Book Review: “Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England” by Tracy Borman

MatildaOne of the most critical years in English history was 1066, when William Duke of Normandy invaded England in the Norman Conquest. Known as William the Conqueror, his strength and ruthlessness made him a legend, but William would not have been the Duke or King of England without his equally formidable wife. Matilda of Flanders stood her ground, became the Duchess of Normandy, had a large family with William, and would become the first crowned Queen of England. Although much has been written about William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest, Matilda of Flanders has not received the same attention until now. Tracy Borman has written the first biography dedicated to this remarkable woman entitled, “Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England.”

I enjoyed reading her previous book about Henry VIII and the men who made him, and I wanted to read more books by Tracy Borman. When I heard about this book, it drew me in because I did not know much about Matilda of Flanders and her time, so I wanted to learn more.

Matilda of Flanders, the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders and his wife, Adela, was one of the prominent women in 9th-century Europe. Borman shows how Flanders grew from a lawless society to a significant court that drew the attention of the dukedom of Normandy. Normandy was the home of William, the illegitimate son of Duke Robert I and his mistress Herleva. William shocked Europe when he became his father’s heir as Duke of Normandy and chose Matilda as his wife. To say they had a rocky start was an understatement, but Matilda and William had a large family and solidified Normandy as a powerhouse of Europe.

With the death of Edward the Confessor, William and Matilda saw their opportunity to take a bigger prize, the crown of England. While William had the military know-how to win the crown, it was Matilda who was able to help William with his conquest financially and took care of Normandy while he was taking care of his new kingdom. In return, William had Matilda crowned Queen of England.

However, not everything was perfect for William and Matilda. When their eldest son, Robert Curthose, was fed up with not getting the chance to become the Duke of Normandy as was his birthright, he rebelled, and Matilda decided to support her son over her husband. Matilda was not afraid to speak her mind, even if it felt like she was going beyond what was expected of a woman during that time. Matilda’s death in 1083 impacted the rest of William’s reign as King of England as the king mourned for the woman who could stand toe to toe with the great conqueror.

Borman has taken on the arduous task of telling the tale of Matilda of Flanders, and she absolutely smashes it. This biography is engaging and thought-provoking, revealing who Matilda was when you remove the myths surrounding her life. If you want a delightful biography about the first crowned Queen of England, I highly suggest reading “Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England” by Tracy Borman.

Book Review: “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother” by Gareth Russell

63140301The House of Windsor has been attracting worldwide attention in recent decades with scandals, deaths, weddings, and the birth of royal children. As living symbols of England, the Windsors are seen as an above-average family with numerous jobs and responsibilities. We know their names; King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Prince (now King) Charles, Princess Diana, and Prince William. We know their stories from the numerous books, tabloids, and documentaries about their lives, but what about their lives when they go home to relax? Gareth Russell peels back the gilded curtain to explore the life of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, lovingly known as the Queen Mother, in his latest biography, “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.”

This is not my usual area of interest, especially for my blog, but I have always wanted to learn more about the House of Windsor. A few years ago, I read “The King’s Speech” about King George VI, and I wanted to learn more about his wife, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. When Gareth Russell announced that he was writing this biography about the Queen Mother, it sounded enchanting, and I wanted to read it.

This biography is not like your typical biography. It goes in chronological order, but unlike others that include copious details of the person’s life, Russell decided to give his readers a different experience by telling the Queen Mother’s story in 101 vignettes, one for each year of her life. It is a unique and fun way to tell the tale of a member of the royal family, especially Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived through both World Wars and saw her husband and daughter become King and Queen of England, respectively.

The short stories of her life as a young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon were heartfelt and full of personality. I learned some fun facts about her early life, such as George VI had to propose to Elizabeth three separate times until she said yes, to the relief of George’s mother, Queen Mary. Elizabeth had a colorful way of looking at life and was not afraid to speak her mind, especially after a few cocktails or what she would call “drinky-poos.” Her life drastically changed when her brother-in-law Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, leaving the throne to his brother George VI and Elizabeth, the new King and Queen of England.

As Queen of England and later the Queen Mother, we see her tenacity and humorous side emerge as Elizabeth could be herself. She was a lover of life, and even though she had feuds with members of her family, such as Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana, she truly loved and fought for her family until the very end of her long life.

