Cast Set for BBC & Carnival’s ‘Game Of Thrones’-Style epic ‘The Last Kingdom’

I’m excited by this. Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Series is one of my favorite historical fiction series. The Last Kingdom is the first installment. Other books in the series include: The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, Death of Kings, and The Pagan Lord.

An international cast has been firmed up as shooting begins on The Last Kingdom, BBC America, BBC Two and Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films’ Game Of Thrones-esque epic series. Set in the 9th century, the eight-part historical drama is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of books The Saxon Stories, with Stephen Butchard penning the transfer.

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The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell
Series: Saxon Tales
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (January 7, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0061969702

New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell returns to his epic Saxon Tales saga with The Pagan Lord, a dramatic story of divided loyalties, bloody battles, and the struggle to unite Britain.

At the onset of the tenth century, England is in turmoil. Alfred the Great is dead and Edward his son reigns as king. Wessex survives but peace cannot hold: the Danes in the north, led by Viking Cnut Longsword, stand ready to invade and will never rest until the emerald crown is theirs.

Uhtred, once Alfred’s great warrior but now out of favor with the new king, must lead a band of outcasts north to recapture his old family home, that great Northumbrian fortress, Bebbanburg.

In The Pagan Lord, loyalties will be divided and men will fall, as every Saxon kingdom is drawn into the bloodiest battle yet with the Danes; a war which will decide the fate of every king, and the entire English nation.

Rating on Amazon: 4.5 stars

Read my reviews on the other novels in the Saxon Tales:

Once I read The Pagan Lord, I will post my review of it as well.

1356 by Bernard Cornwell

1356 - Bernard Cornwell - Battle of Poitiers - Historical Fiction - Hundred Years War - Medieval History - Middle Ages HistoryThomas of Hookton from Cornwell’s Grail Quest Series returns in a stand-alone novel, 1356, about the Battle of Poitiers. The release date is set for January 8, 2013.

Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Harper (January 8, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0061969672

Description:

“The most prolific and successful historical novelist in the world today” (Wall Street Journal) has delivered another blockbuster with this thrilling tale of peril and conquest at the Battle of Poitiers.

September 1356. All over France, towns are closing their gates. Crops are burning, and through-out the countryside people are on the alert for danger. The English army—led by the heir to the throne, the Black Prince—is set to invade, while the French, along with their Scottish allies, are ready to hunt them down.

But what if there was a weapon that could decide the outcome of the imminent war?

Thomas of Hookton, known as le Batard, has orders to uncover the lost sword of Saint Peter, a blade with mystical powers said to grant certain victory to whoever possesses her. The French seek the weapon, too, and so Thomas’s quest will be thwarted at every turn by battle and betrayal, by promises made and oaths broken. As the outnumbered English army becomes trapped near Poitiers, Thomas, his troop of archers and men-at-arms, his enemies, and the fate of the sword converge in a maelstrom of violence, action, and heroism.

Rich with colorful characters, great adventure, and thrilling conflict, 1356 is a magnificent tale of how the quest for a holy relic with the power to change history may culminate in an epic struggle.

Review of Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Agincourt - Bernard Cornwell - Historical Fiction - Hundred Years War - Medieval History - Middle Ages HistoryOnce again Bernard Cornwell transports the reader to the Hundred Years War with Agincourt. As you can surmise from the title, the novel centers around the Battle of Agincourt, when on October 25 of 1415, a ragged, starved and outnumbered English army of 6,000 men faced off against 30,000 French soldiers. The French were well-rested. They were a seasoned army of knights and men-at-arms. But the one element the French did not have were longbowmen. And the English army had plenty.

The narrative follows the life of one of these longbowmen, Nicholas Hook. Hook is a wanted man in England for a confrontation he has with a rapist-priest, and so he joins Henry V’s army to escape being hanged. The story progresses through two sieges, one at Harfleur and the other at Soissons, and finishes with the ending battle at Agincourt. As always, Cornwell does a brilliant job with his research and describing the battle scenes.

