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.
on 11 February 2005
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.
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 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 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.
on 9 October 2004
After the Grail Quest, Cornwell returns to England's early history with the Last Kingdom. The novel's ninth century setting encourages immediate comparison with his finest work, The Winter King, but in truth the two books are very different. The forlorn tone of his Authurian masterpiece is not present, though the formula remains the same, 1st person narrative as the novel's main character, Uhtred, looks back over his early life and his initial meetings with Alfred.
The novel is packed with Cornwell's trademark blow by blow battles, his skill as a novelist forces you to stand shoulder to shoulder in the Shieldwall and experience the excitement, feat and exhiliration of early medieval conflict.
The character of Uhtred is not dissimilar to Derfel Cadarn, the tale beginning when he is a boy and documents his trials and tribulations as he grows to become a warrior. There are plenty of other interesting characters, Danish warrior kings, Ealdormen, priests and the unusually hard to like Alfred. I am interested to see where Cornwell goes with his characterisation of England's greatest monarch and hero, Alfred, the only English king to be granted the title, Great.
A good start to a new series, but for me it lacks that emotional attachment of the Warlord Chronicles. The plot kept me interested to the end, as do all his novels, and it was fantatsic to see this excellent author writing about my home town (Wareham) in one of his novels.
I look forward to the next installment of this series and would recommend the volume to those who have enjoyed his books in the past and to anyone who enjoys a good tale.
This review is for the Unabridged Audio Book.
After watching The Last Kingdom on DVD which was a recent purchase, I wanted to see how close the series
came to the original novel by Bernard Cornwell. There were some slight differences, but I was not disappointed.
Being the sort of chap who likes to listen to a book whilst doing chores or DIY around the home, I decided to buy
this, the first full book in the series as an audio version. It is excellent.
Jonathan Keeble brilliantly narrates the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh). The young Northumbrian
Saxon boy who is kidnapped, enslaved and then adopted by the Viking warrior chief Earl Ragnar.
We follow Uhtred's early years, his young manhood and the yearning to return to life as an Ealdorman on the coast
of Northumbria and his involvement and disputes with King Alfred and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex.
The narrator is very good, giving a voice to all of the characters in the novel with clarity and purpose in about 13
hours of listening.
Published by HarperCollins in 2014.
11 CD's unabridged.
13 hours listening time.