Book Review: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom
By Bernard Cornwell

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 333 pages
2005, HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060530510

It’s the year 866 and Uhtred, son of a nobleman in Northumbria, is captured by a Danish chieftain after his father is killed in battle. Earl Ragnar raises Uhtred as his own son as the Danes raid across England, carving out their own territory. Uhtred grows up divided between his loyalty to his country and to the people who raised him and if he ever wants to win back his father’s land, he must make a choice.

Confession: I watched the show first and loved it.

I was trolling Netflix late one night, looking for something specific (I forget what, but it did have the word “last” in the title) and The Last Kingdom was suggested to me in lieu of what I wanted. It appeared to be about Vikings and whatnot, and the main character was pretty hunky and had long flowy hair, so I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did!

I don’t typically watch TV shows anymore because I don’t have the attention span to focus on too many episodes – even this show, which has only one season right now, comprised of eight episodes, took me over a month to get through. But in the end, I was left wanting more and after tweeting about it, my buddy Jacob let me know it was based on a historical fiction series by Cornwell. I should have known it was a book first!

Well, I enjoyed the book just as much as I enjoyed the show, though I have to say, I’m glad I watched the show first. I don’t want to blather on about the show forever, but I will say that it did add some character depth and development that the book didn’t offer (while of course skimping in other areas). I also enjoyed their casting, so I didn’t bother trying to alter my mental images, especially after finding out Beocca is written as a cross-eyed redhead and Uhtred is blonde.

The story is told by Uhtred in his later years, so he drops little hints about situations that happen later in life, which kept me on my toes as to where his journey might take him. This first book does focus heavily on his childhood (the show speeds him up to about eighteen or so pretty quickly) and as a result, I was able to better understand his motivations and the divide he felt between being English and Danish. Uhtred does have a bit of a sense of humor as well and I chuckled more than once.

I don’t have anything in particular to say about the writing style itself. Cornwell didn’t blow me away and I wasn’t particularly moved during certain scenes (whereas the show affected me more powerfully thanks to their excellent character development), yet I was immersed the entire book and I can’t wait to read further so I can surpass the show and find out what happens!

This is a solid start to what I hope will be an excellent series. I especially enjoyed the different time period, as I haven’t read a lot of historical fiction based this early in time. If you’re interested in some Viking action, I’d recommend this!

You can find Bernard’s website here.

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