Quick Review: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories, #1)The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of the Saxon Chronicles novels by Bernard Cornwell. There are six novels in the bunch (so far), depicting the life and times of one Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a fictional character that is depicted as living in the time of the Viking invasions of Great Britain. As is the case in many of Cornwell’s historical novels, reality and fiction blend smoothly as Cornwell interlaces a fictional POV character with the historical figures and events of his day. In THE LAST KINGDOM, the novel portrays the Viking invasions and Uhtred’s interaction with the leading Vikings and Englishmen of the era, particularly Ragnar Ragnarson and King Alfred the Great. Uhtred is the blustery type, wanting to grow up to be a warrior and disliking the early Christian religion. His portrayal reminded me of a lot of other Cornwell POV characters in his historical series– particularly Derfel Cadarn from the “Winter King” (King Arthur) sequence, who is another character of divided loyalties, hobnobbing on the edge of great events and telling his stories from the vantage of old age. So, yes, it’s much of the same old, same old with Cornwell, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Cornwell does a decent job of research and has grown in my estimation from his Sharpe days. His characters are far more complex now than in previous novels. I rather liked that at times Uhtred lies shamelessly, kisses arse to get ahead, and cheerfully switches sides from Viking to English to Viking to English, depending on the situation. That strikes me as being a bit more believable. I did find the depiction of King Alfred to be a bit of a cypher– he’s depicted as being clever and a strategic thinker, but that’s not immediately obvious by his actions in the novel. Regardless, it’s a fun read and easily devoured in Summer time.

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