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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
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The Last Kingdom (2004)

by Bernard Cornwell

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2,191672,962 (3.95)78
  1. 30
    The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell (Donogh)
    Donogh: As you rooted for the British against the Saxons in Cornwell's 'The Winter King', so shall you root for the Saxons agains the Danes in Cornwell's 'The Last Kingdom'
  2. 20
    Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (mcenroeucsb)
  3. 00
    The Outlaw Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick (caimanjosh)
    caimanjosh: Elizabeth Chadwick strikes me as providing the female perspective on medieval England, while Bernard Cornwell provides a decidedly masculine perspective. Both authors succeed in writing highly entertaining historical fiction with a strong sense of the time period. If you like one, it's definitely worth trying the other.… (more)
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Where I got the book: audiobook on Audible.

I decided I should listen to a Bernard Cornwell series as an attempt to gain a better understanding of the non-romantic, battle-based side of historical fiction. I knew I liked Cornwell as I’d randomly read a couple of his novels, and I picked this Saxon series because I find that whole period of history fascinating—I’ve read Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and 1066 and all that make much more sense seen in the light of what went before, so I was ready to have the period rendered into living color by Cornwell.

And colorful it is. This is the story of the time when the Danes, or Vikings as they’re called when in raiding mode, are getting serious about plundering and occupying as much of the British Isles as possible, to the dismay of the various tribes that had settled in after the Roman period—Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts, Britons and others usually represented by big colored splashes and arrows on the history maps. Interestingly—and Cornwell demonstrates this rather nicely—those tribes had been pagans, but had been converted to Christianity by monks from the European mainland some time in the 600s, so what we now have is the Christian English fighting against the pagan Danes, with a few English holdouts for the old gods.

Given this patchwork of origins and allegiances, it would hardly be surprising if the real picture wasn’t that of every man for himself. Cornwell embodies this concept in Uhtred, son of Uhtred, who begins the novel as a child, a younger son named Osbert. The day his brother’s killed by the Danes, his father tells him “your name is now Uhtred” and he inherits a lordship he doesn’t get a chance to enjoy, since he’s taken prisoner by the Danes.

Uhtred survives, always a good idea when you’re the series’ main character, and grows up more Danish than English. It’s tremendously useful, when you’re telling a story about two opposing forces, to have a character who can move easily between those forces, and Uhtred is a marvelous invention, able to become English or Danish at will. He becomes reluctantly entangled with King Alfred, the king of Wessex—the last kingdom left to fight against the Danes—but at heart his real interests are his own interests, namely to get his Northumbrian fiefdom of Bebbanburg back from his uncle.

Uhtred’s a canny warrior, but he’s easily outmaneuvered by the cunning Alfred, whom Uhtred despises for his piety but who constantly manages to either outflank him or win his help by doing something stupidly brave in the name of kingship. It’s very clever of Cornwell to write this story from the viewpoint of this straightforward fighter, who has plenty of battlefield intelligence but little subtlety.

Absolutely NO romance in this novel (even when Uhtred’s with a woman) although there’s a certain level of warrior bromance of the name-calling and hitting-each-other sort. Fights are described with glee, because Uhtred loves fighting, but descriptions of just about everything else only happen when they have relevance to the fight, as in Uhtred might describe a bright, clear day not because it’s pretty but because it allows him to see the enemy well. It’s a masterful example of keeping the point of view tight. Being Cornwell, the novel moves along at a cracking pace, and in fact I was shocked to discover it was over when the audiobook ended (after Outlander and Game of Thrones, any audiobook that doesn’t run into 30 or 40 hours seems REALLY short).

On to the next book! This series should keep me happy for a while, even though there’ll be gaps as I’ll have to wait for my credits to catch up. ( )
1 vote JaneSteen | Feb 1, 2015 |
It is difficult for me to not compare Bernard Cornwell's excellent The Last Kingdom to the previous book I read. Primarily because this one is so good and that one was ... well, pretty disappointing.

And I found myself comparing the two as I was reading The Last Kingdom because there are similar techniques at work. Cornwell has a very straightforward and succinct writing style, and he plunks you right down in 9th century England without any real context or development. (Previous author does the same, although not 9th century England, but 17th century Bavaria) And when I say no context or development, I mean nooooo context or development. Cornwell writes like you live in 9th century England and the reality he is portraying to you is your reality.

And in previous books I have read, this tactic hasn't always worked well for me. But it did in The Last Kingdom. And I think the main reason is the sole narrator / first person perspective of the story. Compared to the previous novel - which shall remain nameless here - the entire story of The Last Kingdom is told by Uhtred, the heir and lord who finds himself caught up in the 9th century wars between the then five English kingdoms and the Vikings. Since Uhtred is the only narrator, it became so easy to get engrossed in his story ... compared again to previous novels, which had multiple storytellers, and therefore, too many perspectives to feel really attached to any of them.

And I'm not saying the multi-narrator tactic doesn't work, but I do think more time is needed in creating a context to the individual characters so you can connect with them. I will give an example of a multi-person POV series that I think handles this just swelly: A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin. If you don't take the time to create that context and that connection, then why should I care about the characters or what happens to them? Just my humble $0.02.

I was also surprised to see how much I enjoyed Uhtred's cursory and simple description of the events in his life. It is his story after all, so it was refreshing to read through and see which moments meant more to him as a character than others. And they were surprising selections. I reached certain passages and thought they would drag on for days, but nope. Uhtred plows through them in a couple of pages ... and others that would have seemed insignificant, but Cornwell spends more time describing them through the eyes of Uhtred than it would feel, at least initially, is necessary. As the story will prove, those longer passages do connect to later moments in the novel, but it still felt new and innovative to get so lost in a character's personality.

So yes, I did compare this book to the previous one I read. Because it felt good to connect with that character, to get lost in his story, to see his world through his eyes, and to feel his emotions at his level. And both novels were set in violent and exciting time periods in history - but thanks to my immersion in Uhtred, I felt the world he was living in far more than 17th century Bavaria... ( )
  parhamj | Nov 16, 2014 |
Cornwell takes us into the world of ninth-century Britain and the constant battles between the inhabitants and the invading Danes. A young boy,Uhtred,is orphaned and later adopted by a Danish leader. This first book in the series tells the story of Uhtred's transformation from boy to warrior. ( )
  devenish | Nov 2, 2014 |
An excellent book, especially for those who like historical fiction. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
I have become a a real fan of Bernard Cornwell. The Last kingdom is full historical detail without being pedantic. I always assumed his b were "boy" books. However, his characters are nuanced and believable. I look forward to the next book in this series. ( )
  odkins | Sep 15, 2014 |
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The Last Kingdom is for Judy, with love. Wyrd bið ful āræd.
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My name is Uhtred.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
In the middle years of the ninth century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until only one realm remained. Suddenly the fate of all England--and the course of history--depended upon one man, one king.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060887184, Paperback)

In the middle years of the ninth-century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England—and the course of history—depended upon one man, one king.

From New York Times bestselling storyteller Bernard Cornwell comes a rousing epic adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love, and battle as seen through the eyes of a young warrior who straddled two worlds.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:23 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In the middle years of the ninth century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until only one realm remained. Suddenly the fate of all England--and the course of history--depended upon one man, one king.… (more)

» see all 9 descriptions

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