182 of 186 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2004
This new series from Bernard Cornwell focuses on 9th Century Britain and the onset of the Viking invasion and settlement in a move that would split the country into Wessex and the Danelaw, and how Alfred started to develop into the "great" king he became.
The story follows a young boy called Uhtred, as his family deal with the invasion, and without giving away too much of the plot the paths his life takes because of the invasion, crossing the paths of both Dane leaders and Saxon ones.
I have seen criticism that this book is the same formula as all Bernard Cornwell's other books. I won't deny that it DOES follow the same style of story development and characterization as previous books such as "Sharpe" and the Holy Grail trilogy. However the real beauty of these books is the weaving of a fictional story into actual chronicled history, and Mr.Cornwell is a master at this.
We meet such real historical characters as King Alfred, Guthrum and there's a wonderful take on the death of King Edmund of East Anglia.
The way this book has been written you can truly see the Danes and the Saxons in your mind, hear them, touch their clothes and even smell them, such is the wonderful ambience that comes from reading the book.
If you're looking for something original and unconventional then this book may not be for you....but generally speaking historical novels like these can't be too original. If, however you are a fan of history and love delving into thinking about possibilities within history that are not black and white, then you'll love this book.
I'm really looking forward to the second book in this series.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Bernard Cornwell is back to his brilliant best after what I thought a slight stutter with Stonehenge. This book is excellent and it is difficult to give a brief synopsis of it without giving too much of the plot away, but here goes.
The book begins in the late 9th century AD. The Vikings are seen in the coastal water of Northumbria. The news comes through to the Ealdorman of the major stronghold in Northumbria that the Vikings have captured Eoferwic (York) and he marches with his army and his ten year old son to join forces with the other English forces to retake the city.
The battle is a resounding success for the Vikings and the young boy is captured and taken into the family of Ragnar one of the senior Vikings. Ragnar likes the boy Uhtred and treats him as his own son.
The struggle between the English and the Danes and how the boy grows up not knowing where is true loyalties lie is the background to the book. His eventual marriage moves him closer to the English cause, and when he is drawn into a battle against one of the greatest Viking chieftains he realises at last his true allegiance.
This really is a blood and guts novel and a really good read.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2005
I don't think I have ever read a Bernard Cornwell book and been disappointed. I now must intentionally bypass the Cornwell section at the local bookshop, in order to bring more variety to my bookcase. The Sharp series was his beginning but it certainly wasn't his end, as out came the Grail Quest and the Arthur series. Now from that amazing storytelling mind comes a new hero, a new stage and a new struggle.
The reason I love his books is because he uses historical fact to tell of intrigue and adventure. Take this new series for example, it draws you into a young boys adolescent life, shows you his beginnings, and then changes his destiny and makes him walk the path to manhood. The choice of time period is quite interesting as it focuses on the days of King Alfred (849AD-899AD), who was the King of Wessex and later the King of Anglo-Saxons who united the people against the Viking invaders. The young boy is the heir to a minor province in Northumberland, and is captured by the Vikings. He grows up loving Viking ways, worshipping pagan gods and dreaming of glory on the battle field. But he still remembers his home and yearns to go back to reclaim his lands. He has to chose between what he has come to love and what he knows he must do.
This book is about destiny. The life of a man whose destiny leads him to be part of Alfred's court. It is pure unadulterated fun, interesting facts about the Vikings (for example the word Viking, means to go raiding) and great battle scenes (Cornwell's trademark). Like all Cornwell books the character development goes only as far as the ability to wield a sword, but that doesn't matter as the strength in his books is combining historical fact with some memorable characters. I just cant wait to read the next instalment, which should come out before the end of 2005 titled: The Pale Horseman.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2005
Bernard Cornwell is one of my favourite authors, but when I heard the plot synopsis for this book I shamefully thought "oh dear, more of the same". Certainly the last Sharpe & the conclusion of the "Grail Quest" series seemed just a little bit lazy and relied on Cornwell just rehashing previous plots & themes. We've had Sharpe, a totally loyal "peasant" fighting in an "aristocratic" army, Derfel, a Saxon, fighting with the Britons, Starbuck, a Yankee fighting with total devotion for the Confederate cause & Thomas of Hookton, a noble born educated man choosing to fight as a peasant archer rather than a man at arms. In "The last Kingdom" we have Uhtred, a Saxon fighting for the invading Danes... or do we?
In actual fact we don't. All Cornwell's other heroes have been 110% loyal to their chosen cause. Uhtred's motivation is much more fragile and his loyalties are finely split between two opposing forces. Uhtred is heir to the earldom of Bamborough, Northumbria (one of the 4 Saxon kingdoms, along with Mercia, East Anglia & Wessex). His father is killed in battle & the 10 year old Uhtred is captured by his father's killer, the Danish Earl Ragnar. Ragnar is actually a far better father to Uhtred than his real father & he adopts the boy as his own son & trains him to fight as a Viking warrior. As a teenager Uhtred fights with the Danes as they sweep through East Anglia & Mercia, but after a personal tragedy he's forced to ally himself with King Alfred, ruler of the "last" Saxon kingdom, Wessex.
The pagan Uhtred dislikes the ambitious, but feeble Christian Alfred. Alfred in turn distrusts the almost-Danish Uhtred, but isn't foolish enough to turn down such a skilled warrior, especially one with such knowledge of the Viking way of fighting. Uhtred has as many Saxon enemies as Danish ones and throughout the book his loyalties are sorely tested.
At times this book is virtually a clone of "The Winter King". Even the style of it being written by a much older Uhtred and the hints of conflicts to come are practically identical. However as most Cornwell fans rate "the Warlord Chronicles" as his best work's there's little complaint about this. The historical research is first-class, and vividly describes a relatively unknown period of history. Most Brit's know about horned helmet wearing Vikings rushing from the sea to burn Churches, but how many realise that the Viking's ruled three quarters of England for over a century. How many know that before Alfred "England" was actually four Kingdoms, not one? The history lesson is interspersed with constant bloodshed & battle, and the various clashes between Dane & Saxon are every bit as well written as in the Warlord Chronicles. Few authors can describe the clash of shield walls as well as Bernard Cornwell.
This new series promises to be Bernard Cornwell's best, and has totally restored my faith in one our greatest living historical authors. Totally recommended!
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2004
Some say, its the "same old, same old". Others tell it correctly. Its the work (again) of the leader of Historical Fiction, at his best. I do have a critissism however. The book ended, as books will. Far too soon for me.
I tried reading slowly, but it still only lasted a couple of days. Sad. Its exciting and yes, of course, its following in the time loved tradition of the "young fella growing up to be a man, etc. etc. etc.", thats just how these books are written. Would we really want to change that?
Anyhow, being about my favorite Author, Bernard Cornwell can do no wrong, so I just cant wait for the next two books in this trilogy.
This story is tight, the charactors are so real you can smell them and if my memory serves me well, the history is pretty close to how we were told it at school too. Alfred, later known as the "Great", the conflicts the transgressions, are all there.
I am quite purposely NOT going into the plot, or the story, as there are obviously plenty of you Cornwell fans out there who havent read the book yet. So Im not going to be the one who gives anything away.
Just buy it, you wont be sorry, also, Amazon were selling the hardback for the price of a decent bottle of wine, way to go Amazon...
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2005
I have read a range of Bernard Cornwell's books, and I think this is one of the strongest to date. Each succesive book he writes is weaved with increasing intricacy and complexity, and with increasingly more ambiguous characters.
The lattermost point is one I feel could make this series somewhat different from the rest of his books. In this series there is no stand-out villian. The hero has dubious loyalties, a Saxon brought up by Danes, who has yet to pledge his full allegiance to any one side. The author also goes to great lengths to make Alfred the Great a complex character. In this book his weaknesses are fully exposed. This should allow a decent amount of mileage in the series - the hero is distainful of Alfred for his obvious weaknesses, yet, this is partly what keeps you hooked. You do not yet know why Alfred is known as The Great. This is partly why I feel this may be a better series than the Arthur Trilogy: you get an idea what Arthur is like early on in that series of books. In this series, I feel only the surface of Alfred the Great has been scratched. Here's hoping book two the series doesn't prove me wrong.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 May 2006
As my first Cornwell novel and my first frist-person novel I have to say that this story was deeply impressive.
The first-person prospective puts you constantly right up front in the action with main character Uhtred. Cornwells research shows in everything from his discriptions of the blend of old-Roman and saxon architecture to his brilliant account of Christiantiys attempts to phase out Paganism. But the authors skills really come through in his excellent ability to fully create epic battles in the readers mind. And battles really were not as fancy and flamboyant as hollywood would have you think.
The shield-walls are what this book is all about, Uhtreds own goal is to one day be in the shield-wall, and its not a pretty sight. Cornwell thrusts you up front as blades and shields collide and blood sprays. The tension in these moments is like nothing I'd ever read before.
