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The Last Kingdomby Bernard Cornwell
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Bestseller Cornwell leaps back a millennium from his Richard Sharpe series to tell of the consolidation of England in the late ninth century and the role played by a young (fictional) warrior-in-training who's at the center of the war between Christian Englishmen and the pagan Danes. (Most of the other principal characters — Ubba, Guthrum, Ivar the Boneless and the like — are real historical figures.) Young Uhtred, who's English, falls under the control of Viking ber-warrior Ragnar the Fearless when the Dane wipes out Uhtred's Northumberland family. Cornwell liberally feeds readers history and nuggets of battle data and customs, with Uhtred's first-person wonderment spinning all into a colorful journey of (self-)discovery. In a series of episodes, Ragnar conquers three of England's four kingdoms. The juiciest segment has King Edmund of East Anglia rebuking the Viking pagans and demanding that they convert to Christianity if they intend to remain in England. After Edmund cites the example of St. Sebastian, the Danes oblige him by turning him into a latter-day Sebastian and sending him off to heaven. Uhtred's affection for Ragnar as a surrogate father grows, and he surpasses the conqueror's blood sons in valor. When father and adopted son arrive at the fourth and last kingdom, however, the Danes meet unexpected resistance and Uhtred faces personal and familial challenges, as well as a crisis of national allegiance. This is a solid adventure by a crackling good storyteller. Agent, Toby Eady. (Feb.) Forecast: Cornwell's own life served as inspiration for this novel: he, too, was orphaned (and adopted by members of a strict fundamentalist sect). Readers who followed the story of his reunion with his birth father in 2003 (while he was on tour with Sharpe's Havoc) will take special interest in the personal angle here. Four-city author tour. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"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." Kirkus Reviews
"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." The Washington Post
"An acknowledged master of rousing battlefield fiction as evidenced by his crackling Richard Sharpe series, Cornwell also deserves praise for his mesmerizing narrative finesse and his authentic historical detailing." Booklist
"In historic period and emotional complexity, this is arguably a more broadly imagined world than Bernard Cornwell has offered in his 36 previous novels." Boston Globe
"Cornwell is a talented historical novelist, and he's at the top of his game here — all the more so because the history of the ninth century is much less documented than the nineteenth." BookReporter.com
About the Author
Bernard Cornwell is the author of the acclaimed Richard Sharpe series, set during the Napoleonic Wars; the Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles, about the American Civil War; the Warlord Trilogy, about Arthurian England; and, most recently, Stonehenge 2000 B.C. and The Archer's Tale. Mr. Cornwell lives with his wife on Cape Cod.
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