The Last Kingdom 01: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom 01: The Last Kingdom

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is the story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.

The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides. By now he is a young man, in love, trained to fight and ready to take his place in the dreaded shield wall. Above all, though, he wishes to recover his father’s land, the enchanting fort of Bebbanburg by the wild northern sea.

This thrilling adventure—based on existing records of Bernard Cornwell’s ancestors—depicts a time when law and order were ripped violently apart by a pagan assault on Christian England, an assault that came very close to destroying England.

Goodreads, Synopsis

Review

This is my first foray into reading historical fiction and the first novel I’ve read by Bernard Cornwell. I’m reading and reviewing all 12 books in this series, over the month of June, as part of a charity challenge. I chose this series for two reasons. Firstly, to broaden my reading into historical fiction. Secondly, because I’ve recently watched series 4 of The Last Kingdom, which is one of my favourite TV shows.

I was worried when I first started reading The Last Kingdom that I may not enjoy it having already watched the TV show. My main worry was that I’d know everything that was going from start to finish. I needn’t have worried. This book is brilliant, and I must admit that if I’d have watched the show after reading the book I’d have probably been upset with the show.

A good two-thirds of this book focusses on Uhtred’s relationship with Ragner, his family and Brida. He meets Ivar (not in the TV show) and Ubba on several occasions. He goes on raids with Ragner. He kills. He develops skills. He learns their way of life and gains trust among the Danes. All of this is wonderfully written, and it gives you a valuable insight into Uhtred’s love for Ragner and his family. I cannot believe the show simply put all of this in episode one. I remember watching the show and wondering why he was so loyal to Ragner’s family as it is skipped. The TV viewer of The Last Kingdom and been let down in this regard.

Furthermore, while some events are the same, they take place at different times in Uhtred’s life than they do in the show and involve different people. Also, descriptions of characters are different, most notably Ubba an Beocca in the early stages, but others as the story progresses.

If you’ve watched the TV show but not read the books, I’d highly recommend that you do. I’s highly recommend the books anyway, but especially to those who enjoy the show as you’ve already missed out on so much.