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.
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.
on 12 October 2013
This is my first Bernard Cornwell book, and I have to say, I really loved it! The writing style is really different from anything I have read before. I usually stick to fantasy and sci-fi, but was attracted to this book by a recent interest in vikings, and I have to say this book is a really interesting read!
I wont pretend I am an expert in history, because I have literally no knowledge, especially towards the period that this book is based, but this definitely didn't stop me from enjoying the book. As I already mentioned, the writing style is not one I am used to... It is written as if Uthred, the main character of the book (and series, I would imagine) is recalling his life. So the events of the book ususally do not go into enormous detail, apart for the main plot points of the story, so a year or two of Uthred's life can go by within a single chapter.
If you are only interested in bloody battles, which I have to admit I was looking for when I picked this up, then this isn't the book for you. The battle scenes in this story are mainly glossed over, at least to begin with. But this is one of the beautiful things I find about this book. Uthred does not take part in a battle until part two of the book so, like I said, he doesn't have much imput narratively towards the story. But when he first takes part in the shield wall the author really goes into detail. It really is like you are there, alongside your fellow warriors, in the sweat and adrenaline of the battle, and it ended with me almost wishing I was there with Uthred, pushing against my enemies in the heat of battle.
So to conclude this terrible review... If you are looking for non-stop action then I wouldn't reccomend this book to you, but if you want action, but are willing to wait a good 100+ pages for it, then this is definitely worth a read. It is a slow start, but once it gets going, it really gets going. I would have to say the strongest weakness is the character development... I wouldn't say the characters seem two dimensional, because they definitely don't, but it is pretty much what you see is what you get. If you like or dislike a character, don't expect the opinion to change at all. Anyway, this is a really good read, and it is really quick to go through, so long as you don't mind long chapters. And I would reccomend it to most people who don't mind a slow first half, and definitely to those with even a mild interest in Viking fiction.
I have read my way through the adventures of Uhtred in the "wrong" order, and greatly improved my enjoyment of these books as a result! I have read most of Cornwell's 'Sharpe' novels and found them enjoyable enough, but with a tendency to become formulaic - another book, another woman etc. So I started "The Pale Horseman" expecting the same approach, set in a different era.
Instead I found in the lead character, Uhtred, a very flawed hero who is interesting as a person, not just a standard warrior to be led theough a set sequence of historical events. He is capable of great heroism, and great stupidity. What he wins through his merits, he throws away through his flaws. His motivation is more complex - he doesn't even understand himself!
So I rushed off to buy the first book in the sequence, and find out more about Uhtred's background, and how he became the young warrior I'd already met. Unfortunately, I found myself back in familiar Cornwell territory: exciting battles, heroic adventure but implausible, wooden characters. If I had read "The Last Kingdom" first, I probably would never have bothered with the rest of the trilogy. If I *had* done that, I would have missed out, and never made the aquaintance of the infuriating, ferocious, *interesting* adult Uhtred.
If my criticisms of character and motivation seem irrelevant to you, then go ahead, you will probably enjoy this book. If plausible, rounded characters matter to you, don't let "The Last Kingdom" put you off the rest of the sequence - start with "The pale Horseman" and don't miss out!
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.
I went to quite a good school but it occurs to me that I have probably learnt more about British history via the pen of Bernard Cornwell then through any other source. Obviously more well known for the Sharpe series set in the Napoleonic Wars, Cornwall has also written about Agincourt, the Hundred Years War and Arthurian times.
The Last Kingdom is the first of his series set in Saxon times and deals with Alfred The Great. Alfred's story is told from the perspective of a fictional character, Uthred, taken by the Danes as a young boy who is caught between his admiration for the lifestyle of the Danes and his English heritage.
This book deals with Uthred's early years and gently introduces us to the Saxon landscape and the emergence of Alfred at a time when all of England nearly fell to the Danes. As with all of Cornwell's books, this is easy and absorbing reading. His use of Uthred as a participant in the various Danish campaigns is a slightly convenient vehicle to allow the reader to be dragged through every event and location of those times, travelling between Northumberland, York, Reading, London, Winchester, Cirencester, Bath and various other locations with very little sense of distance or difficulty. But that is a very minor quibble as it gives us perspective on a range of events, battles and key meetings. It also allows us to see the growth of Alfred from a young regional ruler to someone who would eventually become the only British monarch to be commonly known as "Great".
Cornwell always writes well and does his usual fine job here with a fast moving, educational and interesting story. The style (told in the first person) felt very different to the Sharpe books but demonstrated Cornwell's knowledge, research while continuing to demonstrate his significant writing ability.
Recommended and, as usual, I now know a little more about our history.
