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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

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EC2
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Location: Nottingham UK
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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

Postby EC2 » Fri September 12th, 2008, 6:16 pm


The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell.


Uhtred begins his life as Osbert, second son of Eoldorman Uhtred of Bebbanburg, (Bamburgh in Northumbria) but when his older brother, Uhtred, is killed by the Danes, Osbert becomes the heir and takes on his brother's name. The Danes are threatening to overrun England and one by one the Saxon lords are being forced to submit to their rule. Uhtred himself is captured by the Danes and following the death of his father, is raised as a hostage and fosterling by Danish warlord Ragnar the Fearless who teaches him the warrior's art.
Due to shifting loyalties and plots on various behalfs, Uhtred later joins Alfred of Wessex, the last Saxon leader holding out against the Danes.
Alfred is a pious Christian and Uhtred, raised as a pagan is not particularly enamoured of him, but circumstances, the wiliness of others (including Alfred) , and Uhtred's own naievity keep him by Alfred's side. Uhtred also by now has a Saxon wife and son, and they too hold him to his loyalty.
The novel's climax sees Uhtred tested in a shield wall encounter with one of the greatest of the Viking lords, but this is only the beginning of Uhtred's story... (so readers of the review can suss that he survives the encounter, or there wouldn't be any more novels about him!)
I enjoyed this story. The pace is fast and strong and there are some beautiful moments of prose despite the page-turning swiftness. The politics are explained well and succinctly and never bog down the story. I was always entertained. I don't know a great deal about the period and I felt I was given a reasonable flavour of how it might have been to be a warrior in that time. The women are not fleshed out at all, but then this is not the novel's intent and not the audience at whom it is aimed. I don't feel that Cornwell has the character of Alfred right at all. Even if he is being seen from Uhtred's viewpoint, the comments are still off kilter and feel totally wrong from the little I know. There were times I didn't believe in Uhtred either. A ten year old boy killing a cow with one stroke, (unlikely) but then who can't a few years later chop off a man's head without making a mess of it? There are occasional anachronisms that pulled me out of the story. The reference to someone not being able to keep his breeches buttoned for example - when buttoned breeches weren't known. I also boggled at the notion of a hall fire so large that it took twelve slaves to keep stoked. That sounds like authorial exaggeration to me. Still, these are nit-picks.
Taken as a whole and in general I enjoyed The Last Kingdom, and particularly some of Cornwell's ways with a turn of phrase or an observation. For example 'the three boats danced on the water, propelled by the rise and fall of the silver wings of their oar banks. The sun flashed off the wet blades, splinters of lights, then the oars dipped, were tugged and the beast-headed boats surged and I stared entranced.' He's very good indeed at painting pictures with words. I didn't always find his world credible, but if I pretended to an extent I was reading historical fiction that had a border with fantasy, it worked pretty well.
Verdict. 4 stars, 8.5 out of 10.
__________________
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Grasshopper
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Location: Moore, OK, USA

Postby Grasshopper » Sat September 13th, 2008, 12:44 am

I LOVED this book. It was a dramatic beginning to the Saxon series. Uhtred is an awesome character.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sat September 13th, 2008, 2:13 am

EC, we've been talking on another threadabout the old-style swashbucklers, and it's always struck me that Bernard Cornwell's stories are direct descendants of that classic male adventure/fantasy tradition. I hasten to add that i'm not in any way attempting to belittlle Bernard Cornwell's fiction by saying that -- i enjoy his books immensely.

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Alaric
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Location: Adelaide, Australia.
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Postby Alaric » Sat September 13th, 2008, 10:02 am

Yeah, that's what I would have called them too - rollicking balls-out adventure stories. Entertainment, really.

When I get around to it I'll add my reviews for this and its three sequels. :)

Carla
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Postby Carla » Wed September 17th, 2008, 11:12 am

"EC2" wrote:[B]
. I didn't always find his world credible, but if I pretended to an extent I was reading historical fiction that had a border with fantasy, it worked pretty well.