Russell does a magnificent job telling the story of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother thoughtfully and engagingly. The stories included in this book range from utterly hysterical to gut-wrenching, with every other emotion in between. Another masterpiece by Gareth Russell, “Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother,” is the perfect gift for fans of the English Royal Family.

Book Review: “Pursuing a Masterpiece: A Novel” by Sandra Vasoli

63226327._SY475_What if you found information about a mysterious portrait that would radically change how we view history forever? Who would you tell? When Zara Rossi entered the Ancient Manuscripts Room at the Papal Archives in Rome, she never imagined how a single letter would change her life and the Tudor community. Each piece of the puzzle unlocks a new story from the past and allows Zara to explore the remarkable tale of this masterpiece. Follow the clues with Zara Rossi to solve this mystery from the past in Sandra Vasoli’s latest book, “Pursuing a Masterpiece: A Novel.”

Thank you, Sandra Vasoli and GreyLondon Press, for sending me a copy of this novel. I am always looking for a new way to incorporate Tudor history into a story, so when I heard the description of this particular book, I was captivated.

Zara Rossi begins her adventure into the past by going to the Ancient Manuscripts Room and the Papal Archives, which is an immense honor as you have to be invited even to have a chance to go into the Archives. She is looking for personal letters of Pope Clement VII to find his reaction to Henry VIII’s split from Rome. Instead, she found a letter from the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, Villiers de L’lsle-Adam, about a double portrait of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

As Zara uncovers the tale with each clue in the modern age, Vasoli introduces her audience to a colorful cast of characters that span centuries. Starting in the 16th century, we are introduced to Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, his advisors, Hans Holbein the Younger, and the Court Astronomer Nikolaus Kratzer. We also become acquainted with the Order of St. John and rebellious Catholics horrified by this painting. But, we do not stay in the 16th century for long as Vasoli transports her readers to the middle of an 18th-century swashbuckling pirate adventure in the Caribbean that ends up in France with a murder, a trip on the Titanic with a fashion designer for the rich and famous, and an encounter with scoundrels from World War II at Hever Castle.

Vasoli created a complex yet spectacular story of pursuing the truth that will rock the academic world with vibrant characters and compelling cases. Zara is a main character that I could personally relate to, and while I was reading, I was hoping she would find her way to not only the truth about the painting but for her to be happy with her family and friends. Her desire to uncover the truth, no matter the cost, is genuinely admirable. I wanted to know if Zara would ever find the truth, but at the same time, I did not want the story to end.

Vasoli created a masterpiece by not only creating a thought-provoking fictitious double portrait of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn but a novel that is unlike anything I have read. It’s a love letter to the past and those who pursue the truth behind even the smallest fragment left by our ancestors. If you want a thrilling Tudor-based historical fiction novel, “Pursuing a Masterpiece: A Novel” by Sandra Vasoli is a must-read.

Book Review: “Essex Dogs” by Dan Jones

60841074The year is 1346, and numerous English ships have landed on the shores of France. King Edward III, his son Edward of Woodstock, and his lords launched the first stage of what would be known as the Hundred Years’ War. Amongst the English royalty, nobility, and regular soldiers, are companies of men who came of their own accord for money and glory. One company of men consists of ten men known as the Essex Dogs, led by Loveday FitzTalbot. They are not like the other groups. They do not fight for money or glory; they fight for each other. In the horrors of war in a foreign land, can the Essex Dogs keep their promise and stay alive? Dan Jones introduces the world to these ten men and the early stage of the Hundred Years’ War in his first historical fiction novel, “Essex Dogs.”

I have read nonfiction books by Dan Jones for years now, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the amount of detail he puts into each book. When Dan Jones announced that he would dive into the world of historical fiction, I was fascinated to see how well he could handle the transition from historical nonfiction to fiction. I was pleasantly surprised by how this amazingly gripping novel.

