This is a fairly new series for Bernard Cornwell, who is already well-known for his 21-book Richard Sharpe series. Cornwell continues his great story-telling style but in a different time and place. Now we are in the year 866, on the northeast border of England, or Englaland as it was once called.
The Last Kingdom, the first book in the series, is the very exciting story of ten-year old Uhtred. As the book begins, Uhtred lives with his father, Earl Uhtred, and his brother at a place called Bebbanburg in Northumbria. Uhtred is learning to live the life of a nobleman’s son. But his life changes when Danish ships are spotted offshore. The Danes want the English land and fight hard for it. In the very first battle, young Uhtred is captured by the Danish leader, Earl Ragnar, aka Ragnar the Fearless.
Uhtred spends the next few years with the Danes under the care of Earl Ragnar. He enjoys this time and learns much about Danish culture and religion (they follow the pagan ways, not the Christianity of his people). He also learns the fierce fighting style of the Danes which, combined with his own bravery, makes him a strong fighter. But Uhtred’s English roots still call to him, and with a few fateful events, he finds himself once again allied with his mother country. His life becomes entwined with that of the future King Alfred, who is trying to keep the Vikings from overtaking England. The story of Uhtred – and King Alfred – continues following the true history of England.
Initially I listened to this as an audio book. It was enjoyable to hear the unusual names spoken and the excitement of the battle scenes. I also picked up the book and read parts of it – and can highly recommend it. As always, Mr. Cornwell has done his research so that the history is accurate, and incorporates it into the story to make it fun and interesting. English and Danish customs, agriculture, religion, home crafts, women’s roles, political dealings, ships travel, and Alfred’s history are all part of the story. Fighting is also a prominent element. Based on the battles that took place, one learns about the weapons, the battle style, the strategies, the horrors. (This is one area in which I grew a bit weary as the brutality overwhelmed me at times.)
Uhtred’s story as well as King Alfred’s and the history of England continue in the next book, The Pale Horseman. There are four in the series currently but more to come.
Check the WRL catalog for The Last Kingdom
Check the WRL catalog for the Saxon Stories series
For those interested in seeing the recent discovery of gold jewelry and adornments, check out http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk. More than 1500 items were found dating from the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia.