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Bernard Cornwell- There is no one better at depicting a battle scene, a ride through the country or a love affair. He keeps the reader enticed throughout with great use of detail especially within the intense battle scenes where he is able to create a vivid picture for the reader.
The Story begins in the 9th Centuruy with a boy called Uhtred (the protagonist) who is the son of the Lord of Bebbanburg. When the Danes invade England, Uhtred is captured and taken prisoner by a Dane named Ragnar. He takes him in and treats him like a son, and so Uhtred grows up a Dane, believing in their Gods and their customs. When he grows up and loses his adopted father he returns to the side of the Saxons, hoping one day to take back Bebbanburg from his evil uncle who has since usurped it. Uhtred's fate it seems is to fight for the Saxons to rid his country of the Danes, all the while hating the King he serves and missing the family of Danes he left behind. Most of the Danes however would like nothing more than to kill Uhtred and he must therefore fight for his Kingdom and enter into a world of War.
Cornwell certainly brings this time of history to life and he has clearly put a lot of effort into researching the History. If i didn't know better i could have believed he had experienced these things for himself. The detail and the passion with which he writes is very exhilarating. I have never read a Sharpe novel, for which he is most famous for, however if he writes with the same passion and historical knowledge i will definitely pick up one of the series.
If you're an keen reader and like this era of History then a very strongly recommend this book!
When constructing a historical novel, or a series of them, it must really help to have facts to base it around. This is what Bernard Cornwell does so well in his novels, and it continues here with The Saxon Stories. The backdrop for his character based saga is the Danish invasion of England in the 9th Century. Cornwell chooses a 10 year old boy named Osbert as his literary champion to follow through the series, which will shortly reach 6 books with the publication of Death of Kings at some point this year.
Cornwell's style is to bombard us with historical facts about battle and buildings and lifestyle, but doing it within the context of our hero and other characters and events so as to not make it like a boring old history text book. Here, he starts off with Osbert as a boy whose father is not that proud of him but realises he must teach his son the way to be a man. With his elder brother murdered, Osbert becomes Uhtred, the name for the eldest in his family and that of father, and it's Uhtred that we then follow.
Usually with Cornwell's books, you get a strong sense of the heroes and villains in terms of the war he uses as a backdrop, but here, both the Danes and the English are viewed in both ways. He does this cleverly by submitting Uhtred to becoming a Danish prisoner, but then shows him growing up with Danes, under the tutelage of Ragnar, and it's during this time that the development of the characters grows. We see the Danish viewpoint, and such diverse characters within the Danish army, some who become characters we love and some who are clearly to become the villains of the next few books, if not the entire saga.
The story is told from the narrative, with Uhtred seemingly telling his life story and starting us when he was captured by the Danes. A lot is said about land ownership and ways of life, things that were commonplace then that would be criminal now, punishments that seem harsh were considered lenient then, respected professions then which now no longer exist. It's all a history lesson, and a very interesting one as well. Cornwell seems to cram plenty into the pages, and although this is relatively short in comparison it still takes a while to read. Some books seem to absolutely fly by as you skim through the words, half of them more filler for events to keep the story going along at pace. Cornwell though doesn't waste a word, and everything has its important place. This means you have to take your time a bit more or you'll miss important events, and what made sense the page before will not in a couple of pages time if you're not paying attention.
It's worth it for the rewards though. You get sucked in the Uhtred's tale, and the vivid descriptions really give you a great mental image not just of the location and the characters, but also the action and the small innocuous seeming events. Perhaps his greatest asset is his ability to interject fictional characters into a historically factual series of events, and there is a great collection of characters here to be taken into the second book. Leofric the hard nosed and gruff English warrior who becomes a mentor to a teenage Uhtred, Ravn the elderly blind Dane who mentors a pre teen Uhtred, and Beocca the priest who remains a constant presence of friendship and religion throughout Uhtred's life. These are three I have plucked out of memory, but there are the villains as well, and these are the ones who whet your appetite for further events both in this book as you're going along as well as for future books in the series.
