Book Review: The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

Book 1 of The Saxon Stories

Written by the master of historical fiction, “The Last Kingdom” is the first in a series of novels set in a period of British history largely untouched by fiction writers. The central character is Uhtred, an Anglo-Saxon from Northumbria who loses his title, his inheritance and his family when his kingdom is dissolved. Taken in by the Vikings as a young boy, he soon learns their ways and eventually feels more Viking than Saxon.

Eventually, he is brought to the court of King Alfred whose courtiers, though shocked by his strident paganism and “barbaric” Viking ways, gives him land and a title. He is tasked then to defend Wessex shores against the Viking attacks while at the same time maintaining respect for those who had taken him in and brought him up.

Uhtred doesn’t care about Alfred and his Christian piety, neither does he care for the Vikings particularly, he simply wants his kingdom back from the usurper.

“The Last Kingdom” is set at a critical time for Alfred. The other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms have been swallowed up by Guthrum’s Great Army and they are preparing for an assault on Wessex.

A world full of rich characters that has become Cornwell’s trademark, “The Last Kingdom” delivers in spectacular style the political and religious turmoil of the period. This differs from his Sharpe series in that he has carefully interwoven actual events into the narrative, giving an authentic and measured chronology that is often lacking in these sorts of series.

4/5 – incredibly well researched handling a period generally ignored by fiction writers, but a little formulaic and immediately identifiable as a Cornwell.