Book Review: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories, #1)The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to this book on audio while I was driving to and from Atlantic City a month ago. At the time, I enjoyed it well enough, but it’s been a book that’s stuck with me since finishing it, and not all books do. So I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t given it a review, and I thought I’d take a minute or two today to correct that.

The premise is straightforward enough: it’s an historically-based fictional account of the invasion of England by the Danes in the late 800s. The main character, Uhtred Ragnarson, is fictional, but he interacts with people from history and gets directly involved in historical events. Some books try to pull this off and it feels odd, but I didn’t have that issue with this one. Perhaps some of that is because the exact history is murky. There are some reports and accounts of what went on, but there’s a whole lot of room there for interpretation.

Cornwell does a really good job making the characters come to life, and presenting history in an engrossing manner. I got caught up in the story, but I still felt like I was learning something. That said, at the end of the book, I didn’t have a huge desire to read the rest of the series. Not because it was bad, but because I felt like I’d gotten what I wanted to from it.

On the other hand, I then went on and watched the TV show with Denisa, and that’s made me appreciate the books a whole lot more. It’s a fine show, and diverting enough (in a “BBC tries to do Game of Thrones” sort of way that makes you wish BBC would be able to do it without the gratuitous spurts of blood and absence of clothing from time to time), but I kept being frustrated with how the characters were portrayed. Cornwell creates very consistent, believable characters. Conflicted characters that make mistakes, but you can understand them. The show flattens these characters and makes it seem like they keep being inordinately stupid. Basically, they try to rush through the story, and it makes it all feel hurried and haphazard in the end.

If you enjoy a good story and want to learn some history while you’re at it, I heartily recommend this book. I think I might go and read the sequel, now that I have a bit of space from it. 4.5/5

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