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The Last Kingdom #1

The Last Kingdom

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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.

333 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

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About the author

Bernard Cornwell

512 books16.3k followers
Cornwell was born in London in 1944. His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother, who was English, a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine. After he left them, he changed his name to his birth mother's maiden name, Cornwell.

Cornwell was sent away to Monkton Combe School, attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher. He attempted to enlist in the British armed services at least three times but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.

He then joined BBC's Nationwide and was promoted to become head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland. He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News. He relocated to the United States in 1980 after marrying an American. Unable to get a green card, he started writing novels, as this did not require a work permit.

As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S. Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find there were no such novels following Lord Wellington's campaign on land. Motivated by the need to support himself in the U.S. through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series. He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most major battles of the Peninsular War.

Cornwell wanted to start the series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of "warm-up" novels. These were Sharpe's Eagle and Sharpe's Gold, both published in 1981. Sharpe's Eagle was picked up by a publisher, and Cornwell got a three-book deal. He went on to tell the story of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel, Sharpe's Company, published in 1982.

Cornwell and wife Judy co-wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym "Susannah Kells". These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms (aka The Aristocrats) in 1986. (Cornwell's strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War.) In 1987, he also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British.

After publishing eight books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television. The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series. They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co-funding from Spain. The result was Sharpe’s Rifles, published in 1987, and a series of Sharpe television films staring Sean Bean.

A series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed: Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord (aka Killer's Wake) in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and Scoundrel, a political thriller, in 1992.

In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's 80th Birthday Honours List.

Cornwell's latest work, Azincourt, was released in the UK in October 2008. The protagonist is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, another devastating defeat suffered by the French in the Hundred Years War. However, Cornwell has stated that it will not be about Thomas of Hookton from The Grail Quest or any of his relatives.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,298 reviews
85 reviews42 followers
August 21, 2013
A Review That Has Very Little to Do with This Book:

Sometimes you need a lot of book. You know what I mean.

Those Fridays you come home, lie down on the couch, and resolve not to come back until Sunday afternoon. You have vetoed faces and the spoken word. The phone will remain unplugged except for the ordering of something greasy.

On these Fridays you have two options: dissolve into a self-pitying, gelatinous blob or turn to a lot of book.

You are not without survival skills. You put stock in the usefulness of books. They’ve gotten you through weekends when you waited for the phone to ring, times when your flight’s been cancelled, road trips with the family.

So, you know to turn to a lot of book.

What you don’t need is Joyce stinking up the joint.

What you need on this weekend is something with a clean plot, a protagonist that will win, and somewhere to go far, far from here. You need good historical fiction.

Miniver might push Ivanhoe, but let’s face it, such nobility will exhaust you. This weekend may I suggest the sword’s song, and the whale’s way, and the red dawn?

What you need is a series --- something that weighs in at 2,000 plus pages so there’s no danger of running out.

Go ahead. Follow the nose of the masses. This series is a bestseller: you can count on its opiate properties.

It’ll get you through til dawn. And Bloody Sunday.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,460 reviews9,615 followers
September 24, 2021
Reread to finally finish the series! I have the first 4 but hope to buy the rest of them when I can!

BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List

**Old Review**






I am Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and this is the tale of a blood feud. It is a tale of how I will take from my enemy what the law says is mine. And it is the tale of a woman and her father, a king.

He was my king and all that I have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live, and the swords of my men, all come from Alfred, my king, who hated me.


This story begins long before I met Alfred. It begins when I was ten years old and first saw the Danes.



I thought this book was magnificent! I heard about if from some friends on GR awhile back and have the series listed in my notebook to read, but it was put by the wayside like so many other books. Then one night I got to see an episode of The Last Kingdom on BBC with my best friend while we were on the phone and he said the books are better. I'm like, "What Books?" and he proceeded to tell me about the books I already heard about and have listed in my handy notebook. I promptly put the first book on my Amazon Christmas Wish List and my friend promptly bought it, and here we are, a book that I have missed out on for so long. I loved it! I loved it! I loved it! I have the second book on the way and hope to get the rest SOON!

I find some books very hard to read or understand and get lost in translation. I was afraid that would happen with this book, but that is not the case. No, I can't remember all of the names or how to spell them, but I do that in any book... what I mean is... I wasn't lost... I understand all the author was trying to convey! I think this author is brilliant in the way he writes a story. I loved learning some of the history, even though some of the characters are fictional, it's still a wonderfully told story! This only makes me want to read more into the history that is factual in the book.. anyhoo.. moving on.

When Uhtred was ten-years-old, the Danes came and attacked England. Uhtred and his family had a fortress in Begganburg. The Danes took some places around Uhtred's home. Then some peeps and Uhtred's father all got together to duke it out with the Danes at a place called Eoferwic and things didn't go so good for the Saxons. Uhtred lost his father that day and was taken by the Danes, Uhtred was made a son of Ragnar the Fearless for his heroic effort in trying to attack Ragnar.

You have to love that, "NOW YOUR MY SON AND GET THE HELL OFF MY HORSE!" ↑

Uhtred grew to love Ragnar because he was kind to him, taught him things, was proud of him when he did great things. He was so unlike Uhtred's real father who seemed to be a cranky, non-caring father.



I liked Ragnar. I liked him so much more than I had liked my father. I should, by rights, be dead, yet Ragnar had saved me and Ragnar spoiled me and he treated me like a son, and he called me a Dane.



Uhtred grew up learning how to fight and he was so smart, this boy was so very smart and he was even smarter as he grew. He seemed to know what to do and say from a small child.


There is a female character in the book I loved, her name is Brida. She wasn't a Dane either, but she lived with them and grew up with Uhtred. They were best friends, warriors, lovers. She is fierce in the book and I like her!

I have to mention that Uhtred gets his own sword made and names her Serpent-Breath. He says in the book that he still has her and this is him telling this as an older man. Uhtred also helped make his own saxe which he called Wasp-Sting because she was short :) What can I say, I thought that was cool!

The author writes such beautiful pieces in the book, not just blood and guts and this and that, here is an excerpt of some of the way he describes things.



Ships on the winter Temes. Ships sliding past brittle reeds and leafless willows and bare alders. Wet oar blades shining in the pale sunlight.


I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I loved how he wrote things like that, the words seemed to flow like the water.

There were a lot of things happen in just this first book. Some really sad things, some good things. I can only image what happens in the other books. At one point Uhtred fights for Alfred, he gets married, has a son. And carries on trying to get back to his home and take over his rightful place.

Meanwhile, he takes a bath.. sorry.. I couldn't help myself.

I will say it again, I loved this book. It kept my interest from the very beginning and I did not find one point that was boring, it did not drag at any point. Kudos to Bernard Cornwell for making such a wonderful series. On that note, I will leave you with a large excerpt and parting scenes....



Mildreth was well. She was safe. She had not been raped. She wept when she saw me, and I took her in my arms and wondered that I was so fond of her, and she said she had thought I was dead and told me she had prayed to her god to spare me, and she took me to the room where our son was in his swaddling clothes and, for the first time, I looked at Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and I prayed that one day he would be the lawful and sole owner of lands that are carefully marked by stones and by dykes, by oaks and by ash, by marsh and by sea. I am still the owner of those lands that were purchased with our family's blood, and I will take those lands back from the man who stole them from me and I will give them to my sons. For I am Uhtred, Earl Uhtred, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, and destiny is everything.



