The Last Kingdom
is the beginning of Bernard Cornwell's take on the Alfred the Great story. The series starts in the year 866 and follows the son of a lesser Saxon lord, whose father is killed. The boy loses his inheritance and is raised by the Danes, who are threatening to overrun all of what will one day be called England.
The boy, who comes to be called Uhtred, prefers the ways of the Danes, especially their freedom and their gods, over the Saxons and their pious Christian priests. The book lingers about while Uhtred is 11 or 12, then speeds up through his teens until he is a young man making important choices that would change battles, battles that could mean the boom or bust of England.
Readers come to Cornwell for his trademark action sequences and his attention to historical detail, and The Last Kingdoms
provides plenty of both. Yes indeedy, there are battles aplenty here. Cornwell's research and the amount of period detail he deftly slides into his work really helps the reader get stuck in, to feel as if they inhabit the time and place. The sights, sounds and stinks of the "Dark Ages" get all up in your face without overwhelming you. And never does it overshadow the importance of his characters. Cornwell fries up a mean anti-hero. Very salty stuff indeed!
However, there were times where I felt that the way the story was told was too much like reading history. There are quite a few real life people-as-characters in this one. These are folks who are remembered even to this day for their deeds, misdeeds and colorful natures. Their larger-than-life histories read like legends and that tended to make The Last Kingdom
read like a history book.
Cornwell is also inventing the myth of his main character in these pages and occasionally he relies on the old "tell" instead of "show" technique in order to build up this boy into the heroic man he's to become. (SPOILER-ISH STUFF A'COMING!) Cornwell has written such a series before. He knows basically what's in store for his main character before he's even started book two of what so far is a seven book series. He's going to throw a ton of shit at him, but Uhtred will persevere. There's tons of series out there in which the protagonist doesn't die, but they still manage to hold up the tension. This one kept reminding me that Uhtred would live a long life and that's something a writer should avoid. Let me get lost in the story and at least give me a chance to maybe forget that, no matter the danger, Uhtred will survive.