The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last KingdomThis is the first book in a series known as The Warrior Chronicles that tell the story of the formation of England from the coming together of the separate Saxon kingdoms in the 9th and 10th centuries.

The book is written in the first person, the narrator being Uhtred, a Saxon who is aged ten at the start of the book. He is the son of a Northumbrian nobleman, whose possessions include what is now known as Bamburgh Castle, but Uhtred’s father and older brother are killed by invading Danes and he is taken into the household of a Danish warrior. He learns the Danish ways of fighting, of building and sailing ships, and their relationship with their gods (who are also the gods of those Saxons who have not turned to Christianity). He feels more Dane than Saxon, but he never forgets his Saxon heritage.

Through the next ten years Danes pour across the North Sea and occupy Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. Of the major Saxon kingdoms, Wessex alone still resists (the last kingdom of the title), but the Danes are determined to conquer it, and the Britons of Cornwall and Wales are always looking for the chance to re-take their lands that had been taken by the Saxons 500 years before.

Alfred is king of the threatened land and, as the years pass, Uhtred is drawn to his side, although he finds the intellectual Christianity of the king alien.

This is Bernard Cornwell at his brilliant best. As usual, the depth of his historical research shines through and gives the book a totally authentic feel. Uhtred is fictional, but the other leading characters all existed. Cornwell brings history to life and makes it so compelling.

What is really clever is that Uhtred is narrating as an old man, but he is only 20 when this first book ends. So, the author has him narrating from the position of an old man, changed by experience, still capturing the 10-year-old’s freshness and the teenage impetuosity, but also mentioning future events that are only covered several books down the line. Very impressive.

It’s available in various formats from Amazon, including as part of a collection.

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