This story, from the landing in France to the Battle of Crecy, is told through the eyes of Essex Dogs, a rag-tag group of men from England, Scotland, and Wales. Each man has a past that they are trying to run away from, but their loyalty to each other unites them to finish their forty days of service to King Edward III. Some Essex Dogs include the pint-size fighter Pismire, the strong Scotsman, and the loyal Millstone. We also have crazy priest Father, the young and naive archer Romford, and their fearless leader, who will do anything to keep his group together, Loveday FitzTalbot.

I love the colorful interactions that the Essex Dogs had between one another and with the actual people who were involved in the campaign to Crecy. Each soldier’s struggles, from injuries and drug use to strategies and the punishments for not following royal commands, were written brilliantly. However, one area in which Jones excelled was portraying the brutality of war. The battles and skrimmages Jones included were so believable that I had to collect my breath after each battle before I went back to ensure the Essex Dogs were okay. Even the fights between companies were thrilling and will stay with me for a long time ( I am looking at you, chapter 12).

I honestly did not know what to expect when I ordered this book back in February, but it was a masterpiece. I can’t believe it took Dan Jones this long to write historical fiction, but I cannot wait for the next book in this trilogy. It is easily one of my favorite historical fiction novels of this year. If you want an electrifying novel with a compelling cast of characters set at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, “Essex Dogs” by Dan Jones is a must-read.

Book Review: “The Woodville Women” by Sarah J. Hodder

61772589Three women in one family who shared the same first name saw England change over a tumultuous century. They saw the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the rise of the Tudors while on the sidelines of great battles. Through heartaches and triumphs, the women of the Woodville family became princesses and queens that would transform the political landscape of England forever. These three women, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, and Elizabeth Grey, were incredible examples of what it meant to be medieval royal women. They are featured in Sarah J. Hodder’s latest book, “The Woodville Women.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read other books by Sarah J. Hodder about women from the Woodville family, so when I heard about this title, I wanted to see what new information she would share with her audience.

We begin our adventure into the Woodville family by exploring the matriarch of this rather extraordinary family, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the future wife of Richard Woodville. For a woman of Jacquetta’s status to marry a man well below her rank was unheard of in medieval Europe, but their union would change history during the tumultuous time known as the Wars of the Roses. Their daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, would marry a Lancastrian soldier named Sir John Grey of Grosby, but when John died, she caught the eye of the young Yorkist king, Edward IV.

During King Edward IV’s reign, Elizabeth Woodville, now queen of England, showed her true strength. As a mother to a large family, including the infamous Princes of the Tower, and her eldest child Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth Woodville fought for her children’s rights, even after her beloved husband’s death. Elizabeth of York would follow in her mother’s footsteps and become Queen of England when she married the victor of the battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor, the patriarch of the Tudor dynasty.

The woman who proved the most fascinating character in this particular book for me was Elizabeth Grey, the daughter of Thomas Grey and Cecily Bonville. Elizabeth Grey would marry Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, who she met at the Field of Cloth of Gold. They would live in Ireland and have many children together, but things were not smooth sailing as Kildare’s rivalries would lead to rebellions in Ireland and land him in the Tower of London a few times. Although Kildare had a rocky relationship with King Henry VIII, Elizabeth Grey was cordial with her royal relation.

Hodder was able to tell the stories of these three women in an illuminating way that reminds readers of the tales of Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York while giving new insights into their lives and telling the story of Elizabeth Grey. This book was engaging and informative, just like Hodder’s previous books. If you want a book that tells the thrilling tales of Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, and Elizabeth Grey, you should check out “The Woodville Women” by Sarah J. Hodder.

Book Review: “Lady of the English” by Elizabeth Chadwick

15931913The year 1120 was a horrible year for King Henry I. His only legitimate son William died when his ship, The White Ship, sank in the middle of the night. This tragedy left Henry with one option, his legitimate daughter Matilda, the former Holy Roman Empress, would become Queen of England, and her sons would continue the royal line. Unfortunately, Matilda’s throne was taken by Stephen of Blois, and now Matilda must join forces with her stepmother Her stepmother Adeliza has always stood by Matilda’s side. Still, when she remarries after Henry’s death, Adeliza struggles to support the rightful queen but stays loyal to her new husband, who supports Stephen. Matilda and Adeliza are caught in the middle of the Anarchy in Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel, “Lady of the English.”

