Monday, August 15, 2011
Quick Book Review: The Last Kingdom
The Book: The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
The Skinny: Young English noble captured and raised by invading Danes while they conquer 9th century England down to its very last kingdom: Wessex. Struggles between his English heritage and his (way more awesome) Danish raider/Viking lifestyle.
The Good: Political intrigue on par with anything George RR Martin has ever written, and in much fewer words; Some laugh-out-loud moments; fist-pumping action sequences; excellent prose that thankfully avoids page-long descriptions of food; Conclusion is satisfying while also making it clear this is to be the first in a series;
The Bad: It's historical fiction*
This is the best book I've read in 2011, hands down. I've read McCarthy, Martin, Mieville, Abercrombie, and VanderMeer, and this one tops them all. It has a pace that pushes you continually forward, a prose that is beautiful without being self-indulgent, and has a wit that you just can't find in fantasy--which I like to think of as the nephew of historical fiction.
I list historical fiction as a negative (with an asterisk) only because the genre does come with some limitations. For one, we know, despite young Uhtred's desires to drive a sword through Alfred's belly, that he ultimately never will, because Alfred does not die then, nor ever at the hands of the Uhtred. But it isn't a disappointment, because there's plenty of killing to be done, and there's enough healthy speculation that other notable historical figures kick the bucket in awesome ways.
If you're a fan of fantasy, I think you will like this book, because you'll see the history your favorite fantasy authors draw their ideas from. You might be saddened that there are no dragons flying about, but there's enough mysticism, superstition, and religious fervor going around that you might just forget you're reading an historical. If you're a writer of fantasy, you should absolutely read this book, and farm the hell out of it, because that's what you're supposed to do. But above all you're going to like this book because it's a ripping good read!