Thursday, September 15, 2011

I finished the LAST KINGDOM by Bernard Cornwell. I'm sort of two minds about it. It's a quick read. It catches the wild ride of one Northumbrian nobleman's son whose father is killed, and his lands taken, by the invading Danes. He's captured by a Danish nobleman and raised almost as a son, but destiny has other plans for him.

I liked the book as historical fiction. I liked the sense of who the Saxon English were, and who the Danes were, and what they valued. The reign of King Alfred of Wessex is another hinge point of English history, like the Saxon invasions themselves. In Alfred's time, the Saxon English, mostly Christian, were nearly conquered by the invading pagan Danes.

But the main character, Uhtred, is a bit of an enigma. His actions are those of a passionate man, but he talks dispassionately about them as he recounts them -- an old man telling the story of a young man's choices. Uhtred is motivated by the desire to get back his father's castle, but it's not always the driving force in his life. Sometimes sex is. Sometimes friendship is. Does that make him well-rounded as a character, or vague?

Alfred is a well-drawn nemesis, wise, fanatically religious, Puritanical and sly. And many of the other characters are well-drawn too. But there's a hole in the book, I feel, where the main character should be.

Your mileage may vary. To be fair, this is a book I ripped through in a few days. But I'm not strongly motivated to read the next one. I sort of wanted it all to add up to more. The book is a rollercoaster. I wish it held together as a coherent story, you know, with a theme and all.



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