We are introduced to Matilda at one of her lowest moments when her first husband, Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, dies, and she must go back to England. Her father, Henry I, has decided that Matilda will be his heiress, and she must marry again to secure his legacy if his current wife, Adeliza, cannot give him another heir. Matilda’s second husband is Geoffrey V Duke of Anjou, a braggart and is abusive towards his wife, even though she outranks him. It is a contentious relationship, but Matilda holds her head up high to try and make this arrangement work for her sons, Geffory, William, and the future Henry II.

Unfortunately for Adeliza, she cannot give her husband the heir he desires, which means that the greatest men in the land must swear oaths to honor Matilda as the next Queen of England. The plan is set, but when Henry I dies, Matilda is in France, so her cousin Stephen of Blois takes the opportunity to become the next King of England. Matilda is furious and decides to fight for her right to the English throne while Geoffrey is in Anjou, but then shifts her position that her eldest son, Henry II, will be the next King of England.

After Henry I’s death, Adeliza decides what is best for her is to live the rest of her life in a nunnery, but that is not her fate. A handsome young man named William D’Albini sweeps her off her feet and gives Adeliza the one thing she long desired, a family. Unfortunately, when Stephen becomes King of England, William D’Albini joins forces with the new king, while Adeliza stays loyal to her step-daughter and friend, Matilda.

This is my first time reading a novel by Elizabeth Chadwick, and I loved it so much. The way Chadwick blended elements of fiction with historical facts was nothing short of astounding. From battles to religious moments, politics to intimate moments, Chadwick brought the story of The Anarchy to life for a modern audience. Reading this novel felt like I was transported to 12th century England and showed where Henry II got his strength and determination to rule England. If you want a vivid and compelling novel about two dynamic women in the 12th century, I highly recommend reading “Lady of the English” by Elizabeth Chadwick.

Book Review: “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici” by Estelle Paranque

9781529109221-usTwo queens; one a wife and the mother of kings and the other a virgin who had to fight for the right to rule her country independently. Two women who found friendship and a rivalry between each other with only a sea that divided them and religious discord to drive them apart. Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I would define what it meant to be female rulers in the 16th century for France and England, respectively. The tales of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici have been covered in numerous books, but a joint biography of these two powerhouses is a rarity until now. Estelle Paranque demonstrates how both queens greatly affected each other’s lives in her latest book, “Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici.”

Paranque begins her book with a short story about an encounter between Elizabeth I’s English ambassador to France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, and Catherine de Medici, who acted as regent for her son Charles IX. It is an example of how each queen viewed diplomacy and the dance they had to do to keep their respective dynasties on the thrones of England and France.

Catherine de Medici was the daughter of Lorenzo II de Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madeline de La Tour, d’Auvergne. Her parents died when Catherine was young, leaving her to be a wealthy heiress and a powerful pawn in the marriage market. Her husband would be King Henry II, known to have several mistresses, including Diane de Poitiers, who was her husband’s, true love. Despite issues with Diane, Henry and Catherine had a huge family, including several sons, including King Francis II, King Charles IX, King Henry III, and Francis, Duke of Anjou. After the death of her husband, Catherine worked hard to be the regent for her sons until they came of age to rule and continue the Valois dynasty.

In England, Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and the notorious King Henry VIII; their relationship was the most infamous of the 16th century for obvious reasons. After the deaths of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary I, Elizabeth got her chance to rule England in her way. When the issue of Elizabeth’s marriage came into play, Catherine de Medici entered Elizabeth I’s life, starting a 30- year relationship that began as a friendship but changed into a rivalry in the end.

Over the thirty years, Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I dealt with many obstacles in their relationship. Catherine had to deal with the antics of her children and her daughter-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots, who would become one of Elizabeth’s biggest rivals. The bond between the two queens started over a desire for one of Catherine’s sons to marry Elizabeth and become King of England and France, but alas, this was wishful thinking. Catherine and Elizabeth also had to deal with other nations, like Spain, getting in the way of their relationship, as well as the issue of religion; Catherine was a devout Catholic, and Elizabeth was more Protestant. Catherine had to deal with several wars of religions and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, while Elizabeth had to deal with the Spanish Armada and what to do with Mary Queen of Scots.

Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I had to communicate through ambassadors and letters, which Paranque translated into modern English, making it easier for modern readers to understand. I cannot stress how much I loved this book and how Paranque was able to weave the stories of the two most powerful women in 16th-century Europe.

“Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici’ by Estelle Paranque is a tour de force dual biography of two influential badass queens. This book is a must-read for anyone passionate about the 16th century.

Book Review: “Lords of the North (The Saxon Stories Book #3) by Bernard Cornwell

2679014King Alfred and Uhtred have achieved a massive victory over the Danes, and as a reward, Alfred has allowed Uhtred to be free of his allegiance. Now, Uhtred travels north to his home, yet fate throws this hero another curveball. He encounters an enslaved person who claims to be the King of Northumbria named Guthred. This chance meeting sends Uhtred on a journey across the seas against his will and to finally face off against Kjartan the Cruel, who captured his stepsister Thyra. Bernard Cornwell takes his readers on another whirlwind adventure into 9th century England with Uhtred of Bebbanburg in the third novel of the Saxon Stories series, “Lords of the North.”

We are reunited with Uhtred in 878, a few months after the great battle from “The Pale Horseman.” Alfred has given Uhtred freedom from his oath, and he travels north to his home with the former nun Hild. Fate throws Uhted another curveball as when he is on an escort mission; he encounters a young, enslaved man named Guthred, the man who holy men believed would be king of Northumbria because of a message from Saint Cuthbert. Uhtred is made Guthred’s right-hand man, and Uhtred falls in love with the king’s sister Gisela. With Guthred, the audience sees the more extreme side of 9th century Christianity with Christian relics and saints that the young king believes will make him a great king like Alfred.

Fate is inevitable and has a path that Uhtred cannot escape, filled with betrayal and heartache. He is making a name for himself when fortune’s wheel takes another turn, and he is betrayed by Guthred and is sold to Sverri, a Danish trader, who uses Uhtred as an enslaved person. Uhtred spends two years on Sverri’s ship with another man, Finan the Agile, who would become Uhtred’s friend. At the end of the two years, Uhtred and Finan are rescued by Ragnar the Younger and Brida, who are now working with Alfred. This is a blessing in disguise because Alfred has a new mission for Uhtred to work with Father Beocca to make peace with Northumbria and Guthred. During this mission, Uhtred and Ragnar realize they have the opportunity to save Ragnar’s sister Thyra from Sven and Kjartan the Cruel.

The third novel in the Saxon Stories series gives the audience a chance to see Uhtred at the lowest point we have seen him so far, as an enslaved person. It is a story of revenge in multiple ways, and the way each revenge plot is executed is thrilling. I also enjoyed Cornwell’s new characters in this novel; the devout Christian convert King Guthred, the beautiful yet strong-willed Gisela, the survivor Thyra, Uhtred’s best friend, loveable warrior Finan, and Kjartan’s bastard son turned ally Sihtric.

I loved that the narrator of this series is an older Uhtred who is reflecting on his adventures as a younger man. It adds more depth to Cornwell’s tales of the Danes and the Saxons in 9th century England. If you have enjoyed the first two books in the Saxon Stories series, you are in for a treat with “Lords of the North” by Bernard Cornwell.

Book Review: “Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer (Elizabethan Book #3)” by Tony Riches

61016647._SY475_A man who wants to get ahead in any royal court must have an impeccable background and a willingness to serve his monarch no matter the obstacles thrown their way. It takes an extraordinary man who doesn’t have a pristine background to make it in the ruthless world of a royal court, but some men made names for themselves. One such man was an adventurer, a poet, an explorer, and a courtier. He came from humble beginnings and rose to prominence to become known as one of the last true Elizabethans. The man was Sir Walter Raleigh, and his story is told in Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer.”

I want to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of this novel. I have enjoyed his previous books in his Elizabethan series on Sir Francis Drake and Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, so I was thrilled when a new story about Sir Walter Raleigh was announced. I previously read a novel about Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother this year, so I was looking forward to an adventure with her son.

