Review: “The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales Book 1) by Bernard Cornwell. Harper Books. 352 pages.

I’m one of those quirky, eclectic readers who has a lot of interests in a lot of areas. I’ve shared books I’ve read in the realm of science fiction, inspirational writing, Christian fiction and biography. And I’m equally interested in history and historical fiction, especially since I’ve written a couple of titles in historical fiction myself.

I heard that Bernard Cornwell was one of the best when it came to historical fiction, and that The Last Kingdom was the place to start. Here’s the description from Amazon:

The first installment of Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling series chronicling the epic saga of the making of England, “like Game of Thrones, but real” (The Observer, London)—the basis for The Last Kingdom, the hit television series coming to Netflix in Fall 2016.

This is the exciting—yet little known—story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.

The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides. By now he is a young man, in love, trained to fight and ready to take his place in the dreaded shield wall. Above all, though, he wishes to recover his father’s land, the enchanting fort of Bebbanburg by the wild northern sea.

This thrilling adventure—based on existing records of Bernard Cornwell’s ancestors—depicts a time when law and order were ripped violently apart by a pagan assault on Christian England, an assault that came very close to destroying England.

That pretty much describes it. Like many historical novelists, Cornwell does his homework and establishes his world very well. I was a little disoriented at first, since he is very authentic in his use of names and location titles, calling them what they were called back then. For example London is referred to as Lundene and York goes by the name of Eroferwic. It takes a little bit to get used to the culture and the way the story is told, but within a chapter or two, it’s easy to get caught up in it.

When I finished the book, I immediately looked for the sequel on Amazon, and realized that it was the first book of 11. Then I learned that BBC, in cooperation with Netflix, came up with a TV series on the story. So last night I checked out the series on Netflix. I was disappointed. It’s nowhere as fulfilling as the book, and they cut huge sections out of the first book for the TV series. So I don’t recommend it.

But I am looking forward to the second book in the series. It’s an era in history I know very little about, and seems fascinating. I recommend it to you to as a reader.

Book: Five of five stars.

BBC Series: Two of five stars.


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