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THE LAST KINGDOM BY BERNARD CORNWELL

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

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REVIEWS

Tim Phillips

I read the book some five years ago so a re-read was overdue. The story is about a boy Uhtred growing up in Anglo Saxon times and his development. There are the mixed feelings of youth after being captured by the Danes, the attitudes of his captors, the strength of religions and their differences both in worship and attitude. All blend together with a story of fighting over UK lands. Uhtred's uncle, Ælfric, takes Bebbanburg and usurps the title of Ealdorman from Uhtred, who is the rightful heir. Uhtred after time with the Danes joins King Alfred in Wessex. There he learns to read and write, and sails with Alfred's fleet of 12 ships against the Danes. More events continue making twists and turns that continue to hold the reader's attention. The ending of the first book keeps the door open for others to follow which they surely have. I found the book interesting if not compelling and for me a challenge as it throws in old English names of towns, places and the social structure of the day.

Terry Smith

Life, they say, is full of coincidences but it was still surprising when The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell dropped through my letter box. Three days earlier I had decided to re-read some excellent books I had enjoyed in the past. Cornwell’s epic Last Kingdom, the first of a 13-book series, was on that list along with Rumpole of the Bailey, Hercule Poirot and Bill Bryson. However, I couldn’t find my copy of The Last Kingdom – probably sent to a charity shop many years ago – and I had decided to start with Rumpole. Now Rumpole’s cases have been adjourned as I again relive the amazing tales of Uhtred who is nine years old in 866AD and, a year later, sees his brother’s beheaded corpse delivered to his fortress at Bebbanburg (Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland) and his father killed by Vikings in a terrifying battle in Eoferwic (York to you and me). Uhtred is captured by the cruel Ragnar the Fearless, the brutal killer of his brother, and raised as a Viking warrior. He takes part in bloody battles against the Anglo-Saxons but a dreadful massacre sees him switch allegiance to the English and, of course, to Alfred the Great, King of Wessex. This series is not for the faint of heart with killings, villainy, family and national passions and treachery in every book. One down, 12 to go… thank you, Viking!

Mary Edwards

Thank you for sending me a book to review. It is most definitely not the type of book I would ever choose to read but I decided to give it a go. I am sorry to say that my preconceived opinion has not changed because I really do not enjoy reading about conflict, violence and seeing things from a decidedly masculine perspective. I could hardly bear to read the descriptions of some of the bloodthirsty, cruel acts. Having said that, I am sure that my historical knowledge of the time of the Danish occupation of England has been enhanced and the writing of the book must have entailed an enormous amount of detailed research although the distinction between fact and fiction is obviously blurred. I never lost track of the main plot of the book but I did find it difficult to remember who all the people were; I think that one reason was that the names were so unfamiliar. I am sure that this book would be highly regarded by those who enjoy this particular genre but I did not enjoy it and I am very happy not to have to read any more in the series.

Marion Keegan-Wyatt

A good read, but it took me some time to get into the story. I have never read any books by this author but I will definitely try another. A Saxon story telling the tale of Alfred the Great and his descendants through the eyes of Uhtred, an English, boy born into the aristocracy of the ninth-century Northumbria, captured by the Danes and taught the Viking Ways. Thank you for letting me read a different story.

Susan Robertson

What a bloodthirsty book. Definitely not one for the squeamish. However I enjoyed it not having a sensitive stomach! This book is the first in a series of nine and is set in the ninth century when the Danes were invading what we now know as England. The story is told by Uhtred and starts when the castle of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh) in Northumbria is captured by the Danes and Uhtred aged nine is taken captor by Ragnar, a warrior. He is taught to fight and believe in their gods and he starts to become a Dane and has a very close relationship with Ragnar. We follow his childhood and adolescence and then he is captured by King Alfred and finds his allegiance split as he has to fight against the Danes. There are a lot of graphic battle scenes and these events took place. Uhtred and Ragnar are fictional although most of the other characters are not and they are described really well. Old place names add to the authenticity but I found this annoying. As it is a period of history I don’t know very well I will read some more of the series and can recommend this book.

M Wiley

Junior school history lessons covered Anglo Saxon times but, (over 60 years ago), there was little other than Alfred burning the cakes while he was thinking about how to defeat the Danes. So, I was pleased when Bernard Cornwall’s ‘The Last Kingdom’ arrived. I have read several of Cornwall’s books and I am always impressed by his research and his ability to weave a tale around the history of the time. Written in the first person, the story is about Uhtred, a Saxon boy, who is orphaned at the age of nine by the Danes. They kidnap him and bring him up and we see his development from small boy to grown man, as the tale describes the Danes’ seemingly relentless conquering of the various English kingdoms. Cornwall uses the Anglo Saxon place names throughout the book and, at first, I found myself forever referring to the glossary; but after a while, it became fun to see if I could work out the modern names for myself. At the beginning, Uhtred speaks of a blood feud and that ‘he will take from his enemy what the law says is his’. Read the book and discover if he succeeds.

M Davies

This book was originally published in 2004 and was the first of what has become no fewer than thirteen novels chronicling the Viking invasion of Saxon England and Alfred the Great’s efforts to resist and create a unified country. There is no doubt, therefore, of the enduring popularity of these well crafted tales, based on contemporary historical records and featuring numerous genuine characters. So whilst the main hero Uhtred, a Northumbrian nobleman kidnapped and raised as a Dane, is fictional, the stories carry a convincing level of authenticity. For me, however, the book did not offer a relaxing holiday read. Whilst recognising that the 9th century was a time of great upheaval when many people lived short, brutal lives, I grew tired of the relentless graphic accounts of wanton merciless slaughter. I was also disappointed that the flow of the narrative depended so heavily on contrived encounters between particular Danish and English nobles that must have been beyond the infrastructure of the time to deliver.