Walter Raleigh began his career as a law student who was not passionate about the law. He is ambitious and eventually attracts the attention of Queen Elizabeth I herself; it is in her court that he becomes a courtier and, finally, her Captain of the Guard. His dream was to set sail on the open seas with his brother. He finally gets his chance to sail the high seas, but it is not as glamorous as he envisioned, but he is hooked on the thrill of the adventure.

Some look down on Raleigh because he is not part of a noble family, but he rose through the ranks to become one of the Queen’s favorites. His good looks and charisma attracted the attention of many young ladies, including Bess Throckmorton, who would later become his wife. However, the bulk of this novel focuses on the adventures and investments Raleigh was known for. From Ireland and Cadiz to the New World and the search for the legendary City of Gold, Riches takes his readers on swashbuckling journeys full of perilous battles and high rewards.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Raleigh’s relationships with everyone from Queen Elizabeth I to his wife, Bess Raleigh. The audience gets a chance to see the inner workings of Elizabeth’s court through the eyes of someone who knew what it meant to be on Elizabeth’s good side. I also enjoyed the poetry that Riches weaves into this narrative to give his audience a better understanding of what Raleigh might have felt during crucial moments in his life. My one issue with this novel was that some of the battles and scenes during Raleigh’s expeditions felt a tad rushed to me, and I wish Riches developed these scenes a bit more.

Overall, I found this novel satisfying to read and a real treat for any Tudor fan. If you have enjoyed the previous Elizabethan series books or are looking for a stand-alone story about Sir Walter Raleigh, I would propose you read “Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer” by Tony Riches.

Book Review: “The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories Book #2) by Bernard Cornwell

68528._SY475_England is in danger of falling to its Danish invaders. The kingdoms of East Anglia, Northumbria, and Mercia have already fallen; all that stands in the way of complete Danish domination is Wessex and its king Alfred. Yet this king is more of a saint than a warrior, so Alfred desperately needs a man who knows how to fight. A man like Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a skilled warrior even though he doesn’t always see eye to eye with Alfred on matters of faith. When Alfred and his family become fugitives, he must rely on Uhtred to help restore him and his family to ensure Wessex does not fall. This is the premise of book two of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell, “The Pale Horseman.”

Cornwell begins this book where we left off in “The Last Kingdom” after the battle of Cynuit and the death of Ubba by Uhtred. Uhtred believes that he will be treated as a hero by Alfred and will receive rewards, but he is wrong. Instead of going straight to Alfred after the battle, Uhtred dallies to rescue his Christian wife Mildrith and his son Uhtred, which allows his rival Odda the Younger to take credit for Ubba’s death. Furious at his king, Alfred shows how naive he is, forcing Alfred to humiliate Uhtred in front of the entire royal court by penance; Uhtred decides to take his men and his friend Leofric on some raids in the northern part of England.

Uhtred falls for the beguiling beauty and shadow queen Iseult during this raiding expedition, even though he still has a wife and child at home. Torn between his sworn loyalty to the Saxons through Alfred and the love for the Danes that raised him as a boy and taught him to fight, Uhtred must find his path and follow his destiny wherever it may lead. Unfortunately, destiny’s path for Uhtred and Alfred led to the near-collapse of Wessex when the Danes invaded, forcing Alfred and his family to seek refuge in the most unlikely of locations, in the middle of a swamp. It is here when everything seems so dark, and all hope is lost when Alfred and Uhtred choose to bury the hatchet for the time being and fight for an idea of a united England.

Cornwell expanded the world of Uhtred and Alfred to give us a glimpse of the conflicts that shaped England in the 9th century. With the growing conflicts, Cornwell grows his colorful cast of characters. We are introduced to Aethelwold, the slimy nephew of Alfred who desires the crown., the warrior nun Hild who is willing to fight for what she believes, and the vicious Viking leader Steapa. With new conflicts come new elements of grief, loss, rage, and renewing hope in our characters as they struggle to survive in such a turbulent time.

If you want to embark on another adventure with Uhtred of Bebbanburg after reading “The Last Kingdom,” I recommend reading “The Pale Horseman” by Bernard Cornwell. I enjoyed “The Pale Horseman” just as I did when I read “The Last Kingdom.” Cornwell’s writing style is so engaging that sometimes it didn’t feel like I was reading but watching these stories play out on the page.