Regarding the characters, most in this novel are pretty forgettable. Cornwell spends a lot of time with Hook of course, since he is the main character, and he does spend more time on the main love interest, Melisande, than in some of his past medieval novels, which is nice. The main antagonists are the rapist-priest, two brothers who harbor a long-standing family feud with Hook’s family, and Melisande’s father. The priest and the brothers have zero redeeming qualities, but Melisande’s father is rounded out a bit by the end. Nick’s closest friends, his longbowmen companions, are secondary and do not play much of role besides throwing in bits of dialogue here and there. Hook’s lord, John of Cornwaille, is a likeable character, and I would have preferred to see more of him.

Overall, for pure historical reference and vivid, epic battles, this novel is an enjoyable read. If you prefer stronger characters, I would recommend some of Cornwell’s other novels like his Saxon series, his Arthurian saga, or even the Grail Quest series.

My rating: 4 stars.

Interview with Bernard Cornwell on Death of Kings

Death of Kings is the latest installment in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series. It is set for release January of 2012.

Product Description:

The master of historical fiction presents the iconic story of King Alfred and the making of a nation.As the ninth century wanes, England appears about to be plunged into chaos once more. For the Viking-raised but Saxon-born warrior, Uhtred, whose life seems to shadow the making of England, this presents him with difficult choices.King Alfred is dying and his passing threatens the island of Britain to renewed warfare. Alfred wants his son, Edward, to succeed him but there are other Saxon claimants to the throne as well as ambitious pagan Vikings to the north.Uhtred‘s loyalty – and his vows – were to Alfred, not to his son, and despite his long years of service to Alfred, he is still not committed to the Saxon cause. His own desire is to reclaim his long lost lands and castle to the north. But the challenge to him, as the king’s warrior, is that he knows that he will either be the means of making Alfred’s dream of a united and Christian England come to pass or be responsible for condemning it to oblivion.This novel is a dramatic story of the power of tribal commitment and the terrible difficulties of divided loyalties.This is the making of England magnificently brought to life by the master of historical fiction.

Review of Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

Sword Song - Bernard Cornwell - Saxon Stories - Historical Fiction - Vikings - Medieval History - Middle Ages History - Medieval England - Danes - Alfred the GreatSword Song: The Battle for London (Saxon Stories Book #4) by Bernard Cornwell
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (December 23, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0061379743

Sword Song is the fourth book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series. This series is becoming one of my favorites of all time. The third book, Lords of the North, was exceptionally good, but I think Sword Song is even better, though the first book (The Last Kingdom) is still my favorite over all.

In Sword Song, we pick up again with Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg, as he still in the service of King Alfred the Great. Uhtred’s desire, as always, is to return to Northumbria and reclaim his father’s lands from his uncle, but he is also a man of his word, and he has sworn an oath to Alfred, and so he continues to serve the king in his fight against the Danes in Wessex. The fact that Uhtred refuses to break an oath to a man he hates demonstrates a lot about his character. He may be ruthless, a man of war, a commander of soldiers, but he is honest and trustworthy, which earns him the respect of his own men and of Alfred. Uhtred is no longer the arrogant, brash, young warrior we saw in The Pale Horseman. He demonstrates true leadership ability by knowing when to fight and when to use diplomacy, and he proves his worth to Alfred in other ways aside from his skill with a sword and shield. Alfred entrusts Uhtred to construct and fortify a city, and Uhtred excels at this task.

As with the other three books, Uhtred’s relationship with Alfred is one of necessity and often distant. That is one area I would like Cornwell to spend more time developing in his novels. Alfred is the only English monarch ever to be given the title “Great,” but we as readers don’t really see Alfred as being a great leader. We only see bits and pieces of him as a full picture of him is never really developed. I know we are seeing the story from the eyes of one man, Uhtred, and his perspective of Alfred is negative, even though his respect for Alfred certainly grows as the series progresses. Still, as I begin each book, I always find myself hoping Cornwell willl spend more time on Alfred, but he never does. Alfred’s character is purely secondary and flat. I want to feel attached to him, I want to understand why the chroniclers called him “The Great,” I want to feel in awe of him when he shows up throughout the story, but I never do . Alfred is the same from book one to book four. He is pious. He is organized. He is shrewd. He is intelligent. But he is not a warrior, or at least we never see him in that capacity. There needs to be more given to Alfred than just these simple characteristics.

