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March 24, 2007

The Last Kingdom

Bernard Cornwell - ISBN - 9780060887186

This is the first in his new Saxon Series, and the first of 3 books now in print.

In this saga of fidelity, rage, betrayal and gore he takes up the history of England at the time of Alfred; a time when England became England, in the 9th-10th centuries.

Alfred and his heirs were battling to rid their country of the ferocious Vikings who had been harassing and invading them for several centuries, and controlled three of England’s four kingdoms. Wessex was the last unconquered, hence the title: The Last Kingdom.

Uhtred, (the fictional character) and the young son of a minor nobleman—a father whom he despises--is captured and reared by his captor, a Danish noble who values him as a son; especially so when his own son is killed. As well, Uhtred comes to love Ragnar, who teaches him Viking ways of life and war. As a youngster with the Danes, Uhtred is involved in massacres of the English, yet struggles with his divided loyalties.

There are the usual graphic battles, the intrigue, etc. that not only festoon history, but are appropriately included in this (only slightly) fictional account of the period. Much can be learned about feudal England, its more rational (than the Danes) culture, and the barbarism of the period . . . and of the Vikings, especially. As with the three volumes of The Archer’s tale, Cornwell is able to truly involve the reader in the story.

Eventually Uhtred sides with the young King Alfred in defending the remaining English domain. He matures, is married, and becomes a loyal, ferocious and valuable warrior, who is a great hero in battling the Vikings. All this he does in spite of Alfred’s pious Christianity. Uhtred actually prefers the Norse Gods, considering them far more worldly wise and manly, and not that different from the English figures before Christianization.

In the second volume (which I have not read), The Pale Horseman, the saga continues and Uhtred is forever bound up with the English and English history. It, too, is said to be a masterwork, and just released in hardcover is volume #3, The Lords of the North, in which the Danes are finally seriously challenged. Without final resolution one presumes that other titles will follow.

It would be redundant of me to recommend this book and series, since I always recommend Cornwell. Nothing he writes has been less than an exciting adventure, and all are historically accurate.

Posted by respeto at March 24, 2007 4:25 PM