Friday, September 02, 2011

Review, The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell , 2004-5 Harper-Collins.

This is the first of a series of historical novels about Anglo-Saxon England facing Viking attacks, especially the Great Army. Some of the Britannia players at WBC put me onto this, though it was sheer luck that I passed by it in the library stacks while browsing the other day.

I haven't read an historical novel in 35 years, but this one feels kind of like fantasy without the magic; in any case, you can see that my interest in the setting is greater than normal, thanks to the game Britannia.

Bernard Cornwell is a very well-known author of historical military related novels, especially the ones about Sharp that have been turned into a series of TV movies starring Sean Bean (I've never seen any). This novel is pretty intense and pretty grim at times, told very much from the first person point of view of a single person, the young heir to the earldom of Bamberg in Northumbria. A major character is King Alfred the Great, shown here as a very pious, sickly man who values learning as well as military prowess.

As many historical novelists, Cornwell appears to know his subject very well and to take as few liberties as possible. But with so few sources of information for that time this is a case where the historical novelist has a great deal of room to maneuver in.

I only had this book from the library, otherwise I'd already be reading the next. I look forward to reading more of this series, which will reach six books in October.

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