Cornwell does spend more time with some of the other characters in this novel, however. We see more of Uhtred’s wife, Gisela, and we get to see Uhtred as a father to his daughter. A gentle side is not something we often see of Uhtred, and it adds a layer of complexity to his character that I wish Cornwell would develop more. Steapa and Finan, Uhtred’s companions of war, are back. The ever-likeable Father Willibald plays a prominent role. He is married now to Ragnar’s sister, and as always, is compassionate and gentle. He is a character I think everyone likes, but I could be wrong. Even Uhtred likes him, and that’s rare because Willibald is a Christian priest.

Cornwell also gives Athelflaed, King Alfred’s daughter, a large part in the novel. A good portion of the last part of the novel revolves around her, even though the majority of her story line is fictional, which is somewhat disappointing given her many accomplishments in England’s history. Of course, she is only fourteen or fifteen in this novel, so perhaps we will start to see her importance in the next novel, The Burning Land.

As a trademark of the other novels, Sword Song has its share of battle scenes. The battle for London shows Uhtred’s willingness to take risks and the confidence he has in his abilities as a military strategist. The battles are fairly predictable with only a few surprises, but they are still entertaining. Also, this novel did not seem quite as violent and gruesome as Lords of the North.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Review of Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell

Lords of the North - Bernard Cornwell - Saxon Chronicles series - Historical Fiction - Medieval History - Middle Ages History - King Alfred the Great - Danes - VikingsLords of the North by Bernard Cornwell
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (January 2, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0061149047

The year is 878, and Uhtred is returning home to Northumbria at the hands of the Three Spinners. Lords of the North is the third book in the Saxon Chronicles series (following The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman), and we continue to follow Uhtred’s journey in his quest to recover his familial inheritance of Bebbanburg. Uhtred is also seeking revenge for the murder of his adopted Danish father, Ragnar, at the hands of Kjartan the Cruel (The Last Kingdom, Book 1)

Uhtred has killed the mighty Ubba Lothbrokson (Book 1) and helped King Alfred the Great defeat the Danes at Ethandun (Book 2), and feeling slighted by his menial reward, Uhtred leaves Alfred’s service and goes north. He takes Hild the West Saxon nun with him, and when they arrive in the north and are passing through Kjartan’s lands, Uhtred frees one of Kjartan’s slaves, Guthred, who claims to come from a line of kings. Guthred is a Dane, but in order to rule, he becomes a Christian and works to bring both Danes and Christians together. Uhtred becomes Guthred’s closest advisor for a time, but in order to protect his kingdom, Guthred takes the advice of Uhtred on a certain matter, which ultimately forces Uhtred into slavery.

For years afterward, Uhtred serves as an oarsman to a Danish trader, rowing across the channel from England to Europe and back and even going as far as Iceland. Uhtred makes friends with another slave, an Irishman, and it is their vows of revenge that keep them alive, always waiting for the perfect opportunity to escape. Their chance of escape comes from an unlikely source, and with his new found freedom, Uhtred returns to Northumbria to exact revenge on Kjartan and on his uncle, who currently holds the castle at Bebbanburg.

Old friends from the first two books re-emerge to help Uhtred capture Kjartan’s main fortress at Dunholm. Ragnar Ragnarson and Brida return as does Beocca, King Alfred’s priest. The battles in this book are more violent than the last two as chaos reigns supreme in the lands of Northumbria and Bernicia.

