This is the exciting - yet little known - story of the making of England in the ninth and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred, 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 has to decide which side he is on. 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 magical 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 altogether. This is the exciting - yet little known - story of the making of England in the ninth and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England's four kingdoms.
©2005 Bernard Cornwell (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers
At ten years old, in 866AD, Northumbrian Osbert of Babenberg is captured by the Danes and taken on a wild raid down the eastern side of Brittan under what seems the fathership of his main captor, Ealdorman Ragnar the Fearless, with other Viking Ealdormen and characters. Sometimes out of his will and sometimes because he has no choice, the Northumbrian and Dane-loving Osbert, renamed Uhtred, wanderer at heart, forever moves between his Danish captors and the kingdoms of Northumbria, Anglia and Wessex, with female friend Brida, meeting a variety of religious personalities including Beocca, a Christian monk and self-appointed mentor to Uhtred, and Alfred, an ambitious, pious, scared, king of Wessex—the last kingdom. Uhtred learns about cultures, languages, faiths, sailing, swordsmanship, warriors, women and shield walls to name some, all while becoming a sceadugangen, shadow walker: all contributing to a strong coming-of-age theme. I came to love the characters who lived to see the end of the novel and even those who passed on, two favorites being Ragnar and Ragnar’s son, Ragnar. The novel climaxes when he chooses sides with the.. in..
The Last Kingdom left me speechless. Cornwell has a strong command of the English language, forming a unique writing style fitting with historical fiction and this first person narrative he has written. Excessive use of “and” did not bother me and made me feel I was truly listening to Uhtred narrate his early life. Cornwell recreates Dark Age battles with mastery of imagery, describing the filthy and, according to Uhtred, invigorating aspects of shield-wall warfare. He gets into tactics, which I believe is necessary for a good battle scene. In one battle against Welshmen, Cornwell goes out of the way to describe what a warrior felt when an axe fell down his back—only the best historical novelists could think of describing such! Battles were only one of many well-executed facets of The Last Kingdom. Cornwell truly sent me to the past as if I was there, not only watching Uhtred, but also feeling what he was feeling. I ended reading this novel thinking, "I now understand why the Dark Age is called the Dark Age!” Cornwell gives us an understanding of what people thought like in the Dark Age by providing us with inventive, incredibly interesting philosophies and other items of character development. With this comes religion, which Cornwell effectively uses to introduce his atheistic views and dislike, or perhaps, hatred of Christianity. I overlooked the religious babble—there is nothing wrong with this—but I felt the author was replacing what should have been the opinions of characters in these scenes with his. Regardless, it does not stop me from giving The Last Kingdom a five star review and reading the subsequent novel!
The research behind The Last Kingdom is deep and fabulous, making me feel proud of the author’s efforts. The map is useful. Need I say more? Every reader of historical fiction can expect well-researched novels from Bernard Cornwell.
The Last Kingdom is clearly written by an interested, inspired and passionate author understanding of the events, personalities and societies of Dark Age Britain.
As a minor note, I read The Last Kingdom while listening to the unabridged edition of the audiobook via Audible using Whispersync. Because of Jonathan Keeble’s talented, changeable, voice, he really helped me picture scenes and appreciate the novel more. He gives me the goosebumps when he yells “Shield wall!” The only character voice I hated was Brida’s, which sounds overly childish for her age as the novel progresses. Keeble's male voices are spectacular. I am thoroughly looking forward to reading the other novels in the Saxon series. Cornwell sets a standard for other authors of historical fiction and to this day no other historical author I have read from has exceeded it, though a rare few have set a new standard with their unique “writer’s voice”, Iggulden being just one of a small pool of decent Historical Fiction authors.
"This Series is a Winner"
You will have to do the usual hunt and peck to find all the novels in the series. There are several narrators and gaps in the series links. However, they are available if you switch narrators. Jonathan Keeble is fantastic in the first two books. An interlude then comes with the adequate, Tom Sellwood, followed by Keeble and John Lee. You finish up with two more decent narrators that do a good job of holding the tension.
These books seem to be the basis for the "Irish-Canadian historical drama television series (see Wiki)," Vikings. The time period is the same, as is the character focus. The novels are filled with battles, intrigue, double-cross and blackmail. The era is the 9th century…the setting is England.
The antagonists cum protagonists and visa versa are Danes and Northerners, invading England for plunder. Battles are with sword, axe, lance, and shield. Amazing stuff. Realistic without crossing the line to phantasmagoria.
This series is two spears up.
"Great series of books"
I love good historical novels that send me to Wikipedia to learn more about what is fact and what is fiction. This story fit the bill perfectly. Excellent narration and I have listened until book 6 and I'll listen more at some point. But I hope the author wraps it up soon. Not perhaps for those who don't like a lot of violence. The myriad of battle scenes put my wife off of the series. But that was the times in England during the Viking invasions. I believe a song of fire and ice was partly based on this period of English history.
"More enjoyable than expected"
Love all the characters - had to go online a lot to figure out who's who. Narrator was excellent! Looking ahead I'm a bit worried that he doesn't narrate the entire series. On to The Pale Horseman
"Left me wanting more!"
The story truly took me, and I felt as if I was there and the protagonist telling me his tale with the fire bringing warmth as we talk. I hope the rest of the books can shine more light on things and see how he will slowly reclaim what is his. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. "For destiny is everything."
"Cornwell is becoming my current best favorite author"
I've actually started reading this series , by mistake, from the eighth book, than returned to this, the first title.
I would have thought it a great book, but following my experience, I know Cornwell will make them greater still.
Two things bother me a little: The first - Uhtred is somewhat of a Forest Gumption, seeming to be at all the right places at all the right moments, meeting all the right people. This is probably something the author could not have really avoided when taking up the task of telling real history using a single fictional protagonist, but still, it's sometimes felt while reading; The second thing - one of the nicer things about Cormwell's writing, and indeed any good military novelist, is his focus around what drives people, because people make the armies. But, in doing so he sometimes misses on the key point of what make someone the leader of men (or, rather, what makes men follow a person), and sometime misses out by talking about cliché personal drives (we are all lonely, yada yada yada).
Still, Cormwell does very well despite these things, and I plan on reading every title on the series.
"Bernard Cornwell is one of my favorite authors."
this is a great book and seeies. Cornwells writing is captivating and thoroughly entertaining and interesting.
jonathan Keeble is a great narrator who. he brings the story to life, mastering the art changing pace at just the right time to fx. stress the urgency or direness of a situation or accentuate the action in a battle. I really enjoyed this audiobook.
"Excellent Book - Excellent Performance"
Jonathan Keeble brought all of the characters to life. His reading on this novel and books 2 and 4 are a hard act to follow and none of the other performing readers in this series come anywhere close.
"Just can't stop listening"
This was a great story that was told very well. I simply could not stop listening. An amazing experience. I will definitely continue in the series.
This author is great at bringing history to life. His characters are so alive I would fully expect their portraits to have honored places in their countries. There is great detail, but it doesn't bog the story down. The narrator performed this book like a master storyteller. I could well imagine sitting near a fireplace listening to an epic tale of adventure. I will be listening to the rest of the books in this series.
This was a surprise the whole of it, and quite fulfilling! Don't pass this one by, it will satisfy many!
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