Bernard Cornwell's, The Last Kingdom, is the first book in the Saxon Tales series. It is a compelling, and emotionally satisfying story of a noble Saxon boy, Uhtred, snatched by the fearsome Danes who routinely raided England in the 9th century. Despite his violent capture, Uhtred comes to love and respect Earl Ragnar, the Danish warrior chieftain who raises Uhtred as his own son. This leads to the continuing conflict Uhtred faces as he weighs his loyalty to the Saxons of his birth and the Danes he has come to admire.
This conflict is tested when the Danes move to invade and occupy the only remaining English kingdom that has resisted Danish rule - Wessex. In spirit, Uhtred is more in line with his beloved foster father than he is with the chosen English king, Alfred of Wessex. Where Uhtred is vitally alive, Alfred is cold and supercilious in his devotion to the new Christian religion. Still, Saxon blood runs in Uhtred's veins and he is constantly torn between what he perceives as his duty and his sense of belonging to the Viking way of life, even as Uhtred struggles to deal with the emotional devastation that attends the Viking massacres of Saxon villages.
Amid singing Viking war axes and the clash of Saxon swords, Cornwell's consistently deft touch at blending historical characters such as Alfred of Wessex with fictional Saxon thanes, Viking warriors, druidic advisors, and Uhtred himself gives the well-plotted story enough verisimilitude to keep fans of historical fiction happy, while also moving the story along in a way that makes The Last Kingdom a marvelous and exciting read.
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