I am coming late to the party, but at least I made it! I am so happy I began the Netflix TV series “The Last Kingdom” and then discovered that this was based on a series of books. I quickly got the first of the series and have had a wonderful time reading this first volume of Bernard Cornwall’s 13-volume Saxon Series. Appears that I’m getting more and more drawn to English history and authors, and this one really hits the spot! If you like quality historical fiction, fiction that is based upon actual history, then this is a book and series for you.
While I cannot say that the TV series mirrors the book, there are many similarities, but the book goes into much more detail and actually gives us different descriptions of the characters than what are used for the TV show. That I think adds a much more nuanced look at this time period. What are we looking at here? Basically we are looking at the beginning of the country now known as England. Until this time there really was not a unified England, and during this book we still don’t have a unified England. Instead we have King Alfred, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex which is the last independent region of what is now England. The rest of the area is held by the Danes, and it is Alfred’s goal to Christianize the Danes, unite the Saxon peoples of the region and create this one unified country. To do this he needs the help of warriors, and for this the author has given us one of the great warriors of literature, Uhtred. Uhtred is a Saxon and who’s family land was stolen from him by his uncle and is eventually is captured by the Danes, is adopted by one of ruling families, and will serve them for almost 10 years.
It is through this understanding of the Danes that Uhtred is eventually able to help King Alfred. He does not really want to help king Alfred, therein lies the conflict. Uhtred feels he is part Dane, but also knows he is part Saxon and his loyalties will go back and forth with one goal in mind, and that is to regain the lands that belong to his family. Once we understand this everything that he does falls into place.
We learn so much about medieval England in this book and we get to see why Alfred and the other Saxon tribes felt that the Danes were basically heathen. They lived a heathen lifestyle and existence and yet Alfred was always willing to negotiate peace in order to maintain the region of Wessex and the glimmer of hope for a united England. The characters get into major difficulties throughout this book, and I will assume throughout the rest of the series, and there is Uhtred to save things. He is a wonderful character, and is just one of many that the author has given us. Many of you have read these books, but if you have not, they certainly are worth the time and effort. I must admit that I am almost 3/4 of the way through the TV series and I’m going to hold off reading any more books in this series until I finish the entire TV series and then can sit down and devote the time it takes to finish this wonderful set up books. Many people say that this is the Game of Thrones in reality, it may well be, because truth is better than fiction, and medieval England was a very wild and untamed place, but thanks to the wonderful blend of history and imagination by Bernard Cornwell, we get a very fine front row seat to all that’s going on beginning in 867 AD. Great plots, great characters and just a superb 5***** read!