“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.
“All those separate people were a part of my life, strings strung on the frame of Uhtred, and though they were separate they affected one another and together they would make the music of my life.”
Excalibur is a magical finale to this Arthurian tale, infused with heroism and tragedy. It swept me from one emotion to the next.
"Tell your father" I said, "That I loved him to the end."
Excalibur is the third and final book in The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. It brings about the conclusion of the best Arthurian novels I have ever had the privilege to read.
"This tale of Arthur, my Lord, my friend and the deliverer of Britain."
Excalibur was utterly brilliant, just like its predecessors. It is the finale of a story that has immersed me into the lives of the characters and sent me on an emotional rollercoaster, from euphoria to misery.
This book contained the largest scale conflicts of the trilogy, with numerous wars taking place and great battles deciding the fate of the country. One of the best duels I have had the pleasure to read was in this, as I am sure any previous reader will remember! It was mesmerising, the tension and description moulding together to make the scene truly incredible. I will remember this duel for many years to come.
Cornwell's prose, as expected, was as marvellous in this instalment. It just glides perfectly from one scene to the next, painting a vivid representation in his flawless manner. His humour is witty and perfectly used with Merlin, who makes dry and sharp comments that made me laugh out loud.
"Only a fool wants war, but once a war starts then it cannot be fought half-heartedly. It cannot even be fought with regret, but must be waged with a savage joy in defeating the enemy, and it is that savage joy that inspires our bards to write their greatest songs about love and war."
So many acts of heroism were performed that had me physically grinning. And then there were the despicable actions that had me weeping as characters I have grown to love were mistreated by those whose ambitions were insatiable. Some of my most loved and hated characters in fiction are in this book! I will genuinely miss Derfel and Arthur.
While Excalibur had its fair share of tragedy to say the least, it was also made complete with moments of bitter satisfaction and heroic deeds that softened the blow, but not enough to stem the tears and state of mourning that ensued. This antithesis of emotions formed a truly unique reading journey that has placed Excalibur as one of my top ten books of all time.
"So, in the morning light, where they flapped in the drying wind, the bear and the star defied the Saxons."
Excalibur and the series on the whole was a wonderful, brutal, heart-wrecnhing, beautiful story about friendship and loyalty. I wept at multiple points and was left in shock at how much my emotions were manipulated during this read.
But now I must say farewell to this novel and all its contents. So goodbye to Derfel and his inspiring loyalty, Merlin and his wisdom, Galahad and his kindness, and of course, Arthur, the Lord and saviour of Britain.