I suppose one of the main themes is religion, amidst all of the fighting, and belief that praying and sacrificing to your various God(s) will grant you the outcome you most desire. We see the Christian beliefs and faith that we have largely been taught in this country, but we also get a strong understanding of the Danes and their Gods, and who is who and what they do. There's also a certain amount of perplexity from the other sides as they fail to understand the other's religious faith, although there are a few who bridge the gap, including Uhtred who has been brought up on both.
Mixed in with Uhtred's fate is King Alfred, who is mentioned from the start but who doesn't really figure in the proceedings until around the halfway point. You get the feeling that this is going to be developed a lot further in the future books in the series, which is a good thing. Again, this is another way Cornwell shows how he can mix fact and fiction and have it be believable, leaving the ultimate outcomes of historical events the same, but describing individual events, vendettas, conversations and friendships within this context so as to not affect these outcomes. We see enemies and friends come and go, and feel something every time this happens, so well has Cornwell built them up. Indeed, sometimes a character is built up only to be killed off with brutal and nonchalant ease. Each time we meet a different character, they soon replace an empty spot in our minds that someone else had left when they fell.
I thought this was excellently written, and I'm chomping at the bit for the second book. However, I do like to mix it up a bit, and so will read a couple of books in between before picking up the second in the series, The Pale Horsemen. I really enjoy Cornwell's work, and find it riveting even if it takes somewhat longer than reading other authors' work. Highly recommended.
Im really getting into my history novels as late, I had heard the name many times in relation to sharpe but enough hours spent watching that at my grandparents turned me off the idea of this Cornwell guy. But having read Scarrow and Kane I thought it was time to see what the fuss was about , and has fate would have it I picked this up in the local charity shop for 50p.
The last kingdom is the first installement in the Saxon stories, charting the life of Uhtred and the battle between Alfred the great and the danes (Vikings).
The story begins with a 10 yearl old Osbert, he see's the approaching Viking fleet and watches as his father readies himself. Unfortunatley the patrol Osberts brother was in is attacked and his decapitated head is thrown down in front of him, as is tradition Osbert takes on his brothers name Uhtred, and after his fathers death at the hands of the Danes he is taken away and learns how to live as a Dane.
Uhtred loves his new life, it is simple and fun, the gods are ruthless and exciting and best of all he learns to be a warrior from Ragnar. He earns many arm rings and gains popularity in the ranks, however enemies in Sven, Kjartan and Guthrum are intent on killing the englishman.
The last kingdom is the story of the English being pushed into a final stand at Wessex against a massive Dane army , with Uhtred bang in the centre.
The story finishes with Uhtred being 18, so this covers 8 years of his life and packs a lot in to a relatively thin book, I thought the book started a little slow and it struggled to pick up pace , however towards the middle it hit it's stride and you began to see why Cornwell has gained such a following for his literature.
The story flows well and is told like the memoirs of Uhtred, this is intresting as he puts in bits he found out later of certain characters but also says when he forgets something about someon. This makes it feel very realistic and like he is sitting , talking about his life to you.
The characters are written quite well , they were intresting and each had a place in the story. You definatley feel more at home with some characters than others, especially when your reading what Uhtreds view of them is.
One relationship in the book is between the Dane leader Ragnar and Uhtred, these two get along really well and have a good chemistry. Ragnar becomes like a father figure to Uhtred and the writing is very good in moments like when Uhtred is handed his first Arm ring by Ragnar, or how he is given a short sword to learn to fight.
Another good example of the chemistry in the book is later on where Uhtred meets Leofric, this is a lot more like Cato and Macro in Scarrows eagle series, it is one in which Uhtred looks up to Leofric and thinks he is great, wereas Leofric thinks Uhtred is no better than something out of the back of a goat. But deep down you can sense that Leofric really cares for Uhtred and has both respect and great promise for him.
The character growth through the book is good as we not only see Uhtred age but we see him learn about life, this is coverd really well and the conflicting upbrining of the English and Viking lifestyle turn him into a well rounded character although he has strong views on religion and people.
The book uses the names for towns at the time, this is helped by a list at the front but can make it difficult to read the strange and difficult names. The same goes for the Danish and English names , but once you begin to learn the characters it becomes a bit easier.
The book may seem small at just over 300 pages but the font is smaller than most books so pages can take longer to read than usual. Chapters are a decent distance apart, but I feel one chapter is usually long enough for me to start to feel tired of it and usually I can read a book for ages.
The book itself is 4 parts, starting with a prolouge and then split to the 3 main points in Uhtreds 8 years covered.
The book is Available on Amazon for £4 , and I would recommend it.
All I would say is that you must stick with it as the first quarter can seem tiresome.
Thanks for reading :)
Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 to an English mother and a Canadian father. After marrying his American wife Judy he began writing novels as he did not require to green card to do so.
He is perhaps best known in the UK as the author of a series of books featuring the central character of Richard Sharpe. A number of these have been filmed for television starring Sean Bean in the central role.
Outside of the Sharpe series of novels Cornwell has also penned a number of trilogies, quartets and one-off novels covering various historical periods. These are:-
+ The Warlord Chronicles: The Winter, Enemy Of God and Excalibur which are set during Arthurian times
+ The Grail Quest series: Harlequin, Heretic and Vagabond which are set in the fourteenth century and revolve around the quest for the Holy Grail
+ The Starbuck Chronicles: Rebel, Copperhead, Battle Flag and The Bloody Ground which are set during the American civil war
+ The Saxon Stories: The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, The Lords Of The North, Sword Song and The Burning Land which are set during the reign of Alfred The Great and chronicle the Danish invasions that occurred during his reign.
His standalone novels are Gallows Thief (set in 1817), Stonehenge, which is set circa 2000 BC and details the construction of the titular structure and Azincourt which could, arguably, be seen as a sort of sequel to the Grail Quest series as a large part of it deals with England's position in France.
The Last Kingdom was first published in 2004 in hardcover with the paperback version following in 2005 . My version, which is the paperback one, also contains a number of extras at both the start and end of the book. These are:-
+ Historical map of England during Alfred's reign which shows a number of the locations that parts of the novel take place in.
+ Place Names: A list of Anglo-Saxon place names during Alfred's reign with their modern equivalents.
+ Historical Note: The author's comments on the historical events that inspired The Last Kingdom.
+ The first chapter of The Pale Horseman which is the sequel to The Last Kingdom.
After the Romans left Britain it was invaded by a number of different Germanic tribes chief of which were the Angles and the Saxons. By the 800s these tribes had pushed many of the native Celtic people to the fringes of the island, into Wales, Scotland and Cornwall. Anglo-Saxon England was divided into 4 kingdoms, Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex, each ruled by different kings and the people disliked each other almost as much as they disliked the Danish invaders.
This lack of cohesion and co-operation between the English kingdoms allowed the for the opportunity for an enterprising invading force to pick off the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms one by one which is just what the Danish plan was. Northumbria was the first to fall in 866-867 which is when the book opens.
The majority of characters within the novel are historical figures, namely Alfred and his family and the various Danish leaders that Uthred meets and encounters. Uthred himself, is fictional, the inspiration for him coming from a family of Uthred's who did hold Bebbanburg at a later time than this novel was set. His adoptive father, Earl Ragnar, and his family are also fictional.
The other major events in the book happened as written with Cornwell giving more detail in his historical note.
Osbert is just nine when the Danes invade Northumbria and is renamed Uthred when his elder brother is killed. His father, also called Uthred, is an Earl and the family occupies the fortress of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh Castle). The Northumbrians plan to counter-attack the Danes at Eoferwic (York) and Uthred is along to watch the battle and see at first hand how men fight. But things go badly wrong, Uthred's father is killed and Uthred finds himself adopted by Earl Ragnar and his family.
But even this doesn't bring security. His paternal Uncle, Aelfric has usurped Uthred's title of Earl and would prefer it if Uthred was dead and out of the way. Uthred also finds himself at loggerheads with a Danish boy named Sven and his father Kjartan who want revenge after a boyhood prank of Sven's goes badly wrong and leads them to being dismissed from Ragnar's service.