Uhtred’s character is still the warrior, always the warrior, but his approach to handling situations is beginning to mature. While he would prefer just to kill and be done with it, he is beginning to realize that it is not always the most feasible course of action, and it seems he is starting to understand and respect Alfred a bit more. The two will never like each other, but Uhtred seems to accept on some level that Alfred is a good king, and he even advises Guthred based on what Alfred would have done. I think the maturity of Uhtred’s character is the most interesting aspect of Lords of the North. He now understands that it takes more than swords to win a war.

The book also has some nice plot twists, which are characteristic of Cornwell’s other novels, and these twists keep the story unpredictable. It’s nice to have some of the other characters return and play a more prominent role, namely Ragnar, and while Alfred’s character is not featured much, we at least are beginning to have a clearer understanding of why he was successful as a leader. The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horsemen portrayed him as a weakling that no one would want to follow, but Lords of the North shifts our view of him somewhat. Hopefully, Book 4 (Sword Song), which I’m reading now, will build on that.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Bernard Cornwell Bookgroup Blog

Bernard Cornwell - Medieval Historical Fiction - Saxon Series - Burning LandThe Bernard Cornwell Bookgroup blog discusses everything related to the historical fiction author, including: novels (past, present and future), biographical information, suggested non-fiction as it relates to a particular series (e.g. – The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings by Peter Sawyer to go along with the medieval-based Saxon Series), news and resource links. Bernard Cornwell’s next installment in the Saxon Series is The Burning Land, due out January of 2010 according to Amazon. I like the cover a lot (right).

Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell Slated for Release November 1

The upcoming medieval historical fiction novel Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell is slated to be released November 1, 2008 in the UK. Originally planned for release in October, the novel got pushed to the following month instead. I wrote briefly about Azincourt back in March. Below is the cover art for the novel. The British cover is on the left, and the American cover is on the right.

Bernard Cornwell - Azincourt - Agincourt - Historical Fiction - Middle Ages - Medieval History - Medieval England - Medieval France - Medieval Europe - Novel Bernard Cornwell - Azincourt - Agincourt - Historical Fiction - Middle Ages - Medieval History - Medieval England - Medieval France - Medieval Europe - Novel

Review of Heretic by Bernard Cornwell

Heretic, Bernard Cornwell, Grail Quest, Historical Fiction, Novel, Middle Ages, Medieval, Medieval History, Medieval France, Medieval Europe, Hundred Years War, Black DeathThe historical fiction novel Heretic by Bernard Cornwell is the third and final novel in the Grail Quest Series. For years, Thomas of Hookton has sought the truth of his family and the secrets behind the Holy Grail. It is the time of the Hundred Years War between England and France, and Thomas, along with his band of fellow archers and Scottish friend, goes south into Gascony, leaving King Edward III’s army to seek out his father’s ancestral home of Astarac and hopefully uncover the connection with his family and the Grail.

Thomas and his companions take a castle in Gascony, and from there began to plunder the French countryside. By doing so, Thomas hopes to draw the attention of his rival Guy Vexille, who may hold important information concerning the Grail. Guy Vexille, however, is not the only one in search of the Grail, and Thomas — through his actions — also draws the attention of a local lord, who brings an army to besiege the castle, as well as a greedy bishop who is seeking to use the power of the Grail for his religious aspirations.

Heretic, like the other two Grail Quest novels (The Archer’s Tale and Vagabond) has strong characters and a solid plot, though in my opinion has a slightly different feel to it — whether writing style or the general tone, it’s difficult to say exactly — but it just doesn’t have quite the same “punch” as the other two novels. There are no real sweeping, epic-type battles in this novel like in The Archer’s Tale (Crecy) or Vagabond (Neville’s Cross and La Roche Derrien), and the “leading lady” who is a heretic (hence the name of the book) is not all that interesting.

Regardless, Heretic is worth the read as it really delves into Thomas’s character even more than the first two novels, and you — along with Thomas — gain a better understanding of who he is and what, if any, connection his family has to the Grail; and in the end, when the truth is finally uncovered, Thomas is faced with an important decision that only he alone can make.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars