Having watched one and a half episodes of The Last Kingdom on BBC iPlayer, I decided that I needed these books in my life. Not just the first (which would have been a more sensible approach to reading) but the first five, which I found on sale (and as a bargain-lover, I just had to buy them).
I’ve never been particularly absorbed in historical fiction and have often found it hard to focus on books of this genre, but Cornwell just happens to be a God among God-writers when it comes to drawing readers in to his tales.
The Saxon Stories (or Chronicles) follows the life of Uhtred (son of Uhtred, son of Uhtred, who is, surprise surprise, son of another Uhtred) of Bebbanburg, born a Saxon but raised a Dane by the great Earl Ragnar. His fate is entwined with that of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, the first King to dream of a United Kingdom with hopes of merging Wessex, East Anglia, and Mercia.
To Alfred, Uhtred swears an oath that changes his life forever, and we learn that fate is inexorable. Uhtred’s destiny is set out for him, and he must decide between the life he loves, and the life he is sworn to serve (and just so you all know, that last bit is taken from the back of the book because book blurbs like to remind me every damn time what’s up with Uhtred.)
It’s not only the historical accuracy of the Anglo-Saxon period that Cornwell gets absolutely spot on. His vivid descriptions of battle (I’m just done reading about the Battle of Ethandun), and his rich knowledge of Vikings and Saxons brings the story to life and makes me feel like I want to fight in a shield wall and spill someone’s guts out with an axe (It’s all very harrowing stuff.)