Profile Image for Petrik.
673 reviews42.7k followers
January 3, 2021
I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo

Uthred, son of Uthred, it’s finally time for me to read your story in its prose form.

I am no stranger to Bernard Cornwell’s work, ever since John Gwynne recommended me The Warlord Chronicles trilogy—which I finished and loved—to read, I was already a fan of his books; even though I haven’t read any of his other books yet. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten the chance to read his other books. Seeing that I’m fully caught up with The Last Kingdom TV series adaptation, one of my favorite ongoing TV series right now, and I’m super impatient to wait for the next season to come out, I figure this year is the right time for me to read the series.

“I had the arrogant confidence of a man born to battle. I am Uthred, son of Uthred, son of another Uthred, and we had not held Bebbanburg and its lands by whimpering at altars. We are warriors.”

The Last Kingdom is the first out of thirteen books in The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell. The plot revolves around Uthred of Bebbanburg, an orphaned English boy who is captured by the Danes, and then he’s taught the way of the Vikings. Surprisingly, Uthred grows to love the Danes’ way of living, and things became more difficult for him because Alfred’s life is also intertwined with him. This first book showcases a few years within Uthred’s younger life, and it is certainly an interesting one. I’ve mentioned earlier that I loved the TV series adaptation, but I will clarify that I loved the TV series since its second season, not immediately from its first season. Fortunately, it seems likely that I’m going to love the books even more because I loved this one right from the start. Leadership, loyalty, faith, family, and the thirst for battles are prominent themes within this book—and the series—and everything about them was executed wonderfully.

“What do we look for in a lord? Strength, generosity, hardness, and success, and why should a man not be proud of those things? Show me a humble warrior and I will see a corpse.”

No offense to Alexander Dreymon, but one thing that, in my opinion, the first season failed to capture was Uthred’s fascination and thrill for battles. Reading this proved to be quite an intriguing experience, I think Cornwell did a much better job on Uthred’s characterizations. To be fair, though, this is one of the biggest benefits of reading the book instead of the adaptations. It was also great to see the first appearances of the major characters again. Alfred, Father Beocca, Brida, Ragnar, Leofric, and many more to come are all great characters, and I loved reading Uthred’s interaction with each and every one of them. If you love the characters within this book already, believe me, the two best side characters of the series—Finan and Sithric—haven’t even appeared yet, and I myself am so looking forward to meeting them in the books.

“War is fought in mystery. The truth can take days to travel, and ahead of truth flies rumor, and it is ever hard to know what is really happening, and the art of it is to pluck the clean bone of fact from the rotting flesh of fear and lies.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the Warlord Chronicles trilogy, and reading this once again reminded me just how good Cornwell is at writing battle scenes. Not only that, there’s something about Cornwell’s prose and the drama he weaved that just seemed to clicked with me incredibly well. For some reason, I didn’t know that the books will be narrated by an older Uthred that retells his life from the beginning, and Cornwell simply excels at doing this type of storytelling.

“What happens to you, Uhtred, is what you make happen. You will grow, you will learn the sword, you will learn the way of the shield wall, you will learn the oar, you will give honor to the gods, and then you will use what you have learned to make your life good or bad.”

The Last Kingdom covers only a small section of Uthred’s life and adventure. It is a great start to one of the most famous historical fiction series right now, and I’m so looking forward to reading the next book in the series. Due to the episodic nature of the series, I’m going to read only one or two books in the series per month to avoid feeling burnout. That’s what I did with The Expanse and The Dresden Files and it worked incredibly well for me. But yes, this is one of my priority series to finish this year. Destiny is all.

You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions

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My Patrons: Alfred, Alya, Annabeth, Ben, Blaise, Devin, Diana, Edward, Estefani, Hamad, Helen, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Lufi, Melinda, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas, Summer, Zoe.
Profile Image for Markus.
471 reviews1,522 followers
October 6, 2015
"My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred and his father was also called Uhtred. My father’s clerk, a priest called Beocca, spelt it Utred. I do not know if that was how my father would have written it, for he could neither read nor write, but I can do both and sometimes I take the old parchments from their wooden chest and I see the name spelled Uhtred or Utred or Ughtred or Ootred, and I look at the deeds which say that Uhtred, son of Uhtred, is the lawful and sole owner of the lands that are carefully marked by stones and by dykes, by oaks and by ash, by marsh and by sea, and I dream of those lands, wave-beaten and wild beneath the wind driven sky. I dream, and know that one day I will take back the land from those who stole it from me."

I felt like I needed to write a proper review for this book, if for no other reason than to tell every single soul that could possibly read the words I'm writing that this is the absodamnlutely best series ever written within the genre of historical fiction. If you're looking to start reading historical fiction and have little experience with the genre, read this. If you're a longtime fan of medieval history and vikings and anything even slightly similar, read this. If you're intending to only ever read one historical fiction series, pick this one!

Northumbria. 866 AD. Osbert, second in line to the castle of Bebbanburg, is ten years old. For the first time since the infamous sack of Lindisfarne and the start of the Viking era, the barbarian Danes return to England to pillage and plunder to the full satisfaction of their greed. Osbert's elder brother is among the first to fall to the swords of the wicked pagans. And because of tradition set in stone among the great lords of Bebbanburg, Osbert must now give up his name for that of his dead brother. From this day, he is known as Uhtred Uhtredsson. Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

"There’s war between the gods, Uhtred, war between the Christian god and our gods, and when there is war in Asgard the gods make us fight for them on earth."

The Northumbrian army marches to take back the captured city of Eoferwic, resulting in a catastrophic defeat. The lord of Bebbanburg is slain in combat, and young Uhtred is captured by the Danes. He lives with the dangerous raiders from the north for years, and grows into adolescence under the watchful eye of Ragnar the Fearless. Thus begins a tale of the Saxon who becomes a Viking. Of the pagan who becomes a champion of Christendom. Of a man whose loyalties are forever torn. Of a man whose name is whispered in the ears of kings, is feared by warriors from all sides of the great war, and terrifies pious priests into making the sign of the Cross. Thus begins the tale of Uhtred.

"Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation... Men die, they said, but reputation does not die."

Let's settle one thing here: Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the best protagonist I've ever encountered in fictional literature. All the amazing protagonists in the genres of fantasy and science fiction can go hide in a corner when this guy is around. His fierceness in both battle, love and faith has no match anywhere else, and his twin allegiances and friends on both sides of the main conflict turn him into a remarkably interesting person who is constantly doubting his own loyalty and identity.

That praise should say a whole lot about Cornwell's skills at characterisation, especially considering that Uhtred is not even my favourite character in this series. But there are tons of great characters hidden in every chapter of the book. From ruthless and bloodthirsty Norse warriors, to Saxon leaders with their ambitions exceeded only by their piety. From pagan witches to scheming priests. And from the lowliest of slaves on the Viking ships, to kings and princesses fighting for power. All of those are to be found on the pages of The Saxon Stories, alongside so many more.

But this series is also so much more than the tale of Uhtred. It is the story of cultures and faiths clashing violently. Of the mythology and origins of one of the most powerful nations in history. Of how England, a name not yet widely known, was united under one great kingdom.

Cornwell's eloquent writing style, the dramatic first-person narrative, the magnificent early medieval setting, the most interesting and conflicted main character I have ever read about and historical realism gracefully and skillfully combined with masterly storytelling ; all of it adds up to a truly fascinating story of war, love and death in Anglo-Saxon England.

I'm going to say it one more time: this is my favourite series. Do yourself a favour and read it!

"Wyrd bith ful araed. Fate is inexorable."

Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
February 13, 2016
The Last Kingdom, by Bernard Cornwell, is a triumph of a novel; it is historical fiction at its finest. Uhtred’s story is as fantastic as it is gripping, and most importantly it feels realistic. It’s like I’ve read a chapter of a man’s life that could have existed, that could have been a part of history. His character is just that well written.

The book begins with an aged Uhtred narrating his life to the reader. He is full of a life’s wisdom and a warrior’s experience as he tells the adventures of his youth. He looks back at the decisions he made with equal measures of regret and joy at his foolhardiness. This is where the author triumphs most: he tells the reader where his protagonist is going to end up, at the end of his life, and urges them discover how he got there.

But I am Uhted, son of Uhtred, and this is the tale of a bloodfeud. It is a tale of how I will take from my enemy what the law says is mine. And it is the tale of a woman and of her father, a king.



Uhtred is the second son of Earl Uhtred. Consequently, as second in line, his farther wanted him to be a priest, which is a life Uhtred would never choose for himself. After the death of his brother, his farther names him is heir and expects him to witness battle, which the invading Danish fleet provide. His farther is killed in the battle and Uhtred captured by a Danish warrior called Ragnar. It sounds all doom and gloom, except Ragnar is what Uhtred wanted his father to be. He is a fearless warrior without religious restraints. Furthermore, and more importantly, he shows Uhtred warmth. Something his farther withheld. It is no surprise that his would be captor becomes something of a role model to the growing warrior that is Uhtred.

"And that is how I met Ragar, Ragnar the Fearless, my brother’s killer and the man whose head was supposed to grace a pole on Bebbanburg’s ramparts, Earl Ragnar."



This leaves our protagonist in an odd situation. He is an Englishman, but is living as a Dane. So where do his loyalties lie? These questions do not occur to Uhtred till he is a man grown and spent his youth as a Danish warrior. He worships Thor and Odin and marvels at the Danish pride that is their magnificent ships. The inner conflict that builds is tremendous. We know where his path will eventually take him, and what side of the bloody shield wall he will belong on, but are clueless to how he will actually get there.

Suffice to say, I liked this book a lot. Uhtred is a terrific protagonist. This series, however, is not just Uhtred’s tale. It is the tale of how Alfred the Great conquered the Danish invaders and how Christianity further purged pagan beliefs; it is the tale of how Uhtred, a very believable fictional warrior, helped Alfred eventually be considered great. At least, that is the ending we know will happen and the ending we can’t wait to see happen.

The Saxon Stories
1. The Last Kingdom- A fine five stars
2. The Pale Horsman- -A brilliant five stars
3.Lords of the North-A vengeful four stars
4.Sword Song- A familiar four stars
5.The Burning Land- A loyal five stars
6. Death of Kings A mighty five stars

He was my king and all that I have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live and the swords of my men, all came from, my king, who hated me............


I do love this series. What are your thoughts on the new television adaption?
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
June 2, 2020
The story begins in England in the 9th century with young Uhtred of Bebbanburg. He’s born a Christian Saxon, but from a young age is raised by pagan Danes. This dispossessed Ealdorman grows into a fierce warrior and eventually is torn between two identities. His main goal is to regain his father’s homeland, but there are many steps to be taken on his journey.

The law says I own that land, and the law, we are told, is what makes us men under God instead of beasts in the ditch. But the law does not help me take back my land. The law wants compromise. The law thinks money will compensate for loss. The law, above all, fears the blood feud. But I am Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and this is the tale of a blood feud. It is a tale of how I will take from my enemy what the law says is mine. And it is the tale of a woman and of her father, a king.

Reluctantly, I agreed to start watching the Netflix series with my husband before getting to the books, but then stopped after season one to catch up. It’s wonderful that, for the most part, the series is following the book so far with only minimal changes as far as events and characters. There were a few changes that I actually liked more about the series, and then a few things that I liked better about the book.

The writing, story, characters—I pretty much loved everything about this book. It’s fantastic, thrilling, and full of action and adventure. Historical fiction isn’t one of my most favorite genres, but this book was awesome and changed everything. The history during this period of time and location is something I haven’t learned that much about, and now I’m inspired to learn more about King Alfred and others in the story.

To be honest, I love a good revenge story, and I’m pretty sure there’s going to be plenty of it in this series. Seeing Uhtred get his revenge is something to look forward to. He’s a favorite character that you simply can’t get enough of, and it’s perfect that he narrates this entire book. There were other likable characters too, and of course some you just can’t help but hate.

Something really stuck in my mind when reading though: how much of this was actually true? The author included a much appreciated historical note at the end which answered the majority of my questions. It was interesting learning in the end which characters and events were real.

Moving forward now to The Pale Horseman after a short break.


You can also see this review and others @www.readrantrockandroll.com
Profile Image for Frances.
192 reviews320 followers
October 15, 2016
An outstanding novel set in England during medieval times in the year 866 AD. The author introduces real historical figures; Guthrum the Unlucky, Ubba the Horrible, and Ivar the Boneless, all fearless Dane warriors’ intent on taking over the English kingdoms. They arrive in their magnificent ships outfitted with rich colorful shields, finely carved prows, sterns with ominous dragons and serpents, and mastheads painted with bold eagles. A frightening sight for many townspeople who flee their homes trying to avoid the slaughter they knew would come. The story centers on an English lad, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a fervent believer in the spinners of fate. As he follows the destiny he feels he cannot avoid, Uhtred is eventually caught between his loyalty to his country and unexpected love for the Danes. An incredible read!
Profile Image for Cecelia | hotforbooks.
127 reviews124 followers
April 8, 2023
《 4 ✰ 》

I dream, and know that one day I will take back the land from those who stole it from me.


⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

What??! How did I not know there was a book? This is one of my all-time favorite shows! Just bought all of the the audiobooks and cannot wait to start them!


Profile Image for Willow .
234 reviews98 followers
June 29, 2012
I had no idea what I was getting into when I read this book. I'd never read Bernard Cornwell. All I knew was that it was a book about Vikings.

Anyway, I absolutely loved it! And I became a permanent Bernard Cornwell fan. I think Uhtred is one of my favorite characters of all time. Yes he’s mean, arrogant, and a bit of an antihero, but he’s a full blooded character, and I felt like I really got to know him.

This book goes through Uhtred’s childhood as a Saxon raised by the Danes, and after reading his childhood, I can understand his blood thirsty nature and his conflicted loyalties. I’m always a bit amused by Uhtred’s grumpy disposition.

Cornwell has a way of bringing the Dark Ages alive with gritty realism, and he makes the reader feel like they are right on the battlefield, right there with Uhtred. In fact, I’ve actually become quite spoiled by Cornwell, because most historical fiction doesn’t draw me in this well.

This truly is one of my favorite series of all time!
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
354 reviews1,463 followers
June 9, 2022
I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne

“That was in the year 867, and it was the first time I ever went to war.
And I have never ceased.”

I finally began my journey into The Saxon Stories. I cannot fathom what has taken me so long to delve into The Last Kingdom. I love Bernard Cornwell’s writing, and I love the concept for this tale.

This is one of those rare occasions where I have watched the adaptation before reading the book. But, no worries, this did not take away from the experience. The disparity been book and program is large, with a significantly larger period of time spent with Uhtred’s childhood than in the singular episode round-up in the series. It was something that I actually longed for in the program, and I was glad that the growth of Uhtred into an adult was treated more slowly and effectively.

This is a retrospective tale from the perspective of Uhtred, who recollects in this first instalment his early days, and the beginning of his forging of a reputation as a great warrior and leader. He is an unreliable narrator who, as the Goodreads summary states, is a dispossessed nobleman who was born a Saxon but raised a Dane This conflict of interests and loyalties becomes a key part of the story, and I believe will continue to do so throughout this series. It is a very interesting, rarely explored dynamic, in which Bernard Cornwell shows the reality that there is no 'right' side.

“The preachers tell us that pride is a great sin, but the preachers are wrong. Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation... Men die, they said, but reputation does not die.”

Bernard Cornwell is known as one of the greatest writers of action sequences. It is a reputation that is of course, well earned. Bernard Cornwell immerses you into each and every battle, for the most part. By that slight detraction I mean that sometimes he suddenly changes from an adrenaline pumping sequence, to suddenly changing to a summary of the rest of the battle. I found this to be slightly jarring. But that is about the only criticism I have of this story.

Bernard Cornwell maintains strengths in all arenas of writing, but I would say his most impressive strength is his characterisation, and the ability to forge a cast of wide variety. Many authors are amazing at creating a certain type of figure, and they stick to their comfort zone. Any character is Bernard Cornwell’s comfort zone. From a pacifist priest, to an amoral raider, he has each one nailed down, without being stereotypical.

“Destiny is all”

Overall, I of course thoroughly enjoyed this tale. I love Uhtred’s character. I love the historical period. I love Bernard Cornwell’s prose and battle sequences. He successfully formed a gritty tone and atmosphere of 9th century, war-torn England, with an engaging plot and compelling characters.

4.5/5 STARS
Profile Image for TXGAL1.
262 reviews28 followers
January 28, 2022
Sorry for the delay of my review; I had it written but “lost” it before I could get it uploaded. :/

This is a fabulous book. Definitely a must-read for those who enjoy medieval historical fiction and adventure.

THE LAST KINGDOM is the first of the Saxon Tales series and I rate it a definite 4 stars.

This story is narrated by Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the son of Uhtred whose holdings and people are in Northumbria. The setting is the late 9th century during which time the pagan Danes are raiding the four kingdoms of England. Three of the four have capitulated to the Danes, but Wessex is the last kingdom to fall under their sway. Armies of both sides clash; who will claim victory?

Young Uhtred, through unfortunate circumstance, has become well-versed in the ways of the Dane. His claim to his birthright as Lord of Bebbanburg is Uhtred’s all-consuming quest, but he needs help to make it a reality.

Prince Alfred is a sickly and devout Christian royal of Wessex. While seen as a weakling, Alfred is a quick study who has great intellect and can easily manipulate to get what he wants.

When young Uhtred and Prince Alfred’s paths surprisingly cross, will each take advantage of the other’s strengths?

I wanted to read this book once I completed the series of the same name on Netflix. When I was about 80% done with the reading, I began to watch the Netflix series again and I’m thrilled with both.
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
310 reviews1,328 followers
May 25, 2020
In The Last Kingdom, we follow Uhtred. son of Uhtred who is the Ealdorman of Beddanburg by birthright. In the first-person perspective, Uhtred tells us his tale and throughout The Last Kingdom, he presents his formative years from a youth, through his teenage years to the time that he becomes a man.

During the prologue, Danes attack the outskirts of Beddanburg. Uhtred's brother is murdered by a Dane called Ragnar the Fearless. The Saxons retaliate in a pitched battle, during which 9-year-old Uhtred sees his brother's killer and tries to get revenge.

"I recognised him as the man who had killed my brother and, like the fool I was, I screamed at him."

Seeing the courage and fearlessness that Uhtred already holds at such a young age, Ragnar doesn't kill him but takes Uhtred with him at the end of the battle. Throughout the next years, Ragnar becomes fond of Uhtred and sees him as an adopted son. Uhtred, likewise, loves Ragnar like a father.

During this period, Uhtred lives like a Dane. He lives alongside Ragnar's family including his sons, his adopted daughter Brida, his real daughter Thyra, and Rangar's blind and wise father Ravn. Throughout this time Uhtred learns the warrior ways, learns how to speak Danish, and finds out about the ways of Woden, Thor, and the "pagan gods." He takes part in numerous battles and skirmishes against the Saxons and meets the army's heavy hitters such as Ubba, Ivar, and Guthrum.

There are so many excellent and memorable characters. Cornwell's penmanship expertly brings them to life. I finished The Last Kingdom yesterday and last night I had a dream about Uhtred and Young Ragnar. It is not often that an author's characters invade my subconscious in such a way. Uhtred is a great character. Not quite Danish and not quite a Saxon. Confused regarding his religious beliefs as he just wants to fight and to get Beddanburg back from his treacherous uncle. Characters like Ubba, Leofric, Ragnar, and Young Ragnar jump of the page and their dialogue exchanges with Uhtred are well composed and extremely memorable.

"Destiny is all, Ravn liked to tell me, destiny is everything. He would even say it in English, “Wyrd biõ ful ãræd."

When I started reading The Last Kingdom I hadn't watched the BBC series yet. I initially decided that I would read ahead so that the show didn't spoil events for me. I purchased the novel and also the audiobook which features the excellent Jonathan Keeble as Uhtred. This plan didn't quite work out. After I had read the first few chapters I decided to watch the first episode. The finale of this episode reveals a huge moment of death and deceit that doesn't take place in the novel until around 60%. I've only got my self to blame for spoiling it for myself but thought I would highlight this in my review so that potential readers don't make the same mistake. This moment was still extremely powerful and important to the novel's narrative but I think I'd stolen away the unpredictable nature of the incident. The book focused a lot more on young Uhtred than the show. The scenes of Uhtred's youth are extremely important to who he becomes and I think the show missed out on some amazing moments that are featured here.

"The preachers tell us that pride is a great sin, but the preachers are wrong. Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation... Men die, they said, but reputation does not die."

The Last Kingdom was an extremely enjoyable historical fiction read that features excellent drama, well-realised characters, and is chock-full of memorable battles and duels. The pacing is great too and at the more heated moments, I almost felt like I was part of the battle bellowing "shield wall!" with the sweat, blood, gore and death dripping from the pages. I am so glad that I started Uhtred's story. With there being 13 books in The Last Kingdom/ The Warrior Chronicles/ The Saxon Stories series I am aiming to read one a month for the foreseeable future. I'd like to thank Edward Gwynne for recommending this series to me.
Profile Image for Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~.
347 reviews931 followers
August 19, 2020
Actual Rating: 4.5 Stars


Weird thing I noticed upon rereading, I could’ve sworn Uhtred’s phrase was “Fate is inexorable.” But on this read through the narrator said “Fate is all.” and “Fate is everything.” Now I’m wondering if the phrase has been edited in the audio version?
May 20, 2023
“Destiny is all”

Torn between his heritage and upbringing, the orphaned Uhtred must decide if his loyalty sits with his forefathers or the Danes who are amassing territory and set to invade the last remaining kingdom not yet under their control.

A story of survival, honour and duty. A path that Uhtred must tred carefully because he is not fully trusted by either side. A destiny that Uhtred must fulfil, but with King Alfred demanding his allegiance and ready to execute Uhtred for refusing, the ultimate warrior must decide wisely. As the fate of both men become entwined, Bernard Cornwall draws on real historical events to create this epic series that is embellished with stories of love, greed, betrayal and conquest.

Superb storytelling and one of the best Historical Fiction novels of the period.

Authentic, brutal but captivating. A story of Alfred The Great, the vikings, and the birth of England.

I watched the series years ago, but this is only adding and not spoiling the reading experience. The book offers so much more detail, particularly with regards to the setting.


Full review to come, in the meantime a few
Memorable quotes:

“The Truth Of A Man Lies Not In The Land Of His Birth, But In His Heart. A King Must Be A King On His Own Terms. He Cannot Be His Father, He Can Only Be Himself”

“An army, I learned in time, needs a head. It needs one man to lead it, but give an army two leaders and you halve its strength.”

“Courage is finding the will to overcome your fear, nothing more.”
Profile Image for Shannon.
891 reviews225 followers
May 5, 2014
This is a first person narration of a child who grows up as a Briton/Saxon but is captured by Vikings, who are more accurately called Danes. He comes to love his Danish father and begins to appreciate their customs and battle lore, as well as becoming battle trained himself.



At the same time, though, his roots are with Briton, and, in the end, he joins with the future Alfred the Great, showing him how to defeat the enemy.


(1) Vivid details of shield walls. Think gritty and bloody.;

(2) We get to meet Alfred the Great and his priestly advisors and witness the extreme religious views of his people;

(3) Danish customs and fighting techniques;

(4) Interesting interaction of the Danish tribal groups;

(5) First person narration has a good flow, making it a quick read.

(6) A relative good scope on the inter-kingdom struggles between the Kingdoms of Briton and their inability to work together.


(1) First person if you don't like it; and

(2) A bit too gritty for the faint of heart.




Some favorite excerpts below and then the grade breakdown.

“Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation... Men die, they said, but reputation does not die.” 

That produced silence, except for the mutter of the interpreter talking to Ivar. Then Ubba awoke, looked startled for a few heartbeats as if he was not sure where he was, then he stared at me and I felt my flesh shrivel for I had never seen a face so malevolent. He had dark eyes and they were full of hate and I wanted the earth to swallow me.

He stared balefully across the encampment where men were drinking. “Do you know who wins battles, boy?”
“We do, Father.”
“The side that is least drunk,” he said, and then, after a pause, “but it helps to be drunk.”
“Because a shield wall is an awful place.”

You can hear a shield wall being made. The best shields are made of lime, or else of willow, and the wood knocks together as men overlap the shields. Left side of the shield in front of your neighbor’s right side, that way the enemy, most of whom are right-handed, must try to thrust through two layers of wood.

I lunged Wasp-Sting forward, and the Dane ran onto her point. I felt the impact run up my arm as her tip punctured his belly muscles, and I was already twisting her, ripping her up and free, sawing through leather, skin, muscle, and guts, and his blood was warm on my cold hand, and he screamed, ale breath in my face, and I punched him down with the shield’s heavy boss, stamped on his groin, killed him with Wasp-Sting’s tip in his throat.

Beware the man who loves battle. Ravn had told me that only one man in three or perhaps one man in four is a real warrior and the rest are reluctant fighters, but I was to learn that only one man in twenty is a lover of battle. Such men were the most dangerous, the most skillful, the ones who reaped the souls, and the ones to fear. I was such a one.

STORY/PLOTTING: B plus to A minus; CHARACTERS/DIALOGUE: A minus to A; BATTLE SCENES: A minus; EVOKING THE ERA: A minus; OVERALL GRADE: A minus; WHEN READ: 2010 (read thrice; revised review February 2013)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dave Edmunds.
262 reviews54 followers
May 9, 2023

"I am Uthred, son of Uthred, and this is the tale of a blood feud. It is a tale of how I will take from my enemy what the law says is mine."

4.5 🌟's

Initial Thoughts

Bernard Cornwell is an author I've been semi-aware of since my childhood with the huge success of his Sharpe series here in the UK. A military drama set during the Napoleonic War, it was responsible for kick starting actor Sean Bean's career and catapulting him to fame.

Currently, I've been hearing a lot more about this author and it's in no doubt largely due to the success of the adaptation of his epic Saga, The Saxon Stories. I was all set to start with his Arthurian legend, The Warlord Chronicles, until my Goodreads buddy Victoria suggested we read The Last Kingdom together. That looked to be a good place to start with all the buzz surrounding the TV drama and the release of the new movie. I don't need to tell you that I was very excited about this one.

The Story

We begin in the year of 866, a crucial period in English history, when the Danes had invaded the British Isles and were in the process of establishing total control. In the opening prologue the Danish Vikings are laying siege to Beddanburg Castle in the county of Northumbria and here is where we are introduced to chief protagonist, Uthred son of Uthred. After his father, and Lord of Beddanburg, is brutally killed during the battle, young Uthred is taken hostage by the leader of the opposing force, Ragnar the Fearless who is impressed by the boy's courage. That's the main reason that he doesn't skewer the little upstart and eventually adopts him, treating him like a son.

By the time Uthred is on his way to becoming a Viking warrior and embracing the Danish way of life his new kinsmen have established control in three of the four English Kingdoms. All that remains to be taken is lonely Wessex...The Last Kingdom.

Uthred faces some tough choices during the course of this action packed adventure, none more so than where his loyalties lie. He finds himself completely torn between his sentimental feelings for his native countrymen and his adopted family. Will he remain loyal to Ragnar and the Danish invaders or switch his allegiance to the King of Wessex, Alfred. A King who has not yet earned his title of "The Great." There's only one way to find out. So join me in discovering what's in store in this epic piece of English history.

"The three spinners sit at the foot of the tree of life and they make our lives and we are their playthings, and though we think we make our own choices, all our lives are in the spinners' threads. Destiny is everything, and that day, though I did not know it, my destiny was spun."

