Book Review: The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

You may well have heard of The Last Kingdom tv series on Netflix that has received critical acclaim. It’s based on a book series and the book series is rather good too you’ll be pleased to hear.

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell book review
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Please note that this article contains affiliate links. This means if you choose to purchase The Last Kingdom via any of the links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. These links do not affect my opinion of the product.

Alternatively, you may not know there’s a TV series and you’ve read The Last Kingdom and want to remind yourself why you enjoyed it so much before you go and watch the TV series. Well, either is fine. 

The Last Kingdom focuses on Uhtred of Bebbanburg and his family and companions he meets along the way. It’s set in the ninth century and features Vikings, religious battles and very very British history. It’s great.

Plot – 4/5

We pick up Uhtred’s story as a very young boy when he’s captured by Vikings who instead of killing him, decide to raise him as one of their own when they find out he has quite the attitude. What begins is a moral battle that Uhtred must suffer throughout his upbringing as he knows he is British but has been brought up lovingly and is the man he is today as a result of the Vikings who raised him.

The whole story sees this choosing of sides test Uhtred as his Viking brethren continue to show their brutality towards the Saxons. Among his journeys, Uhtred meets Alfred the Great whom he grows a lot of respect for, respecting his ideas for the future of England, adding more questions as to whose side he is on. 

It’s a great tale that sees you as a reader really follow Uhtred with his struggles to choose the right side. There are some great action scenes within the novel too and Cornwell writes in a really quite fantastic style making sentences easy to read but almost poetic.

Characters – 4/5

Uhtred is brilliant. He’s a man who lives with great passion – he was born a Saxon and grew up as a Viking, giving him such a diverse palette of a personality. He’s not someone you want to mess with and is someone you want to befriend and earn their loyalty. Uhtred is flawed, he loses his temper, he makes the wrong choices sometimes and he’s never really sure what the morally correct thing to do is – but these all just make him a deeper and more enjoyable character.

Uhtred’s original Saxon family are rarely heard from but his new Viking family feels almost like typical Vikings. They’re loud, they’re often drunk, they’re brutish and they are crass. However, there are many among them who are deep lovers, who, once their trust is earned, will defend Uhtred and anybody who Uhtred likes’ lives. There are some truly detestable people in this book and some truly lovable. Not all of whom you’ll continue to detest or continue to love.

Summary – 4/5

Going into The Last Kingdom, I liked the idea of historical fiction and I liked the idea of reading about Vikings, however, I wasn’t quite expecting to be fed so much character-driven plot along the way too. Cornwell has done what all great historical-fiction writers do and managed to make fictional (and some non-fictional) characters feel utterly real during a time period none of us would be able to contemplate. 

It’s not the most riveting of reads. Yes, you read that right. Despite my much praise for this book: its great writing, its good characters and the moral dilemma Uhtred faces, I didn’t come out of this book absolutely obsessed and needing to read the sequels like I have other first books in a series. To like this book you’ll need to know your history and you’ll need to have an interest in the era it discusses – if not, there’s a lot in here you may not understand (England’s regions are named differently and the British are referred to as Saxons are just two examples). Pick up this book if you like historical fiction, pick up this book if you like an imperfect hero, or pick up this book if you just pick up anything that I suggest you pick up! Pick up your copy of The Last Kingdom here.

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