For a time Uthred is happy with his adoptive family. Ragnar and his wife treat him like a son, he gets on well with Ragnar's children Rorik and Thyrra and he learns how to sail and fight as he moves from boyhood towards manhood. But then fate takes a hand and sends Uthred on a very different journey from the one he had thought of.....
The two main characters in the novel are Uthred and Alfred The Great who are both very different people.
Having read all of the novels listed at the start of this review with the exception of the Sharpe series I can say that, for me, Uthred is the most interesting of Cornwell's heroes. His childhood is interesting and believable. What child wouldn't prefer feasting and games with children his own age if the alternative was dull food at Alfred's table coupled with being watched and schooled every waking hour of the day?
Uthred's young, strong, impetuous and he worships the Norse gods which is in complete contrast to Alfred who is older, sickly, cautious and a committed Christian. It's the differences between the two characters that make for an interesting dynamic particularly as Uthred finds that Alfred, like other characters in his life, have more control over what happens to him than he'd actually like.
Much is made of Alfred's interest and devotion to Christianity and the fact that he surrounds himself with priests and listen to their views provides Uthred with something else to dislike. Likewise Alfred and his various priests either dislike the fact that Uthred worships the Norse gods, are keen on converting him to Christianity or both and this makes for much tension with the book.
Alfred's physical afflictions also feature quite a lot and weren't something I was aware of until I read the book. A current theory suggests that he may have had Crohn's disease.
Like other books by Cornwell the rest of the characters are developed to varying degrees. Earl Ragnar comes across as a likeable, family orientated man who is very kind and protective of those that he loves. He, along with the other Danish leaders, are characterised by their fondness for feasting and fighting but none of them with the possible exception of Ragnar are really portrayed as fully rounded characters. They're mainly there for reasons of historical accuracy but also to drive the plot along and to provide Uthred with a myriad of ties to the Danish.
The same is true of Uthred's uncle, Aelfric and his boyhood enemies, Sven and Kjartan. These are some of the "baddies" of the book but their characters aren't really developed beyond the fact that they hate Uthred. Add in the Danish leaders and some of Alfred's priests and you've got quite an array of characters with varying reasons to dislike our hero Uthred. The fact that he's disliked so much leaves you wondering which of his enemies will try to kill him or hurt his family, how they will do it and how he'll come through which adds a nice air of anticipation to the book and leaves you turning page after page, wanting to know what happens next.
But, ultimately, it's Uthred that holds the book together. Cornwell draws the reader in and gets us interested in Uthred's childhood and the experiences he has. We know he's not going to get killed because he's narrating the story in the first person but we don't know what setbacks he's going to encounter on his journey to manhood nor what's going to happen that the people that are closest to him who he loves.
The Last Kingdom is very much a scene setting book for the rest of the Saxon Stories series. It introduces us to Uthred, Alfred and a cast of supporting characters that will continue to appear throughout the later books in the series. I didn't actually know very much about the period as when we were studying it at school the teacher in question really turned me off history. It wasn't until the following school year and a change of teacher that I got interested again with the Normans.
Consequently, all I really knew about Alfred, aside from the fact that he was king of Wessex was that he'd hidden in a marsh for a time and has allegedly burnt some cakes so I approached this book knowing practically nothing about the period that it covers (866 - 878) which was good as I had no idea what was going to happen to any of the real historical characters in the book.
As with the rest of Cornwell's books there are some brutal scenes that may shock the more sensitive reader. There are frequent scenes of the Danes killing English people, usually monks and priests as well as some scenes of women being raped. None of these are particularly graphic, although, as I said, the subject matter may not be to the taste of the more sensitive reader.
The battle scenes in the book deal mainly with skirmishes or minor battles rather than something on the scale of Azincourt so there are no battles here which take place over a large number of pages like there are in some of Cornwell's other books. Nor are the battle scenes quite as detailed as those in Azincourt for example, although that's probably down to the fact that the clashes between the English and the Danes were less sophisticated in terms of weapons and military tactics than they were during the Middle Ages.
