The Last Kingdom & The Pale Horseman – Bernard Cornwell

I first came across this series as a television show back in autumn 2015, in which we follow the story of Uthred. Initially baptised as Osbert, he is raised in his ancestral home of Bebbanberg until one fateful day, when riding along the beach with his father, Danish ships are spotted on the coast.
As Ealdorman of Bebbanberg, Osbert’s father has to take action immediately. He sends his eldest son, Uthred, to spy on the ships and report back, however emboldened by the apparent lack of numbers, Uthred attacks and is killed by the Danes; his head delivered to his father as a warning. The Ealdorman is also subsequently killed in battle and Osbert, (now baptized Uthred as the eldest son of the family) is raised by the Danes that killed his father and took his home.
Thus begins the invasion of the Danes. Throughout the first book of the series, “The Last Kingdom”, we observe as the majority of the kingdoms of England are gradually taken over by the Danes, leaving only Wessex to make a stand for its freedom.
Uthred’s mixed loyalties are constantly challenged throughout the books so far. Whilst he spends the majority of time bound by allegiance to King Alfred’s fight for a United England, in hope that one day he can take back his ancestral home, he secretly longs for the Danish way of life, to serve his half-brother and join the Danes.
I only discovered that the series was based on Bernard Cornwell’s novels when my sister bought me the DVD of Season 1 for my birthday. I discussed this with a work colleague of mine who happened to have a copy of the first book. I loved the book that much I read it in a week, using every free minute to read.
It is the second book of the series I have just read and I felt it appropriate to include the first book as part of this write-up to fully explain where I am in Cornwell’s novels to date.
The second book of the series, “The Pale Horseman” begins with Uthred returning from battle with the Danes, in which he gave Ubba, one of the men who raided his home his warriors death (Danes believe that warriors, upon death, go to feast in Valhalla). He then goes to find his wife and child before returning to Alfred, who has been told different stories of Ubba’s death. His immense pride gets him in trouble once again, and Alfred forces him to pay penitence by crawling to an altar in front of a laughing crowd for God’s forgiveness. Oswald (the King’s nephew) convinces Uthred to do it to keep the peace and accompanies him, drawing attention away from him by making a show of himself instead.
Uthred continues to fight for the King as Wessex is raided by the Danes, at one time commanding ships for him, others serving as a hostage. Peace is negotiated and broken time and time again between the two sides whilst the Danes bide their time, waiting for more ships to land and join forces. Uthred becomes impatient with Alfred’s lack of actions and at one point let’s himself off the leash, taking the last ship he has command of and raiding England, disguising himself and his crew as Danes to acquire wealth.
Alfred is slowly driven into hiding with his family deep in the country of Wessex until they at last have to make a final stand and fight, or die.
I have only given the bare bones outline here as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else who is reading or wishes to read the books. I would absolutely recommend them to anyone who loves historical fiction. I found the place names used take some adjusting to; as they are in archaic English (and not consistent apparently – though I haven’t noticed yet) some are very unlike modern names. Cornwell does however provide a reference for anybody interested in learning the names and where they relate to in modern-day England.
I think having watched the series helped me read these books. Whilst this is a genre I liked to read, it helped give context as to the roles people played and the hierarchy within society etc. These are explained by Uthred in the novels, but I found it easier to see and to have the constant reminder of it in this way rather than just a one-off explanation.
If anyone had read these books please share your thoughts! Did you enjoy them? Alternatively if you are struggling perhaps or have any questions, maybe I can help. Please drop me a line either way.
My next book of choice is Terry Prachett’s “Reaper Man”, which I will introduce to you all and review in due course!

In the Beginning…

Every good blog has to start somewhere. It sparks as a result of any one person’s passion and is usually a means of driving themselves further towards their own personal goal(s). Lend me your ears (or eyes) and I will tell you a little of me and my passion in the hope that you either share the dream, or can at least appreciate it.

Ultimately, I wish to have some success in terms of publishing a novel.

I have loved writing from a very young age. Even from the age of five and starting school I loved the writing exercises in which you had to write and re-write letters or words to the correct guideline on the special exercise paper they gave you. Realistically learning to write was made more difficult for me given that I am left-handed. I also went through a phase in high school of using a fountain pen to write, because that’s what all the clever kids did. Not particularly the best move on my part as I had a lot of smudged homework for the first few weeks, but I mastered it in the end.

Thankfully due to technology this is no longer a particular issue. Whilst I  am required to do a small amount of hand writing notes and filling in forms as a part of my job, the majority of the work is computer based. I am actually quite thankful for this, as there is some atrocious hand writing exhibited by people on my team and it actually makes me sad that these particular people are not proud enough to have taken the time or effort to learn to write neatly.
It was during a creative writing module in my GCSE English Class that I found I had a flair and enjoyment to write. So did my teacher, who had a 10 page short story first draft to check and she certainly did not look impressed when I handed it to her; however I  never got that short story back to re-draft. It was submitted as part of my coursework and I got an A grade for it, which naturally I was more than pleased with.

From a young age I was also taught and encouraged by my mum to read and it is something I have always enjoyed. I consider it now to be my main hobby – more often than not you’ll find either a book or my kindle in hand in my free time! In prior years I found I would get the reading bug whilst on holiday and this would continue for a while, but fizzle out after a couple of months. Last year, I set myself a challenge via Goodreads to read 20 books which I thought I could easily achieve. Actually, I didn’t even come close. This year I set myself the same target, and to date (24 April 2017) I have read 19 in full and I am currently reading two further books. I anticipate by the end of April I will have met my target and I have decided I am going to double my target to see if I can read 40 books by the end of the year!

I think the reason behind the surge in my reading this year is because I have decided to put the time and effort into my dream of getting published. In order to find inspiration I am trying to read more books from authors I have not read yet, although at present I am staying within the genre region of Fantasy/Science Fiction/Historical Fiction. These are my particular interest, but I am scheduling in some Thriller/Horror/Suspense books later this year to try to broaden my horizons. I am also writing a number of short stories in order to develop ideas for something that I may wish to publish in the future and as a part of this blog I will also be publishing any short stories I write. I will also be reviewing the books I read so I may even be able to help you find your next book to read as well as collect my thoughts!

If you have any recommendations for any books to read and review I would absolutely love to hear from you! Has anyone set themselves a challenge to read a number of books this year? Please let me know how you are getting on or what kind of books you enjoy. What type of short stories you would like to see here in the near future? I look forward to your thoughts.

If you are still reading here, I would like to thank you for the time taken to read the above ramblings – it really does mean a lot to me! If you have any feedback please get in touch. If you wish to get in touch with me please fill in the form below.

Thank you,

Rebecca