"The Last Kingdom" is set in ninth century England and sees a Northumbrian nobleman called Uhtred look back to the early part of his life. Uhtred's father, also called Uhtred, was the Ealdorman of a region between the Trent and the Tyne. The family home is called Bebbanburg, a practically impregnable fortress. Although the family are good Christians, the Wolf Banner flies from the fortress - claiming the family's descent from Woden, the Saxon God of War. Since England was made up of several kingdoms at the time, Uhtred was subject to the King of Northumbria - Wessex, East Anglia and Mercia also had their own Kings. Uhtred's story begins in 866, when he was nine years old, on a trip along the coast with his father, his elder brother and Aelfric, an uncle. In a time when priests are praying that God will "spare us from the fury of the Northmen", the three Danish ships they spotted sailing up the coast were obviously a cause for concern. Uhtred's elder brother is sent with a dozen men, scouting after them. However, Uhtred the Elder only wants to know where they land and gives strict instructions to return before nightfall. Unfortunately, his son is snared and one of the Viking warriors kindly delivers his severed head the next day.
When the raiders take the city of Eoferwic a week later, Bebbanburg's army joins a combined Northumbrian force. Unfortunately, it gets suckered at the city, Uhtred the Elder gets killed - along with Northumbria's King and Ealdorman Aella. Uhtred the Younger, our narrator, is taken by the same Viking -Ragnar the Fearless - who killed his brother. The Vikings install Ealdorman Egbert as Northumbria's King - he is, however, only there to do as the Danes tell him.
Uhtred is raised by Ragnar as a son, and he doesn't take too long in adapting to the Viking way of life. He embraces the Viking religion, doesn't miss his father and plainly likes the man who killed his father and his brother. Ragnar already has three children - his eldest of which is already a warrior who is fighting in Ireland. Rorik, his second son, is only a year younger than Uhtred and the pair become good friends.
The Danish expedition is one of conquest, and is being led by two brothers - Ubba and Ivar. Ubba is a fearsome warrior, though superstitious - he will only fight when the signs are right. Ivar, on the other hand, has a little more sense than his brother. As a result, things become complicated for Uhtred. Being raised as a Dane inevitably leads to him fighting against his own countrymen. Northumbria is only the beginning - as time passes, more Danes arrive and the invasions move to Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. The information they have on Wessex leads them to believe there won't be much resistance. The region has a weak new King, while the King's brother - Alfred - is only concerned with chasing women.
Things are complicated further on the Danish side by Kjarten and his bad-tempered son, Sven. Kjarten commanded one of Ragnar's ships until Sven took a grave liberty with Thyra, Ragnar's daughter. Luckily, Uhtred manages to save her - though Sven isn't let off lightly when Ragnar hears of it. Nevertheless, the father and son pairing will remain enemies for life. Aelfric, Uhtred's uncle, also proves a threat. Since he now smells an opportunity to become Ealdorman himself, he's now quite like to see Uhtred absence from Bebbanburg become a lot more permanent. From early in the book, however, it's clear he plans to win back his rightful home - and also that he owes a great debt to Alfred, his king.
An easily read and a very well-researched book overall, although - naturally - there has been the odd tweak here and there. There only slight weakness was Uhtred's tendency to obsess on certain things - especially shadow-walkers and shield-wall. Life was very different then - for example, priests and bishops didn't remain celibate and your average daughter didn't get too far into her teens without being married off. Sex was obviously a big recreational hobby, though since nothing rude (!!) is ever described in detail those with an innocent mind will make it through unscathed. (Uhtred, amusingly, did once ask a bishop if there were women in Heaven he could hump). A likeable, easily read book.
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.
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...
on 27 January 2016
I read book 1 - 8 of the Last Kingdom series back to back as if they were one omnibus through a wet and miserable January. I had seen the BBC 2 series which covered book 1 and book 2 and found The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman such good reads I was glad that I had not read them before seeing the series. I was impressed by the explanations of the internal struggle Uhtred has to establish his identity,, and the uniqueness into which he forges his experiences , philosophy and education into the warrior and man he grows into. I was also impressed by the historical integrity Conwell brought to the background of Uhtred's adventures. Definite page turners all the way through. Loved every minute spent reading 1-8.
Although one should not bring 21st century thinking, morals and mores to 10th century life, one could not help thinking that 'everything changes and nothing changes.' Cornwell does encourage the reader to stop and think beyond the swashbuckling thoughout.
I am not sure whether Uhtred's forewords are a good or bad thing - whether they telegraph the ultimate outcome of the scrapes and adventures or whether they enhance the enjoyment of the finer points of the tale...
I was disappointed at the Kindle price of book 9- Warriors of the Storm, which at the present time is more than the hardback edition. Although I am hooked enough to want to read it very badly, principle prevents me following on at this time.