The Last Kingdom (Last Kingdom Series #1) (Saxon Tales)

The Last Kingdom (Last Kingdom Series #1) (Saxon Tales)

4.2 372
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.

New York Times bestselling author

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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.

New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom is 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.

“Historical novels stand or fall on detail, and Mr. Cornwell writes as if he has been to ninth-century Wessex and back.”—WALL STREET JOURNAL

Editorial Reviews

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
Entertainment Weekly
“Enter Cornwell’s vividly drawn ninth-century Kingdom … after this dip into the Dark Ages, we want to go back.”
Wall Street Journal
“Enthralling ... the desperate, heroic struggle of Alfred “the Great” ... against the seemingly invincible Vikings.
“Masterful....[An]irresistible epic adventure....Cornwell deserves praise for his mesmerizing narrative finesse and his authentic historical detailing.”
Boston Globe
“History comes alive.”
Washington Post Book World
“Intoxicating….Thrilling….Cornwell conveys the disquiet of change and the melancholy of extinction as few historical novelists manage to.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales) Series , #1
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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?"


"Did he die well?"


"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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Last Kingdom 4.2 out of 5 based on 3 ratings. 372 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are into the chaotic history after the fall of the Roman Empire, then this book will be hard for you to put down! Cornwell does a superb job of opening this brutal world to us! Before there were chivalric codes, before the modern-day countries even existed, there were people fighting to gain territory formerly held by the Romans. This included the Danes/Vikings who were in their 'golden age' during the Dark Ages. The central characters in this book are tough in a harsh world, and you get to know them as they struggle. It makes you want more! About halfway through this book, I hopped online to buy the rest of the series. I didn't want to have to wait before reading the other books. Cornwell is definitely on my short list of great authors.
SuperBookish More than 1 year ago
Wonderful Book I enjoyed reading. kept me entertained all the way through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading all of Sharon Kay Penman's historical fiction (which are all excellent reads as well), I realized I didn't know very much about early England and found Bernard Cornwell's "The Last Kingdom" in a google search for this specific time period. Cornwell's description of the shield wall, battle strategies, the cunning of the Danes and King Alfred, training of warriers - all brought to life - and one can't help but thoroughly enjoy Uhtred's character. One forgets that Christianity was growing and still had not been accepted in so may parts of Europe, that the history of the Danes' gods and their belief background at the time was very interesting. History merely touches on these things so if you want to delve deeper, Cornwell brings all of this to life in this wonderful novel. I'm anxious to finish the trilogy....I simply could not put this book down. Most certainly recommended reading.
JR86 More than 1 year ago
The Last Kingdom is Book One in the Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell. It tells the tale of Uhtred, a Saxon boy captured and raised by Danes. Even though the Saxons and the Danes are enemies, Uhtred comes to love his Dane captors, which creates perpetual conflict for him as events unfold in his young life. Cornwell does an excellent job of mixing actual historical events, and fictional as well as historical characters. There is tension between the Danes and the Saxons, Christianity and Norse gods, and among those joskeying for political power. The story is full of intrigue as well as action, and is not predictable or boring, even set against the backdrop of historical events. I recommend the book for both Cornwell fans, and those looking for a good, interesting read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my first Cornwell novel, and it wont be my last. Framed within the early years of King Alfred of Wessex' struggle against the advancing Danish threat, there is plenty of action and intrigue in this work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Off to a slow start but after a while you can't put it down
Lilo02 More than 1 year ago
Uhtred of Northumbria, a young 11 year old boy destined to be the next lord of his fathers estate finds his whole life just completely changed one day when the Danes attack Eoferwick (spelling?) in which his father fought in the shield wall and was killed by the Viking Earl Ragnar. He is later captured by the fierce warriors, raised and trained to speak their language and trained to fight like a Viking. Uhtred's life is marked by his sword Serpent Breath pointed to a blood feud between his key enemies. One of which include his uncle who stole his rightful lordship from him. Eventually fate strikes a different coarse when Kjartan murders the one man that fathered Uhtred. The Earl Ragnar and his entire hall are burned to dust and Ragnar's daughter captured by Kjartan's son Sven, taken as a slave. Uhtred flees what could have turned out to be his demise with a young girl who becomes his lover by the name of Brida. Uhtred finds himself in the hands of King Alfred of Wessex and provides his service to fighting for the King to kill Danes that have come to attack and take over England. Bernard Cornwell writes this series based off what he has learned about his family geneology. Taking to fact that this series is a historical FICTION, this series is one for the lovers of history. Especially those who love battles and other adventures of such kind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader, mostly of romance, contemporary and historical, and a lover of English and Scottish history. This is my first book by this author. I got it after seeing his most recent novel in this series on the best seller list. I liked it more than i expected to. Historical fiction can sometimes be quite dry. This one was a bit dry, but the action and dialogue and humor really kept me interested. Uhtred is a womderful character, strong and bright and funny and real. A very complex and engaging storyline. I would have liked to see a bit more of his family and romantic life, romance lover that I am. Im intrigued by the foreshadowing of Uhtred and Alred's daughter. Very engaging and entertaining book!
Lois53 More than 1 year ago
I had not read Benard Cornwell, and am so glad that I purchased The Last Kingdom. It is a fascinating look at early England, during the days of the raiding of the Saxons. Not only is is a highly entertaining story, it offers unique viewpoints of the Christianity that was in place in England at that time and how strangely it was viewed by the Saxons. The main character, who was raised with Catholicism, is kidnapped for his teen years by the war-loving Saxons and grows up with their high testosterone approach to life. This sets up an interesting quandary as he comes back in contact with his family and his Christian roots. I can't wait to read book number two.
Patarma6 More than 1 year ago
This is a good look at the tapestry that is the development and early history of what was to become England. The Romans are long gone and the Angles, Saxons and Jutes have displaced the Celts. A couple of centuries, lost in the fog and mist of legend, have passed and the Danes have begun their incursion. The development of the Danish incursion and the conflicts they bring are the backdrop of the developing leadership of what is to become England.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good characters and good action scenes.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell - First in the Saxon Series The book covers a decade in the life of Osbert Uhtredson. It starts when Osbert is 10 years old - A. D. 866 - and the danes attack Northumbria. The earl of Bebbanburg, his father, is besieged by the Danes, but sends his son, Uhtred to scout their activities. Uhtred is killed by Ragnar, the leader of the raid, and he brings back Uhtred’s head in a spear. At that point, Osbert becomes the new Uhtred. Finally, there’s a battle in which Uthred’s family is killed - yet Uhtred is spared because at age 10, and with a knife, Uhtred attacks Ragnar. Ragnar spared Uhtred and raises him as his own. He’s taught the way of the Danes, their customs, and religion. However Ragnar had made an enemy of Kjartan, one of his ships commanders, and after the Danes conquer Mercia, and East Anglia, Ragnar is killed in his home in Mercia by Kjartan. Thus Uhtred and his friend Brida are forced to change allegiance again and to fight for the English under King Alfred of Wessex - The last English kingdom left standing. Based on historical events, the books is a great read. If you’re watching the History Channel series “The Vikings,” you’ll love the book. It shows the Danish invasion of the British Isles from the point of view of Uhtred - from age 10, when his brother was killed, until age 20 when he helps the English defeat the Danes at Cynuit. It presents a youngster point of view in admiring the Viking religion - Pagan feasts with sex and alcohol, a Valhalla with parties and celebrations vs. Christianity with sacrifice, fasting, learning to read and write.... It clearly presents a view of fate in guiding young Uhtred’s life and how each time the boy is made to change allegiances between the English and the Danes, it’s because of some major calamity. It was a wonderful read and if you enjoy historical fiction in general, and Cornwell in particular, I strongly recommend you this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a incredibly indepth book. Mr. Cornwell is a wonderful author who makes you care for his characters. My only complaint is that his books can get a little sexual. Overall though, this is great series.
Giovahna More than 1 year ago
This is the first book of a great series. I had to keep reading these. Our young hero finds himself torn between love of his homeland and respect and friendship with those that took him from it, Compelling storyline with great twists & turns!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Powerful and wonderful
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully written..grabs you and brings you into the world of the Saxons. I have purchased the entire series.. Bernard Cornwell reminds me of Ken Folliett who wrote "Pillars of the Earth"
reakeener1970 More than 1 year ago
These are some of, if not THE, best historical fiction books I have ever read. It is a fascinating but little understood period of history and Mr. Cornwell truly brings it to vibrant life. Anyone with an interest in English and Viking history should give this series a try. I seriously doubt you will be disappointed. Note: I usually don't write reviews of books, however, I came online to buy them for my Nook (I already have the hardback versions, obviously) and noticed that there were several one-star reviews. I decided to look as I was wondering who could possibly give these books one star. Not surprisingly, there were a bunch of one stars with no comments from "Anonymous." So just wanted to give another five star rating to help counteract the one stars, which seem to probably be from some kid or someone just trying to be funny (and failing),
BDbksllr More than 1 year ago
Cornwell has done it again. He has created a character (albeit a possible distant relative) the has flaws like his other characters. This time he tackles England circa 866 to 877. Invasion by the Danish (vikings) and the rise of importance of Alfred the Great. Centers around young Uhtred from his capture by Danes to his shaky allegiance with Alfred.
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Anonymous 6 months ago
This is a great historical fiction book about Earl Uhtred of Bebbanburg , modern day Bramburg Castle. . Set in the 9th century , during the reign of King Alfred ( the great ) of Wessex. At the time of the raid of the great heathen army. You will find no danish heroes in this book as it is told in the rightful viewpoint of the Anglo Saxons whose lands were raided by heathens in a day and age when most Angos had been Christians for centuries. No Viking heroes here for you. Now that you know that the true facts are here , I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did and I plan on purchasing the rest and watching the British series.
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TakomaGeezer More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and of Bernard Cornwell in particular. His Sharpe series is one of the best examples of military historical fiction I've ever come across. I've read some of his other series and, while they were OK, they didn't approach the excellence of the Sharpe series. Saxon Tales re-establishes Cornwell as a master of this genre. I was a Medieval History major as an undergrad and studied Church history and the evolution of the nation state following the collapse of the Roman Empire. Cornwell captures this dark and brutal era with complete clarity and authenticity, and without any intrusions of modern sensibilities. I particularly was impressed by the interplay of cultures -- Danish, Saxon, Welsh, British -- and the way that religion influenced each culture's motivations and actions. In addition, Cornwell's insights into military combat of the time (the shield wall was particularly nuanced) and his aversion to using cheap tricks (invention of new technologies, in particular) sets him apart from other writers. His characters, particularly Uthred, are captives of their time and circumstances and use their wits and existing resources to find solutions to really difficult solutions. I'm now into the fourth book in the series and the evolution of the characters, the continued authenticity of the story still impress. Highly recommended for anyone who likes a good story that transports you to an era that has been forgotten by most writers and scholars, but was critical in the evolution of modern Western Society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago