Summary and book reviews of The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom

By Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2005,
    333 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2006,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

From Bernard Cornwell, the New York Times bestselling author whom the Washington Post calls "perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today," comes a saga of blood, rage, fidelity, and betrayal that brings to center stage King Alfred the Great, one of the most crucial (but oft-forgotten) figures in English history. It is King Alfred and his heirs who, in the ninth and tenth centuries, with their backs against the wall, fought to secure the survival of the last outpost of Anglo-Saxon culture by battling the ferocious Vikings, whose invading warriors had already captured and occupied three of England's four kingdoms.

Bernard Cornwell's epic novel opens in A.D. 866. Uhtred, a boy of ten and the son of a nobleman, is captured in the same battle that leaves his father dead. His captor is the Earl Ragnar, a Danish chieftain, who raises the boy as his own, teaching him the Viking ways of war. As a young man expected to take part in raids and bloody massacres against the English, he grapples with divided loyalties -- between Ragnar, the warrior he loves like a father, and Alfred, whose piety and introspection leave him cold. It takes a terrible slaughter and the unexpected joys of marriage for Uhtred to discover his true allegiance -- and to rise to his greatest challenge.

In Uhtred, Cornwell has created perhaps his richest and most complex protagonist, and through him, he has magnificently evoked an era steeped in dramatic pageantry and historical significance. For if King Alfred fails to defend his last kingdom, England will be overrun, and the entire course of history will change.

Chapter One

The Danes were clever that day. They had made new walls inside the city, invited our men into the streets, trapped them between the new walls, surrounded them, and killed them. They did not kill all the Northumbrian army, for even the fiercest warriors tire of slaughter and, besides, the Danes made much money from slavery. Most of the slaves taken in England were sold to farmers in the wild northern isles, or to Ireland, or sent back across the sea to the Danish lands, but some, I learned, were taken to the big slave markets in Frankia and a few were shipped south to a place where there was no winter and where men with faces the color of scorched wood would pay good money for men and even better money for young women.

But they killed enough of us. They killed Ælla and they killed Osbert and they killed my father. Ælla and my father were fortunate, for they died in battle, swords in their hands, but Osbert was captured and he was tortured that night...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Katherine A. Powers

The Last Kingdom caters to those of us whose appetite for rehashed legends was satisfied long ago. In addition to providing thrilling combat action and satisfying details of material life, military accoutrement and battle tactics, Cornwell's best historical fiction pleases us mightily in the way his renditions of the great actors and events of yore stray from received versions. Such contrariness is partly the product of meticulous research and partly of a mischievous sense of humor. Happily, both inform The Last Kingdom throughout.

Publishers Weekly

This is a solid adventure by a crackling good storyteller.

Booklist - Margaret Flanagan

Cornwell masterfully sets up his audience for the second volume in this irresistible epic adventure.

Library Journal - Jane Henriksen Baird

Another great historical series in the making, this is highly recommended for all public libraries.

Kirkus Reviews

Cornwell's no-fail mix of historic tidbits and good-humored action makes the usually gloomy ninth century sound like a hell of a lot of fun.

Reader Reviews
Andrew Lale

Memorable History
Alfred of Wessex has fallen very far down the list of memorable figures for us 21st centurions. Which is a shame, because Bernard Cornwells fictionalized retelling of his story reminds us what a cracking tale it is. There is the vivid drama of a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Wessex was one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in what is now England. With the reign of Alfred (871-99) and the halting of the Danes, the King of Wessex became the King of England. In the 10th century Alfred's descendents gradually acquired firm control over all England, including the Danelaw (parts of north and east England). 

However, in 1016 the Danish Canute (Knut) took over as ruler (partly due to military strength and partly by invitation). After he died in 1042 the Wessex line was re-established by Edward 'The Confessor' (most famous for building parts of Westminster Cathedral). He died in 1066 and was succeeded by the unfortunate Harold, the last ...

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