The Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales #1)

The Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales #1)

4.2 371
by Bernard Cornwell
     
 

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In the middle years of the ninth-century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England—and the course of history—depended upon one man, one king.

From New York Times bestselling storyteller

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Overview

In the middle years of the ninth-century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England—and the course of history—depended upon one man, one king.

From New York Times bestselling storyteller Bernard Cornwell comes a rousing epic adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love, and battle as seen through the eyes of a young warrior who straddled two worlds.

Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
“History comes alive.”
Wall Street Journal
“Enthralling ... the desperate, heroic struggle of Alfred “the Great” ... against the seemingly invincible Vikings.
Entertainment Weekly
“Enter Cornwell’s vividly drawn ninth-century Kingdom … after this dip into the Dark Ages, we want to go back.”
Washington Post Book World
“Intoxicating….Thrilling….Cornwell conveys the disquiet of change and the melancholy of extinction as few historical novelists manage to.”
Booklist
“Masterful....[An]irresistible epic adventure....Cornwell deserves praise for his mesmerizing narrative finesse and his authentic historical detailing.”
Katherine A. Powers
In addition to providing thrilling combat action and satisfying details of material life, military accoutrement and battle tactics, Cornwell's best historical fiction pleases us mightily in the way his renditions of the great actors and events of yore stray from received versions. Such contrariness is partly the product of meticulous research and partly of a mischievous sense of humor. Happily, both inform The Last Kingdom throughout.
— The Washington Post
Library Journal
The ninth century witnessed the beginning of deadly raids and incursions along England's coastlines and waterways as Danes went a-Viking in search of riches of gold and silver and, most important, land. Opposing the invaders was the king of Wessex, Alfred the Great. Best-selling author Cornwell (Sharpe's Escape) explores this tumultuous period through the eyes of a Saxon nobleman's son. Ten-year-old Uhtred joins his father in battle to save their land of Northumbria from invasion. During the conflict, in which his father is killed, Uhtred is captured by the Danes and spends the next several years as the adopted son of war-leader Ragnar. Even after returning to his own people, Uhtred finds his loyalty torn. He despises the priest-ridden, sickly King Alfred and admires the Viking warriors who raised him. As a third-generation Dane, this reviewer can't help but root for the Danes right along with Uhtred. It doesn't hurt that Cornwell has clearly made them the more sympathetic and interesting characters. Another great historical series in the making, this is highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/04.]-Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A dispossessed Northumbrian gets a military education from the Danes before reluctantly signing on to serve the humorless Wessexian king, he who will eventually become Alfred the Great (849-99). Opening yet another series, Cornwell, who turns out about two high-quality historicals a year (Sharpe's Escape, 2004, etc.) without breaking a sweat, examines, through the eyes of a reluctant vassal, the career of the only English king to rate a Great. Born Osbert, younger son of Uhtred, ealdorman of Bebbanburg, on the coast of Northumbria, robust, war-loving Uhtred got renamed on the death of his older brother, killed by the Danes who, on a later raid, seized the lad and, admiring his spunk, kept him as a sort of pet. And Uhtred loves the Danish life. Back in Bebbanburg, his father and grumpy stepmother had been trying to have him educated by Beocca, a too-serious, too-Christian monk, but Uhtred wasn't interested. (And Uhtred's greedy uncle wanted him dead.) Ragnar, the warrior Dane who spared Uhtred's life, seeing real soldier potential in the boy, taught him the fine points of disemboweling, decapitating, etc., in a blissfully wild childhood on the land the invaders had seized from the very disorganized English. Besides loving the warrior life, Uhtred finds rowdy fatalistic paganism infinitely more sensible and appealing than the morose and, well, wimpy Christianity his countrymen cling to. The one glitch in his new life is the lifelong enemy he makes when he interrupts the prepubescent sexual assault on Ragnar's daughter by Sven, son of Kjartan, one of Ragnar's lieutenants. Sven and Kjartan will eventually be the death of Ragnar, forcing Uhtred and his wild English girlfriend, Brida, to movesouth, reluctantly resuming their British identities and drifting into the camp of Alfred, the only king on the island who hasn't capitulated to the invaders. Cornwell's no-fail mix of historic tidbits and good-humored action makes the usually gloomy ninth century sound like a hell of a lot of fun. Agent: Toby Eady/Toby Eady Associates

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060887186
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/03/2006
Series:
Saxon Tales Series, #1
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
55,706
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Last Kingdom


By Cornwell, Bernard

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 0060530510

Chapter One

The Danes were clever that day. They had made new walls inside the city, invited our men into the streets, trapped them between the new walls, surrounded them, and killed them. They did not kill all the Northumbrian army, for even the fiercest warriors tire of slaughter and, besides, the Danes made much money from slavery. Most of the slaves taken in England were sold to farmers in the wild northern isles, or to Ireland, or sent back across the sea to the Danish lands, but some, I learned, were taken to the big slave markets in Frankia and a few were shipped south to a place where there was no winter and where men with faces the color of scorched wood would pay good money for men and even better money for young women.

