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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2005. ISBN: 0-06-053051-0

My introduction to Cornwell as a writer came through my interest in Arthurian fiction, of which he wrote a worthy and welcome trilogy, Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur, which were published back in 1996 and 1997, but which I read and blogged in 2004.

I was hard pressed to know whether to categorize these books as fantasy or “other fiction” which is where I would normally put historical fiction on my blog, since I don't have enough historical fiction to justify a separate index. If it's not science fiction or fantasy, or mystery or suspense, it goes into “other fiction.” I finally waffled, and put these books in both places. I probably would have left them in “other fiction,” except that Cornwell does allow for some limited magic to seem to work in this series, so I decided that fantasy also applied.

There's also the fact that we really don't know much about the actual era of King Arthur, and there's no real evidence that such a person every existed. So anything written about the period could be considered fantasy from that perspective, at least. I think Cornwell himself would prefer to have his work thought of as historical fiction, not fantasy.

Nevertheless, I daresay most fantasy fans would enjoy Cornwell's work, since it shares many of the same elements. Namely, it's set in a pre-technological age, like most fantasy, and the story line is every bit as compelling as any fantasy I've ever read.

These newer books are definitely historical fiction though, not fantasy. In this series, Cornwell tackles the conflict between the Danish “Viking” invaders, and the now “civilized” (or at least Christianized) Saxons, under Alfred the Great. Ironic that the barbarian Anglo Saxon invaders of King Arthur's era are now the civilized Christians, resisting another barbarian invasion, this time from the Northmen.

In The Last Kingdom, Cornwell once again creates an exciting and stirring adventure story which sweeps us along with its retelling of a historical period in Britain's past. Fortunately there are two more books to read in this trilogy, The Pale Horseman (2005) and The Lords of the North, already released in Great Britain, but not coming to the U.S. market until January, 2007, according to the author's website.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, especially the medieval era, and even for fantasy fans. Recommended, in fact, for anyone who enjoys a good action story.

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