The pace, like much of Cornwell's other works is pedestrian but this, of course, is dictated by the historical timeline that Cornwell adheres to. It gives him time to develop Uthred and Alfred as interesting characters and for the Danes to overrun the other three English kingdoms, leaving Wessex as the titular Last Kingdom. Cornwell's descriptions of various places and events are rich in detail without going too over the top and Uthred comments on Christianity and the various priests and monks he encounters are often amusing and thought provoking, particularly when he's giving bits of information about some of the early Christian saints.
Overall though, this book is a great addition to Cornwell's range of historical novels. Uthred is an interesting and likeable central character who really engages and holds the readers interest. Cornwell obviously enjoyed writing this book and that comes across very strongly when you're reading it. Some of the historical characters had to die during the course of this story but Cornwell has more freedom with his fictional characters and wisely chooses to keep some of them alive to return in subsequent books in the series.
That means that this book has a somewhat "unfinished" feel to it because some of the plot threads are unresolved. This type of loose end could arguably leave the reader frustrated at the lack of conclusion to some of the plot threads but, for those of you that have enjoyed reading the book it will just make you more eager to read the sequel to see how Uthred fares against those enemies of his that still live,whether he'll acquire any new ones and just what Alfred and his pesky, interfering Christian priests have planned for our hero next.
This book made me want to find out more about Alfred and the Danish invasions so it's a recommend read from me.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; (Reissue) edition (27 May 2010)
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
Starting in 866 AD the story begins with a young boy, Osbert, son of Earldorman Uhtred in Northumbria. The family and their followers and slaves live in a castle at Bebbanburg.
Their lives are changed when the first Viking ships, piloted by Danes, are seen off the coast. the eldest son of the earl is dispatched to carry out reconnaissance but his horse returns with a new rider, Ragnar, and the son's head is left outside the castle as a souvenir and a signal of intent.
After the death of his brother, Osbert has his name changed by his father as is the custom and he becomes Uhtred, son of Uhtred. Uhtred grows and wishes to be a warrior and to avenge his brother. His family wish him to be a priest and arrange for Father Beocca to tutor young Uhtred.
Uhtred is then orphaned after a battle, captured and adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways, but his destiny is tied up with the future king Alfred and the battle between the Saxons and the Vikings, the English and the Danes and the conflict between Christianity and paganism.
The Danes overrun the whole of England leaving a puppet king on the throne in each kingdom until they reach Wessex, the last kingdom and where they must overcome Alfred.
Yet again, Bernard Cornwell transports the reader to historic times and again there is fighting and savagery. There is also detail about the culture and traditions prevalent at the time. In this book, the first in a new series called the Saxon Chronicles, he takes us back to 866 AD, the time of Viking invaders and conquerors and of King Alfred.
What I like about the book is the description that is given of life in those times, the description of weaponry, hunting, vast forests, the influence of the church and the hierarchy of kings, earls down to slaves. These elements give a good background to the story as the Danes arrive to conquer England.
Original place names are used throughout the story (there is even a glossary of current equivalent place names at the beginning of the book so that you can understand the geography of events), that give the story an added air of authenticity. Some names are obvious, Lundene is now London, Dunholm - Durham, Cirrenceastre - Cirencester and it is intriguing how the place names have changed or been adapted over time. Snotengaham is now Nottingham, Eoferwic - York, Gyruum - Jarrow, Defnascir - Devon, Exanceaster - Exeter, you get the idea.
Bernard Cornwell is well known for his research and in this story it shows, this also makes the story more believable. A cracking read 8/10.
As well as The Last Kingdom there are 4 other books in the Saxon Chronicles series, The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, Sword Song and The Burning Land.
The Last Kingdom (Book 1 of the Saxon Stories/Alfred the Great 1) Bernard Cornwell
Paperback released 2005
This is the first book of a series about the Danish invasions of the 9th Century. Told through the eyes of Uhtred Ragnarson (Uhtredson) we are given a glimpse into the life of another warlord, who learns his trade as he lives his life.
Uhtred (born Osbert and the second son of Ealdorman Uhtred) is young boy who is suddenly thrust into manhood when the Vikings invade Northumbria and kill his brother and also his father. He is captured by a Danish Lord, called Ragnar, and is brought up by him, whilst his uncle usurps his title as Ealdorman of Bebbanburg.
