, Uhtred observes that “either Cuthbert had shown him the wrong face or … Eadred was a lying bastard — or, perhaps, Saint Cuthbert was a lying bastard!”
There are 30 or so additional characters that are voiced by Armitage with unique accents and delivery that leave the listener with no problem in identifying the character who is speaking. My favourite is perhaps the single-minded and destructive Father Hrothweard, who shouts his continual fury at all within earshot.
I should mention that this audiobook is unavailable as a new product, as the company that was selling it no longer exists. Happily, Snowyjo pointed me to eBay Australia, where an apparently used MP3 CD was being sold. The quality is excellent and the seller apparently has more. I also noticed this weekend that the complete 12 hours have been uploaded to a site called archive.org. Just mentioning these, but I make no promises as to copyright issues.
While listening, I was so wrapped up in the story, read to me so convincingly by Richard Armitage as I drove in my car, that I was quite surprised when the end came! I was left wanting more! I listened to it a second time, which I enjoyed a lot. In fact I had an easier time because by now the unfamiliar names of people and places had become familiar.
But now what? I really love this character and want to know what happens to him. Given that Richard Armitage only recorded the third book in the series and there are now ten books (with another currently being written), I wonder what the best way is to continue with Uhtred’s story?
For any of you who have explored beyond the Richard Armitage audiobook, what have you explored and what do you recommend?
- Bernard Cornwell’s Books – If I were to read them, I would probably now hear the voice of Armitage in my head, which would be good. Have you read them? Are they all just as good? Should I start with number one? Or pick up the story at number four?
The Last Kingdom TV Series – This is a BBC/Netflix production and from what I understand is filmed in Hungary. There are two seasons so far, covering the first four books, with speculation that the show will be renewed for a third season. Alexander Dreymon certainly looks the part of Uhtred, but I haven’t watched it or read any reviews. Looking at the episode descriptions, it may deviate a fair bit from the books, so I’m not sure about this. Have you watched it?
- Jamie Glover Audiobooks – Looks like these are abridged and he read only the first four. I tried a sample and am not sure I can get into his voice after Armitage’s.
- Jonathan Keeble Audiobooks – These are unabridged, but again there are only the first four. I tried a sample, and since he sounds like a much older man, it might be that I could be convinced that this is Uhtred at 80 telling his story. But what about the rest of the books? Looks like Stephen Perring took over for books 5 and 6 (with some less than stellar reviews) and then it has been Matt Bates for the last four.
I’m leaning towards reading the books. Let me know if you have any recommendations or if you have tried some of these options for continuing with Uhtred’s stories. And if you haven’t listened to Richard Armitage read The Lords of the North, I highly recommend it.