This sums up my feelings about the Uhtred series rather well. I agree with Annis and Alaric - Cornwell's novels strike me as action films in book form. Perhaps that's why the TV adaptations of Sharpe worked so well!
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

chuck
Bibliophile
Location: Ciinaminson NJ

Postby chuck » Thu September 18th, 2008, 3:34 am

"annis" wrote:EC, we've been talking on another threadabout the old-style swashbucklers, and it's always struck me that Bernard Cornwell's stories are direct descendants of that classic male adventure/fantasy tradition. I hasten to add that i'm not in any way attempting to belittlle Bernard Cornwell's fiction by saying that -- i enjoy his books immensely.


Here....Here.....I think BC would be very pleased to be called a Swashbuckler.....

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Alaric
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Postby Alaric » Mon October 27th, 2008, 8:10 am

Image
“The Last Kingdom,” by Bernard Cornwell (327p)

The newest series from popular British author Bernard Cornwell is set against the backdrop of the turbulent 9th and 10th centuries in the land that would eventually become England. Beginning in 866, it tells the story of a fictitious young boy named Uhtred who was one of the great warriors and earls of the time as he deals with the impending Danish conquest of Saxon lands across England. The Last Kingdom takes place from 866 to 876, concluding with the Battle of Cannington.

Ten year old Osbert is the younger son of the Earldorman of Bebbanburg, Uhtred, in Northumbria. But when Danish invaders arrive, they kill Osbert’s older brother, making Osbert the new Uhtred. To get revenge for his first sons death the Earldorman Uhtred leads a raid against the Danes in Eoferwic (modern York), but he is killed and the younger Uhtred is taken prisoner. Uhtred is surprised to find that he likes life among the Danes with their wildness and no Christianity, but is also angered when he learns that his uncle, Ælfric, has usurped Bebbanburg and the earldorman title himself. He forces himself to bide his time, though, as he is still a child and a prisoner of the Danish earl Ragnar, and Bebbanburg is also seen to be the most impregnable fortress in all of England. Uhtred quickly becomes friends with Ragnar’s sons Ragnar the Younger and Rorik and also the enemy of Sven, the son of Ragnar’s shipmaster Kjartan. Their rivalry comes to ahead when Uhtred catches Sven attempting to indecently assault Ragnar’s youngest daughter, Thyra, and attacks him. He alerts Ragnar and the earl banishes Kjartan and his son, taking his eye as a prize.

The Danes launch their first southern thrust to capture the rest of the English kingdoms – Northumbria was already theirs and soon Mercia and East Anglia fell under the leadership of brothers Ivar the Boneless and Ubba. Uhtred then travels into Wessex, the last remaining Saxon kingdom, to spy for the Danes. But he is taken captive by his fathers old priest, Father Beocca, and accidentally meets the future Alfred the Great in a moment of weakness. Uhtred quickly escapes from Wessex and returns to the Danish camp as he prefers the life there – there is more freedom, less piety and more fun for him. He feels at home with the Danes.

Uhtred’s world is again turned upside down when Kjartan returns for revenge on Ragnar. Uhtred is forced to flee and returns to Wessex with no other choice. He is forced to learn to read and write (Uhtred thinks this is pointless) for Alfred, the new King of Wessex, to allow him to command warriors, his birth-right. Uhtred hates life among the Saxons again and chafes under their rules and piety, and can’t wait to begin his life as a warrior. But Alfred has one more surprise for Uhtred – he won’t let him command unless he marries, and so Uhtred is forced to wed Mildrith, a plain and pious West Saxon with massive debts owed to a landlord. He takes command during a siege against Danish lord Guthrum the Unlucky but the siege fails, and for the third time in his life Uhtred becomes a prisoner. While captive Uhtred meets Ragnar the Younger again, and they renew their friendship, helping Uhtred escape (again) back to Wessex. His wife had been taken by another earldorman, Odda, north so he heads there and meets up with Saxon forces commanded by Odda about to fight a battle at a fort named Cynwit against the Danes, led by Ubba. Uhtred seizes the chance to fight in his first proper shield wall – a symbol of honour – and his showdown with Ubba ends the novel.

The first thing many long-term Bernard Cornwell fans think when they read this is how similar to his Arthur series it is. I was the same, as I read those first, and the similarities are quite obvious for all to see. Uhtred and Derfel, the protagonist in that series, are both orphans and grow up among people not their own (Derfel is a Saxon living among Britons, Uhtred a Saxon living among Danes), both become brave famous warriors and commanders key to the success of their king. The basic plot – defending England from an invading enemy – is also the same, but those basic similarities end there. In later books, which I have read and will get reviews up soon, Uhtred becomes a far more ruthless warrior with little sentimentality, he is far more likely to kill outside of battle than Derfel is. Uhtred also has Sharpe’s tendency to be turned by anything with a pretty face whereas Derfel was entirely faithful to his wife in those stories. What I am getting at is that likely Cornwell drew inspiration from the Arthur novels with the plot and basic nuances of the novels, but Uhtred is still very much his own character and entirely different from Derfel.

The other bone of contention from Cornwell’s newest series is the portrayal of Alfred the Great. In later books he is described as being a weak man too concerned with priests and religion than the matter at hand, destroying the Danes. This is a fallacy of first-person narrative and Alfred, who was undoubtedly a brilliant leader in his own way, is shown negatively because Uhtred cannot stand his piety and rules. In that regard, it is up to the reader to make up their own mind on Cornwell’s Alfred. Subtlety, though, I think in the future novels you can see just how good a king Alfred was. He just does it mixed in between Uhtred’s narrative. It is subtle, but it is certainly there and you just have to read between the lines. Another thing to consider is that Uhtred is still very young in this, he only turns eighteen at the end of the novel, so he is very much a stereotypical headstrong bull of a young man eager to fight.

So, recommendations. The Last Kingdom is more or less the same as any Bernard Cornwell novel – fast paced, lots of action, blood curdling fighting, evocative scenery, a good villain and the presence of a heroine. For some people it may seem same-same but I loved this novel despite its arguable debating points. I loved the quick ebb and flow of the story as it barnstorms across 9th century Anglo-Saxon England, the action and the way Cornwell brings the era alive. As I have often said in my reviews, these sorts of novels are everything I look for in a read – to be amused and entertained, to escape and have some fun. That is why I recommend anyone to read it for something to do, but if you are looking for serious reads, go elsewhere. Otherwise sit back and enjoy Uhtred’s ride!

Recommendation: Very good. ****1/4 or 8.5/10.

felix gallus
Newbie
Interest in HF: Picked up a copy of Sharpe's Trafalgar years ago and have never looked back. I am currently interested in the Romans in particular their building of Hadrian's Wall
Preferred HF: Both Roman and Napoleonic Wars
Location: North East England

Re: The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

Postby felix gallus » Tue July 26th, 2016, 10:18 pm

Hi guys,

I am a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell having started out with the Sharpe's Series before moving on the Grail Quest and finally the Warrior Chronicles. On the topic of The Last Kingdom was anyone else a little disappointed by the television series? Don't get me wrong I did enjoy it and felt the actor they cast as Uthred did a good job but I felt that there were a few things from the novels which were essential but yet were missed. Firstly where Brida came from and a little around Uthred growing up as a Dane from the start instead of being a slave as well as Beocca and his physical disfigurements as they are referenced in later books.

Felix

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Rowan
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Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
Location: New Orleans
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Re: The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

Postby Rowan » Thu July 28th, 2016, 1:39 pm

felix gallus wrote:Hi guys,

I am a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell having started out with the Sharpe's Series before moving on the Grail Quest and finally the Warrior Chronicles. On the topic of The Last Kingdom was anyone else a little disappointed by the television series? Don't get me wrong I did enjoy it and felt the actor they cast as Uthred did a good job but I felt that there were a few things from the novels which were essential but yet were missed. Firstly where Brida came from and a little around Uthred growing up as a Dane from the start instead of being a slave as well as Beocca and his physical disfigurements as they are referenced in later books.

Felix


Hi Felix,

As you will see when you look around, I think many here who enjoy Bernard Cornwell's Vikiking Saga prefer the series 'Vikings' to 'The Last Kingdom' as the former seems more accurate and more filling.

~ Rowan


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