Whilst growing up a Dane, he also learns more of the Saxon world and must ultimately decided whether he is a Dane or Saxon.
Anyone familiar with other work by Cornwell will certainly see the resemblance of the plot to other series, with a strong, sometimes morally questionable, male lead, surrounded by various females, enemies and friends, however rather than a hindrance, this simply makes the book all the more easy to read. I simply did not want to put this down and had read it within a week (even though I was on holiday).
Cornwell is once again a master character creator. We have such amazing people as Lord Ragnar, his blind father Ravn who teaches Uhtred many things, the bewitching Brida, the loyal son of Ragnar (Ragnar the younger), Ivar the Boneless, Guthrum the Unlucky and King Alfred.
All these characters come together to create a book which leaves you want more, which is good as there are three others at present, with the possibility of a fifth to the series.
The Last Kingdom is the first book in a new trilogy by Bernard Cornwell about Saxon and Norse Britain at the time of Alfred the Great (9th Century). The other two books in the series are Pale Horseman (see my earlier review) and Lords of the North (just released, so watch this space for review). For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Cornwell, he is a prolific writer of fiction, predominately historical fiction in which he intertwines his characters and their story with actual historical events. He is probably best know for his Sharpe series (21 books) which was serialised by ITV and stared Sean Bean, the books however are much better and he has been described as perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today. I digress however so back to The Last Kingdom. (at last I hear you say!!)
The book follows the early life of Uhtred of Bebbenberg (the main character of the trilogy). The book starts in 866 when Uhtred, then 10 years old and lives with his father and brother in the fortress of Bebbenberg in Northumbria where is father is Ealdorman (Lord). When his father and brother and killed by the invading Danes, Uhtred is captured by Lord Ragnar a Danish lord who takes Uhtred into his household and raises him as a Dane and teaches him the ways of the Viking - sailing and fighting. Living amongst the Danes at first is appealing to Uhtred, his is a young man amongst men and there are no rules and no pious priests trying to teach him to read and write. However as time progresses and the Danes invade more and more of England the divided loyalties begin to rise in Uhtred. He sees himself as a Saxon rather than a Dane though as a pagan he feels more in common with the Vikings than the Christian Saxons. The feelings of division continue to rise in Uhtred until the death of his beloved adopted father Ragnar leads him to leave the Vikings and find his way to the remaining Saxons in Wessex under Alfred. Uhtred has no love for the pious Christian Alfred and Alfred does not trust Uhtred as a pagan and one who lived with the Vikings but as the Vikings invade Wessex, Alfred needs every Saxon Sword. The men make an uneasy truce and Uhtred turns his sword on his old friends and in a bloody battle in Southern England the Kingdom is saved and a new hero is born.
The Last Kingdom is a saga of blood, war, brotherhood, and betrayal that brings to centre stage Alfred the Great, one of the most crucial (but oft-forgotten) figures in English history. It is King Alfred and his heirs who, in the ninth and tenth centuries, with their backs against the wall, fought to secure the survival of the last outpost of Anglo-Saxon culture by battling the ferocious Vikings, whose invading warriors had already captured and occupied three of England's four kingdoms. The story really brings the early part of Alfred's reign to life and paints a colourful and imaginable picture of 9th Century England. The characters are interesting, diverse and believable and most are actual historical figures like Ubba, Halfdan and Ivar the Boneless the three Lothbrok Brothers, Alfred and Ethelred and Guthrum the unlucky. What really brings the book alive for me is Cornwell's excellent eye for detail that really adds a rich background and his excellent recreation and description of battles that across all his books comes across as one of his main strengths.
This looks set to be another great series by Cornwell and this book is an excellent introduction. I would really recommend this book to all readers especially those who love historical fiction. These books also teach you a lot about Anglo-Saxon and Viking England without making you feel like you are learning, a definite plus for younger readers.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The Last Kingdom is available for £5.59 on Amazon or £6.99 in the shops though you could probably pick it up for as little as £3 on Ebay.
Paperback: 500 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (30 May 2005)
The first book in a brand new series, The Last Kingdom is set in England during the reign of King Alfred.