“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.