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    Review of THE LAST KINGDOM by Bernard Cornwell

    HarperCollins, February 2005

    The Norsemen raided the English kingdoms for decades, but in 866, they attempt outright conquest. Huge armies of Danes descend first on Northumbria, then Mercia, then East Anglia, until only Wessex, the richest Saxon kingdom and the most southern, survives. And the Danes plan that Wessex will be next. After everyone else has fallen before them, few doubt that Wessex will fall--and English culture will be eliminated from the world. But King Alfred isn't willing to give up so easily.

    Early in the invasion, Uhtred of Northumbria is captured by the Danes. For his ten-year-old bravery after his father is killed in battle, the Danes adopt him, raise him, and teach him to fight. He adopts their religion--which is the religion of his ancestors although the English had adopted Christianity after their conquest of most of Britain--their fighting ways, and their casual attitudes toward sex. But when his adoptive father is killed in a feud, Uhtred flees to Wessex where he is welcomed by Alfred and put to work. Although his kingdom is under threat, already Alfred plans on a time when the Danes will be defeated. He wants Northumbrian, Angliacan, and Mercian noblemen under his banner--under his control.

    Author Bernard Cornwell (see more reviews of novels by Cornwell) personalizes a mostly historical tale with the fictional life of Uhtred. Through his eyes, we see the power and ambition of the Danes, the long odds against their invasion's success, but also how close to success they came. Because the Danes were a society of warriors, they were able to put a much higher proportion of their men into battle.

    Cornwell's battle descriptions are high points of the story--both vivid and convincingly detailed. It's easy to imagine the shield wall as men fight and die. Because Uhtred is committed neither to the Danes nor to Wessex, Cornwell is able to play with the personalities of the historical figures, letting Uhtred see both their strengths and their weaknesses.

    Cornwell is a master of military-historical fiction and THE LAST KINGDOM is a welcome addition to his work.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 3/08/05

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