But they killed enough of us. They killed Ælla and they killed Osbert and they killed my father. Ælla and my father were fortunate, for they died in battle, swords in their hands, but Osbert was captured and he was tortured that night as the Danes feasted in a city stinking of blood. Some of the victors guarded the walls, others celebrated in the captured houses, but most gathered in the hall of Northumbria's defeated king where Ragnar took me. I did not know why he took me there, I half expected to be killed or, at best, sold into slavery, but Ragnar made me sit with his men and put a roasted goose leg, half a loaf of bread, and a pot of ale in front ofme, then cuffed me cheerfully round the head.

The other Danes ignored me at first. They were too busy getting drunk and cheering the fights that broke out once they were drunk, but the loudest cheers came when the captured Osbert was forced to fight against a young warrior who had extraordinary skill with a sword. He danced around the king, then chopped off his left hand before slitting his belly with a sweeping cut and, because Osbert was a heavy man, his guts spilled out like eels slithering from a ruptured sack. Some of the Danes were weak with laughter after that. The king took a long time to die, and while he cried for relief, the Danes crucified a captured priest who had fought against them in the battle. They were intrigued and repelled by our religion, and they were angry when the priest's hands pulled free of the nails and some claimed it was impossible to kill a man that way, and they argued that point drunkenly, then tried to nail the priest to the hall's timber walls a second time until, bored with it, one of their warriors slammed a spear into the priest's chest, crushing his ribs and mangling his heart.

A handful of them turned on me once the priest was dead and, because I had worn a helmet with a gilt-bronze circlet, they thought I must be a king's son and they put me in a robe and a man climbed onto the table to piss on me, and just then a huge voice bellowed at them to stop and Ragnar bullied his way through the crowd. He snatched the robe from me and harangued the men, telling them I knew not what, but whatever he said made them stop and Ragnar then put an arm around my shoulders and took me to a dais at the side of the hall and gestured I should climb up to it. An old man was eating alone there. He was blind, both eyes milky white, and had a deep-lined face framed by gray hair as long as Ragnar's. He heard me clamber up and asked a question, and Ragnar answered and then walked away.

"You must be hungry, boy," the old man said in English.

I did not answer. I was terrified of his blind eyes.

"Have you vanished?" he asked. "Did the dwarves pluck you down to the underearth?"

"I'm hungry," I admitted.

"So you are there after all," he said, "and there's pork here, and bread, and cheese, and ale. Tell me your name."

I almost said Osbert, then remembered I was Uhtred. "Uhtred," I said.

"An ugly name," the old man said, "but my son said I was to look after you, so I will, but you must look after me too. You could cut me some pork?"

"Your son?" I asked.

"Earl Ragnar," he said, "sometimes called Ragnar the Fearless. Who were they killing in here?"

"The king," I said, "and a priest."

"Which king?"

"Osbert."

"Did he die well?"

"No."

"Then he shouldn't have been king."

"Are you a king?" I asked.

He laughed. "I am Ravn," he said, "and once I was an earl and a warrior, but now I am blind so I am no use to anyone. They should beat me over the head with a cudgel and send me on my way to the netherworld." I said nothing to that because I did not know what to say. "But I try to be useful," Ravn went on, his hands groping for bread. "I speak your language and the language of the Britons and the tongue of the Wends and the speech of the Frisians and that of the Franks. Language is now my trade, boy, because I have become a skald."

"A skald?"

"A scop, you would call me. A poet, a weaver of dreams, a man who makes glory from nothing and dazzles you with its making. And my job now is to tell this day's tale in such a way that men will never forget our great deeds."

"But if you cannot see," I asked, "how can you tell what happened?"

Ravn laughed at that. "Have you heard of Odin? Then you should know that Odin sacrificed one of his own eyes so that he could obtain the gift of poetry. So perhaps I am twice as good a skald as Odin, eh?" Continues...


Excerpted from The Last Kingdom by Cornwell, Bernard Excerpted by permission.
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