“The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell (Harpercollins, 2005)

The Last Kingdomstarstarstar

I’ve been working on a novel for the last four years or so that’s been going pretty slowly. I’ve been doing it in chunks, mainly because it’s historical fiction and involves a lot of research and I’ve essentially been getting stuck at some point and needing to research more before I can get started writing again.  Now I’m at a point where I need to read a few books to complete the current research.  The book was called The Ruin, though I recently changed the title to Wyrd, which is Anglo-Saxon for destiny.  While the book is set in the fifth century in England and has characters that may turn out to be Arthurian (I’m not sure yet), the intention of the novel is to encompass the feel and texture of the Early Middle Ages, at a time when society was essentially beginning anew for this forgotten island.

When I started reading The Last Kingdom by one of my favorite authors I got the chilling feeling that Cornwell had done what I was trying to do with my book.  And after finishing it, there’s a lot in it that I can see coming out in my novel, and yet Wyrd will go in different directions and achieve different goals.  Nevertheless, The Last Kingdom was a great book for anyone wanting to get a feel of the ninth century and what it was like for the Anglo-Saxons living there and having to deal with the invading Vikings who were trying to settle and do essentially what the Anglo-Saxons had done a couple of centuries before to the Britons.  While the main character, Uhtred, is but a boy at the beginning and the narrator, our hero is Alfred the Great (the only British king ever to be called “the Great”) and while I’m not sure how long the series is going to be, the reader will see Alfred grow up and become the great king that earned him the title.  I’m quite familiar with Alfred’s history and life and how he emulated Charlemagne in a lot of ways, and it’s really enjoyable to see this fictionalized account from a great author, which has been well researched, and to see these historical characteristics in the fictionalized characters.

I will freely admit that Bernard Cornwell isn’t exactly the most in depth and complex of historical fiction writers, and his characters aren’t always the fully developed real people they should be, but he still does the job well and gets his point across in giving the reader a look into this life, just as he did with his Grail series set in the Later Middle Ages, and his Arthurian series.  It’s also the kind of book that anyone can pick up and get fully sucked into without getting confused or lost along the way with heavy history and jargon.  Cornwell is also sure to point out as much of the native languages as he can, with plenty of translations, to clarify it all.

Next I have The Pale Horseman to read in the series, with Lords of the North to come in January.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on September 15th, 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Bernard Cornwell check out BookBanter Episode 5.

4 thoughts on ““The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell (Harpercollins, 2005)

  1. Cornwell is also one of my favorite authors, and this is one of my favorite series by him. I’m almost finished with Sword Song, and then it’s on to The Burning Land. Then after that, I either need to read his Arthurian series or the stand-alone Agincourt. The Grail Quest was the first series I read by him that hooked me.

    I’ve also been writing a novel, though I’ve been working on mine for the past 8 years. It sounds like our processes have been somewhat similar. I kind of did the research as I went, and then would have to correct details in later drafts. I’m currently on the 5th draft now and am still re-writing chapters, though I’m pretty much done with the heavy research. Still, I’m constantly reading and learning about the Middle Ages as much as I can. Cornwell has been a great influence in my writing, along with other authors like George R.R. Martin and Ernst Hemingway.

    I suppose I’m a bit of a free-writer. I had an idea in my head that started to develop and evolve as I wrote the story, which is one reason why I’ve had to go back and re-write the entire novel a few times. The basic idea has always stayed the same but it resembles nothing — anymore — of the very first draft.

    I did create a basic outline of plot points and characters after finishing the first draft and before writing the second draft. Kind of backwards I suppose. The outline somewhat helped, but the story and characters have still ended up changing a good bit.

    What has the process been like for you?

    • Got my copy of “Burning Land” burning a hole on the shelf, waiting to be read to. “Agincourt” was amazing, some of his best work every I think. The review I did for it should be up on this blog some time in the next week or two. And check out the interview I did with him, he’s a great and interesting guy.

      So what’s your book about? In a short summary? I’m interested.


  2. To explain what my novel’s about, it’d probably just be easier to point you to this particular post on my Web site: http://steventill.com/2007/08/02/whats-it-about/. I’m on the fifth draft now, so when I wrote that post, things have changed a bit since then but not too much in terms of overall story lines.

    In a short summary, it’s a blend of historical fiction and fantasy (historical fantasy ) based on the medieval setting of late 12th century England and France. An assassination attempt at the beginning leaves a power vacuum as rivals compete for the throne. The story also centers around the myth of an ancient city rumored to be filled with silver and gold, much like the ever elusive El Dorado for the Spanish conquistadors.

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