This book is must have even if only for the mostly incredibly accurate accout of events that happened around this time- for with Uhtred you will meet many famous historical heroes and villains. But the story alone is a beatiful one- with romance, death, tragedy and grudges. Uhted is a brillaint character who you will come to love regardless of his reckless and cold attitude. A classic, a must have, you'll love it!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2006
This new series by Cornwell is very fine indeed. Coming to his work as a popular novelist (under another name), I feel able to say that he is good in more than the obvious sense. Unlike many other writers at his level, he writes in clear, intelligent, and carefully-phrased English. He never strives for 'literary' effect, yet frequently achieves it, while retgaining an easy, readable, fast-paced style. Not many people get that right. Added to this, he melds his research (and research of high quality) so skilfully within his narrative that the reader is never taxed or slowed down by it. My novels a lot of research as well, and, believe me, getting the information in without boring your readers is not an easy thing. Cornwell achieves it without apparent effort, which suggests that he puts a lot of work into the books. (Yet he has written something like fifty novels, twice as many as myself, in not many years more -- that's astonishing.) He intends this series (now at 3 books) to continue: which means around another year before the next. A long wait. This is popular writing exactly as it should be so, if you haven't tried Cornwell before, this is as good a place to start as any.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2004
This is Cornwell at his best. Its the 1st installment in what I hope will be a lengthy series, following the life of a young Saxon boy in the 9th Century. Son of a minor noble-man he is captured by the invading Northmen (better known, if incorrectly so, as Vikings) and brought up as one of them but returns to his country men after his adopted father is betrayed by one of his own people.
This first volume, chronicling the Northmen as they attempt to conquer the 4 kingdoms of England is immensely gripping (I finished it 1 day) and includes great characterisations as well as the sort of information about post Roam England that made his Arthur series so unmissable. The last book by Cornwell I read was Stonehenge and this is so much better than that, as good as the Arthur books and probably better than most of the early Sharpes.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2007
"Wyrd bið ful aræd."
In the year AD 865 a never seen before number of dragonships, with about 2000 - 3000 northmen appears at the eastern coast of the island, that in later times will be called England. The Commanders of this armed force, which chroniclers call "The Great Heathen Army" are Ivar the Boneless, Ubbe and Halfdan, the sons of legendary Vikingsheroe Ragnar Ragnarr Loðbrók. As before, this time their activities should not confine on "Víkingr" (old nordic.: robbing, plunder, taking booty) only. Rather this time ist is the start of an invasion to colonize. After conquering Eastanglia, Northumbria with it's capital Eoferwic (Jorvik/York) and Mercia, the Danish occupying forces are finally attacking Wessex, the last remaining anglo-saxon kingdom.....
....from this historical background Bernard Cornwell develops his story about the second germanic invasion of the Britannia, that was called "Lloeggyr" (the lost Land) by the celtic-roman people, who had been driven out of it to Wales and Cornwall. The novel focusses the fate of the (fictional) Northumbrian nobleman Uthred Uthredson, who sometimes unintentional, sometimes deliberately has to change front and loyalty between his anglo-saxon relatives and his scandinavian friends. On this occasion his interests come into conflict with the intensions of King Ælfreds of Wessex, who will (as the only sovereign of the islandkingdom) get later the epithet "the Great"...
After his "Warlord Chronicles" about the Anglo-Saxon Invasion of Britain in the "Dark Age" (at the End of the 5th Century), with the trilogy "The Winterking", "Enemy of God" and "Excalibur") Bernard Cornwell with "The Last Kingdom" succeed again in a first part of a new novel series. Again a central topic is the conflict between the (meanwhile) christian "inhabitants" und pagan "invaders", who are oppositing in shieldbarriers. But some descendants of the former anglosaxon conquerers countinue worshipping the old gods. Because of the numerous battle- and other rough scenes the novel could not be recommend readers with tender natures. The same applies for the peculiar humor of the northmen, particular in relation to Christianity and it's priests, who comes "still more black" in the english way, but meets the historical background.
In his "Historical Note" Bernard Cornwell makes a clear separation between historical facts and literary fiction. With the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" und "Asser's Life of King Alfred" he reveals the important sources for his novel. Already at the beginning of the book the readers can find interesting and helpful materials, as a map of Britain at the end of the 9th century an a synops with the anglo-saxon names of towns, villages etc., as well as their danish an today designations.
The thrilling and informative novel scores 5 Amazonstars and forces the reader to purchase it's sequel "The Pale Horseman" and "The Lords of the North" immediately....