The Last Kingdom, by Bernard Cornwell

July 23, 2010 at 17:24 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Poorly Rated Books) (, , , , )


Cornwell is a master in his genre, and a superb writer. It is a shame that The Last Kingdom manages to seem so tired and strained when it is the first book in a new series. It might well be dreadful to imagine what the later additions to the Saxon Chronicles are like. Uhtred is a thoroughly unlikeable little squit, managing to combine willful ignorance, pigheaded arrogance, ridiculous pride, physical incompetence and bare-faced treason in one rather unappealing character. It is understandable that Cornwell wanted to create something other than an everyman. It is excusable that he wished to give his character a little grime to go with the gleam, but he ended up with a caricature of Falstaff without the redeeming buffoonery.

Cornwell’s dislike of Christianity is a recurring theme in his books, but in The Last Kingdom it is transformed from his expressed opinion into a club with which to beat both the reader and some of his potentially more interesting characters. It is easy to see that he feared turning Alfred into a sad carbon copy of his brilliant portrayal of Arthur in the Warlord Chronicles, but turning him into a gibbering idiot simply because of his faith makes for tiresome reading.

His description of dark ages warfare, of naval tactics and of the political climate are all, of course, his usual riveting and highly intelligent work; his penchant to describe his characters’ wenching activities in grisly detail is thankfully toned down a little from what he doled out in Sharpe and Stonehenge. Despite these successes, this is a poorly chosen direction for a terrific writer, and not worth reading unless you have already read and reread his better works.


1 Comment

  1. David said,

    Interesting and helpful review! Cornwell has been recommended to me many times, because of my love for historical Arthurian fiction and Rosemary Sutcliff, but I have heard a bit about his attacks on Christianity, which make me wonder if he is worth it. At some point I shall try out his Warlord Chronicles, and let those be the measure of whether I read anything else of him. A pity about this, as I think there is much good material for an author in the story of Alfred the Great. It sounds like this book, however, would set my teeth on edge.

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