You may have heard of him. A British author, Cornwell has been quietly writing respected historical fiction since the early 1980s, including several well-known series. But I didn't discover him until I accidentally stumbled upon The Saxon Tales, a series of novels encompassing the reign of England's Alfred the Great in the 9th Century.
The first novel in the series, The Last Kingdom, was released in 2004 and introduces the reader to Uhtred of Bebbanburg, an old man who looks back and narrates the tale of King Alfred and the challenges he faced in repelling the Vikings from Britain throughout this period...an era in which England was defining just who she would become. Five more novels followed over the next decade and today marks the release of the seventh novel in the series, The Pagan Lord.
You won't find many simpering maidens in Cornwell's stories, it is true. Battle scenes are plenty and they are bloody. But here is the important part and I cannot emphasize this enough: Cornwell writes good history and his fully developed characters are a part of that history. And that is what historical fiction is all about. Any author can take a character and plop them into history. But to make each character a product of their environment takes skill and this is what Cornwell has in spades.
England in the 9th Century was split into the Heptarchy. These seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms - Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex, Kent, Sussex, Mercia, and East Anglia - were not yet united, although Mercia had by this time proved itself strongest and was the nominal ruler over the rest. But internal bickering was overshadowed during this period by Viking invaders. So strong were the Vikings, in fact, that their complete control over a goodly geographical portion of England became known to history as Danelaw.
This is what Alfred of Wessex faced when he decided that only by uniting the Heptarchy could England ever hope to get rid of those dratted Vikings and regain control of their own damned island. Easier said than done, right? Yet somehow, Alfred the Great managed to do it. And Bernard Cornwell recounts it beautifully. Little wonder it has taken seven books (so far!) to tell the story!
If you like good historical fiction, don't short change yourself and leave all the good stuff to the menfolk. Pick up some Bernard Cornwell. He doesn't disappoint.
The Pagan Lord
by Bernard Cornwell
copy provided by publisher