The Writing

I've got to say I was impressed with the quality of Cornwell's prose. What else would you expect from a best selling author? They weren't fancy. Straight to the point, like a piece of Viking steel, but with a subtle elegance. They suited the style of story perfectly. It put me totally in the mindset of a ninth century warrior, which is absolutely what I was looking for.

Also, it's abundantly clear that this is an author who is an absolute master of battlefield storyline. He's been able to hone his skills while writing the Sharpe novels and he's got it down to a fine art. The battle scenes in this one are brutally detailed and action packed. Cornwell pulls absolutely no punches and they're a joy to read. I really felt like a bystander perched on one of those country hillside watching these epic set pieces unfolding. I could smell the blood and taste the fear. Fantastic stuff!

And no self-respecting review would be complete without touching on the level of historical detail that goes into this story. It's been thoroughly researched and interpreted, although Cornwell never gets bogged down in the detail. There's plenty of cool little bits thrown in though like the old fashioned spellings of the towns and cities that add a real feel of authenticity. But it's certainly a story first approach, reminiscent of Ken Follett, and it made me feel like an active participant as the author brought this important period to life.

"It is a terrible thing." Beocca said to me. "War, it is an awful thing."

I said nothing. I thought it was glorious and wonderful.

The Characters

The strength of the characters in The Last Kingdom took me by complete surprise. With this being the first in the series we are introduced to a lot and to be completely honest they are all fantastic. Cornwell has achieved what the very best writing historical fiction have and that's make those figures from the past into real, living people ready to burst from the page and smash you in the face with an axe. At least thats how I felt with me being English and those Vikings loving to slaughter my kind.

In the afterword the author talks how he relied on all sorts of sources of information, including historical documents, as a basis for his characters. So you can be confident that what you're getting here is as good a representation as possible. Yes characters like Ragnar, Ubba, Guthrum the Unlucky, Ivar the Boneless and of course Alfred The Great were all genuine historical figures. It's astonishing how real they come across and it really made me feel like a part of the history.

Nobody is done better than Uthred, who is the narrator throughout, as we follow him through his formative years from a boy living amongst the enemy to a battle-hardened warrior. It's a steep learning curve for him as he must learn the Danish way whilst handling the prejudice that comes with being Saxon born. The author portrays his uncertainty brilliantly as he is constantly torn between two sides and has a burning ambition to win back his home of Beddanburg Castle.

Then of course there is King Alfred "the Great," who looms large in this one. But when we first meet him he is drunk, in pain and moaning for forgiveness from God for his lack of restraint with those pretty servant girls. Again there is a great deal of historical accuracy behind this and as the story moves forward we see what a brilliant man he is. Brave, courageous and with a brilliant mind, he is an inspiration to those around him and I can't wait to see how perhaps the most famous person in English history develops throughout the coming novels.

Final Thoughts

The Last Kingdom was an absolute joy to read. Historical fiction at its finest and I'd recommend it to any fans of the genre or indeed fantasy as it contains all the elements that make that style of fiction so popular. It has special significance for me as I live right next to Northumbria where a large portion of the novel is based and I'm already planning a trip to Bamburgh Castle which is what Uthred's home of Beddanburg is now called.

This book was a fantastic introduction to Cornwell and the Saxon Stories and I'll definitely be reading more. In fact I've already purchased The Pale Horseman for Kindle, which is up next. I'm hoping this is the start of a very special love affair. I've got a good feeling about this author and I'm tempted to put him up there with the likes of Ken Follett, who's an absolute giant in the world of historical fiction.

So what's your experience with Bernard Cornwell and in particular the Saxon Stories? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading and...cheers!
Profile Image for Athena Shardbearer.
355 reviews205 followers
February 23, 2015
I am Uhtred, Earl Uhtred, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, and destiny is everything.

Love, all I feel is love for this book. It's like an epic love story but for a man who fought for what was rightfully his.

Love, noun. Pronunciation: luhv

A feeling of strong attachment induced by that which delights or commands admiration; preëminent kindness or devotion to another; affection; tenderness; as,

the love of brothers and sisters.
Of all the dearest bonds we prove
Thou countest sons' and mothers' love
Most sacred, most Thine own.

Affection; kind feeling; friendship; strong liking or desire; fondness; good will; - opposed to hate; often with of and an object.

Love, and health to all.

Smit with the love of sacred song.

The love of science faintly warmed his breast.

^All that and more is what I feel about this book. I don't know where I have been that I haven't read this sooner. This blows all the books that I've read recently out of the water. I'm actually thinking of going through and really thinking about the choices and ratings I've made on previous books because of this book.

I have a real love for the characters, the world, the dialogue, the timeline and of the religion and mythology of these two worlds. These two kinds of people clash to bring bloodshed, war and turning the world upside down. I mean, I'm still speechless, I still don't know what to say about what I went through reading this book. It made me hate the Christians, and then I later disliked the Danes. I was suppose to be on one side, but yet I couldn't see myself siding with what I know was right? I couldn't decide if Uhtred should going back to the world he came from and if it was even a good idea. I didn't want a people to influence this character because of their beliefs but for him to choose what he knew was right in his heart. In the end I feel in love with Uhtred and his fight to survive and his cleverness and his will to get what he knew he deserved.

War is fought in mystery. The truth can takes days to travel, and ahead of truth flies rumors, and it is ever hard to know what is really happening, and the art of it is to pluck the clean bone of fact from the rotting flesh of fear and lies.

This is a tale that begins in 866 with Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred and only 10 years old when he confronted and captured by Ragnar the Fearless. Ragnar takes Uhtred into the lives of the Danes. Now, he's not Ragnar Lothbrok but he's just as amazing and Ragnar Lothbroks sons make appearance. I don't want to say anymore but there is family and unity, blood and gore, fighting and war and Uhtred is learning how to be the best he can and still take back what is rightfully his.

Blood on the grass now, so much blood that the ground was slick, and there were bodies that had to be stepped over as our shield wall thrust forward, leaving Brida and me behind, and I saw her hands were red because blood seeped down the long ash shaft of her spear. She licked the blood and gave me a sly smile.

Ships on the winter Temes. Ships sliding past brittle reeds and leafless willows and bare alders. Wet oar blades shining in the pale sunlight. The prows of our ships bore their beasts to quell the spirits of the land we invaded, and it was good land and rich fields, though all were deserted.

I have deep love for this book.
I have deep love for this story.
I have deep love for the writing.
I have deep love for the feels and the air it brings.
I have deep love for the way this book takes you traveling to a world that is sometimes forgotten.

She was heavy, Serpent-Breath, too heavy for a thirteen-year-old, but I would grow into her. Her point tapered more than Ragnar liked, but that made her well balanced for it meant there was not much weight at the blade's out end. And there is magic in Serpent-Breath. Ealdwulf has his own spells that he would not tell me, the spells of the smith, and Brida took the blade into the woods for a whole night and never told me what she did with it, and those were the spells of a woman, and when we made the sacrifice of the pit slaughter, and killed a man, a horse, a ram, a bull, and a drake, I asked Ragnar to use Serpent-Breath on the doomed man so that Odin would know she existed and would look well on her. Those are the spells of a pagan and a warrior.

This book=Love
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
May 18, 2021
I can see why people like Cornwell so much. His writing is compelling and the dialogue is superb, feeling both true to the times (9th century pre-England) and still charming and quite funny. But even he can't keep me interested in this many viking raids and battles. Not sure if war books are just his thing, but I'll check out one or two more to see. The Winter King sounds promising.
Profile Image for Nicole.
731 reviews1,829 followers
August 27, 2017
This book was good but I had some problems with it, nothing major or about the story but rather the way it's told. Review to come. Maybe.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,225 followers
March 4, 2014
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.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,733 reviews648 followers
June 4, 2021
When I first reviewed this book, I was brief:
“Bernard Cornwell is THE master of personalizing British history. His main characters are always interesting and he shows the depth of his research in each novel. This one takes place in the reign of Edward the Confessor, a perilous time for the island kingdom. Cornwell deftly sketches the political and cultural clashes and has (as usual) his protagonist work his way into the midst of it. A great read for those who enjoy burrowing beyond the pure historical.”

I agree with my GR friend, Marita:
“A thrilling story with a good dash of irony and humour, as well as wonderful descriptions and interesting characters!”

Partially because of my friends reviews and partially because I wanted to see after 8 years and 10 novels whether my view of this first novel in The Saxon Tales had changed in any respect, I began the process again. And here is what I found:
The Last Kingdom sets up everything that follows. It is a brilliant start to the arc of Uhtred’s life. As in so many other series by Cornwell, he selects an “ordinary” man who becomes capable of extraordinary achievements. Through this individual he retells the history of Britain. What I particularly enjoy is:
1. His meticulous research into so many elements of a particular era; and,
2. His great talent at making even the most ordinary activities interesting.
Through his brilliant writing, history comes alive in a way that the pure historian cannot deliver. Five (*****) stars seem altogether appropriate now that I understand all that Cornwell had in mind when he started his Saxon Stories.

If you would like to taste a bit of that special gift, I offer the following two examples:
“There were two sorts of iron, he told me, the soft and the hard. The hard made the best cutting edge, but it was brittle and a sword made of such iron would snap at the first brutal stroke, while a sword made of the softer metal would bend as my short sword had done. ‘So what we do is use both,’ he told me, and I watched as he made seven iron rods. Three were of the hard iron, and he was not really sure how he made the iron hard, only that the glowing metal had to laid in the burning charcoal, and if he got it just right then the cooled metal would be hard and unbending. The other four rods were longer, much longer, and they were not exposed to the charcoal for the same time, and those four he twisted until each had been turned into a spiral. They were straight rods, but tightly twisted until each was the same length as the hard iron rods...Three were of the hard metal, which Ragnar called steel...one of the hard rods was longer and slightly thicker than the others, and that one was the sword’s spine and the extra length was the tank onto which the hilt would eventually be riveted…(specific description of the entire process)…this was when the real work began, the work of heating and hammering, metal glowing red, the black dross twisting as it burned away from the iron, the hammer swinging, sparks flying in the dark forge, the hiss of metal plunged into water, the patience as the emerging blade was cooled in a trough of ash shavings. It took days….In some light you could not see the patterns, but in the dusk, or when, in winter, you breathed on the blade, they showed. Serpent-Breath, Brida called the patterns, and I decided to give the sword that name…The boss of the hilt was of iron, as was the heavy crosspiece, and both were simple, undecorated, and big…I wanted the sword decorated with silver or gilt bronze, but Ealdwulf refused. ‘It’s a tool, lord,’ he said, ‘just a tool. Something to make your work easier, and no better than my hammer…and one day,’ he went on leaning toward me, ‘you will kill Danes with her.’

…” The ash handles have been replaced, the edges have been nicked by enemy blades, and she is slimmer now because she has been sharpened so often, but she is still beautiful…And there is magic in Serpent-Breath. Ealdwulf had his own spells that he would not tell me, the spells of the smith, and Brida took the blade into the woods for a whole night and never told me what she did with it, and those were the spells of a woman, and we made the sacrifice of the pit slaughter, and killed a man, a horse, a ram, a bull, and a drake. I asked Ragnar to use Serpent-Breath on the doomed man so that Odin would know she existed and would look well on her. Those are the spells of a pagan and a warrior.”

“I thought Eoferwic was a city, but Eoferwic was a village compared to Lundene. It was a vast place, thick with smoke from cooking fires, and built where Mercia, East Anglia, and Wessex met…I came to love that place, Not as I love Bebbanburg, but there was a life to Lundene that I found nowhere else, because the city was like nowhere else. Alfred once told me that every wickedness under the sun was practiced there, and I am glad to say he was right. He prayed for the place, I reveled in it, and I can still remember gawking at the city’s two hills as Ragnar’s ship ghosted against the current to come close to the bridge. It was a gray day and a spiteful rain was pitting the river, yet to me the city seems to glow with sorcerous light.

“It was really two cities built on two hills. The first, to the east, was the old city that the Romans had made, and it was there that the bridge began its span across the wide river and over the marshes on the southern bank. That first city was a place of stone buildings and had a stone wall, a real wall, not earth and wood, but masonry, high and wide, skirted by a ditch. The ditch had filled with rubbish and the wall was broken in places and had been patched with timber, but so had the city itself where huge Roman buildings were buttressed by thatched wooden shacks in which a few Mercians lived, though most were reluctant to make their homes in the old city. One of their kings had built himself a palace within the stone wall and a great church, its lower half of masonry and upper parts of wood, had been mad atop the hill, but most of the folk, as if fearing the Roman ghost, lived outside the walls, in a new city of wood and thatch that stretched out to the west.
“…the new city, like the old, was on the river’s northern bank, but was built on a low hill to the west, a half mile upstream from the old, and had a shingle beach sloping up to the houses that ran along the riverside road. I have never seen a beach so foul, so stinking of carcasses and shit, so covered in rubbish, so stark with the slimy ribs of abandoned ships, and loud with squalling gulls, but that was where our boats had to go and that meant we first had to negotiate the bridge.
“The gods alone know how the Romans had built such a thing. A man could walk from one side of Eoferwic to the other and he would still not have walked the length of Lundene’s bridge….”

To some these examples may seem frustrating digressions from the action, from the plot. To me, they are what make this saga so very special. On re-read, I am astounded by Cornwell’s vision and how well the themes and characters are fully realized in the succeeding books.

While in the midst of the final(?) book in this series, War Lord, I have re-read this book to check on how much of what I am experiencing was in Cornwell's mind 15 years ago. It is amazing how well the series is constructed - how consistent he is, and how much of the arc of this saga (covering over 50 years of English history) was present in this first volume!
Profile Image for Blaine DeSantis.
901 reviews111 followers
March 30, 2022
What a wonderful beginning to a great sounding series. I was unaware of this until I saw the Netflix TV series and I wanted to read the book to delve deeper into these Saxon Stories of Medieval England. So glad that I did. Yes, not everything is like the book, but the book gives us a really quality look at that time period and sets things up perfectly for the rest of the series.
Lots of old English spelling of towns, and names, but this edition comes with a guide so it is easy to figure out the modern day equivalent locations. Basically we have the story of the creation of the nation of England, and its beginnings with Alfred the Great. Wonderfully described, as are all the characters, we see the early differences between Alfred and those of Wessex and the Danes.
And the main character/hero/protagonist for this series is Uhtred of Baebbenburg. A Saxon who is captured by the Danes at a young age and adopted into the Danish family and learns their ways before he is drawn back into Saxon lands. He goes back and forth straddling allegiances with both cultures as he has one quest, to get back his ancestral lands that were taken from him by his uncle. Many of you may have read this book and series, but for those of you who have not yet discovered this epic work please make time to read this. Very well done historical fiction, to put it mildly!
Profile Image for Alex Nieves.
174 reviews652 followers
March 8, 2022
As expected, I loved it. I kind of anticipated this outcome based on how much I loved the show but yeah, this is great and I'm excited to continue. I love noticing the slight differences in storytelling between the show/book but enjoyed both pretty equally.

I believe this is the first historical fiction that I've read but I'm absolutely going to read more.
Profile Image for Lucia.
733 reviews802 followers
June 16, 2017
„Wyrd bið ful ãræd.“ – „Fate is inexorable.“

I had a super long review written for this series but I deleted the document accidentally so let me share with you at least some major points to explain my reasons for loving this series so much:

* Astonishing storytelling skills. Bernard Cornwell brought 9th and 10th century England alive for me.

* Unforgettable narrator. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is unapologetic and ruthless yet lovable and admiration worthy character with brilliant military strategic mind. He is a true hero!

* Complex and fascinating side characters that you will love to come back to.

* Constant philosophical battle between paganism and Christianity that depicts given period precisely.

* Well thought-out storyline and twists.

* War and fight scenes are chillingly realistic. I really felt like I was there with Uhtred, fighting every new enemy or being part of countless shield wars.

All in all, The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories series (all 10 available books) is spectacular story with spectacular writing. It is one of the best historical fiction stories I have ever read and it is the perfect example of how to write engaging historical fiction series that never get boring or predictable!

Moreover, I loved author’s note at the end of every book where author explained which parts were based on historical facts and which parts of his novel he made up.

Profile Image for Will M..
304 reviews614 followers
October 11, 2015
*Update 10/11/15
There are two episodes out already for The Last Kingdom! I had no idea they were adapting this whole series into a TV series. Will have to read the next novels really soon.


I've been a huge history fan ever since I was young. Especially Greek, Roman, and Egyptian history. I've never really read or watched other histories like UK, American, Russian, Asian, etc. Lately though, I've been wanting to read more of UK and Russian, so I was pretty excited to read this.

This was a fantastic novel about the life of Uthred. That kid's freakin' amazing. He started out strong, as a child, and continued to develop into a powerful man. Despite being held captive, he found a way to make the situation in favor of him. Truly a shrewd man. He was once a Saxon, but because he was held captive of a Danish man, he was forced to convert. Despite learning to love his danish father, in his heart, he will forever be a saxon. This novel also tacked the topic regarding Christianity and Norse Mythology[Paganism]. Reading about Thor and Odin was really fun.

This was my very first legit historical fiction novel. I don't think I want to consider Dan Brown's novels as Hist-Fic, cause it was more of Crime-Thriller. So that being said, I was excited yet I didn't know what to expect. What I got was an amazing novel that truly engulfed me to a beautiful world.

While reading this, I felt like I was reading an epic-fantasy novel. I was fully engrossed and I loved the main character. I couldn't think of any dull moments, because this novel was really great. It was so good that it even felt like a short read , despite the length of the novel.

At first I rated this 4 stars, but after a few days of contemplating, I decided to change my rating, and give this book the very deserving 5. It would be a crime not to do so. This novel was vivid. Everything was described to near perfection. This would be the book to read if you want to be fully engrossed, and feel like you're actually the main character. It felt like I was Uthred, and everything that happened to him happened to me.

I also liked the setting very much. Despite the awesome countries mentioned, I also really liked the medieval setting of this novel. I'm a huge fan of medieval history, more so of the fictional ones. I'm now planning to read more Britain related history, and historical fiction novels. British history is truly entertaining.

I'll surely be checking the next few books of the series, as I heard from Markus [the one who recommended this to me, thanks dude] that the second book is the best of the bunch [as of now]. I'll surely have to read and see for myself. Time to be engrossed in yet another seemingly amazing novel. This is a must read novel, and it looks like a much read series. Bernard Cornwell might be added to my favorite authors, as long as his other books are just as good, or even better.
Profile Image for Ajj.
107 reviews11 followers
February 6, 2014
I will just review this book but what I say will count for all the books in the Saxon Chronicles.

These books are good for people who want viking themed adventure that is not too difficult or rewarding. While the plot is engaging it is not brilliant. The characters are not really developed or very exciting and most people seem to be quite one dimensional. The characters are either blood thirsty, greedy, pious, or manipulative. While some of them are generated from historical figures no one really comes to life.

In the five books of this series there is a lot of heavy handed foreshadowing and there are a lot of repeated passages. This makes the prose boring at times and even the battle scenes can get tiresome. As a final touch Cornwell shows how rushed he is by completely forgetting details in later books that were established in earlier volumes.

I was a bit surprised at the quality of this series as Cornwell's Sharp series is much richer in both characters and prose (though nowhere near Patrick O'Brian as Cornwell's publicist claims) and his Starbuck series falls in between the two.

If you like the genre by all means give this one a shot but don't imagine that it is going to be as good as The Long Ships.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
699 reviews868 followers
April 10, 2017
Aside from the tales of King Arthur and Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth, I did not have much exposure to historical fiction, and definitely not one with this much historical accuracy. I was made aware of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stores through the reviews of fellow readers on Goodreads whom I share similar taste in books with. The main impetus that nudged me to finally pick up this book among my long list of to-be-read was in fact History Channel's Vikings, as I didn't even know that this book itself has inspired a television series given I don't spend much time in front of one. Through watching Vikings, I've developed a fascination for the history of these misconceived barbarians, or whom the Christian world liked to call pagans, and how they shaped Western Europe through their expansive invasions and eventual settlement.

This book almost read like a sequel to the Vikings series as it relates to the rise of King Alfred The Great. Uhtred was a fascinating main protagonist who has all the virtues and vices of a warrior of two conflicting worlds, torn between loyalty to his kin or the foreigners who took him under their wings and treated him as family. Even as the ruthless invaders, I actually liked the Danes more than the English given the latter's excessive religious piety and self-righteousness.

The breadth and depth of characters, and their names (especially all the Athel-this and Athel-that) did initially throw me off a fair bit. Bernard Cornwell also has this tendency to string together, with the use of a lot of commas, amazingly long sentences that can span an entire paragraph. I definitely was not used to his writing style but in the end the strength of the story and the well-written battle and action scenes won me over.

In short, this is great fiction with fascinating characters that contained as much historical accuracy as possible, while maintaining a cohesive and engaging tale of destiny, loyalty, love, war and death without turning into a history lesson.

This review can also be found at Booknest
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