As I prepared for my entry into the world of Saga, I tooled around the Internet researching the various factions found in the game. While doing this, I stumbled upon a series of dark age novels written by Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is perhaps best known for his historical fiction series that follows the exploits of Richard Sharpe. His lesser known Saxon series focuses on the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, England during the 9th-century reign of Alfred the Great, his opposition to the Danes, and his attempt to unite England as one country. The series currently consists of six books: The Last Kingdom (2004), The Pale Horseman (2005), The Lords of the North (2006), Sword Song (2007), The Burning Land (2009), and Death of Kings (2011.)
The Last Kingdom (2004)
ISBN 0-00-714990-5 (hardback)
ISBN 0-06-053280-7 (paperback)
"Bernard Cornwell's epic novel opens in A.D. 866. Uhtred, a boy of ten and the son of a nobleman, is captured in the same battle that leaves his father dead. His captor is the Earl Ragnar, a Danish chieftain, who raises the boy as his own, teaching him the Viking ways of war. As a young man expected to take part in raids and bloody massacres against the English, he grapples with divided loyalties- between Ragnar, the warrior he loves as a father, and Alfred, whose piety and introspection leave him cold. It takes a terrible slaughter and the unexpected joys of marriage for Uhtred to discover his true allegiance- and to rise to his greatest challenge." (from the dust jacket)
The protagonist of the story is Uhtred, the dispossessed Ealdorman of Bebbanburg, and all of the events in the story are seen from his perspective. The story is told as a recollection by an older Uhtred and includes some foreshadowing of future events. It is a coming of age story that does a great job illustrating his conflicted feelings and the differences between the two cultures, Christian and pagan. From a Saga perspective, it provides some historical background of the Danish invasion of England, and a feel for life in that time period. As Uhtred says: "You're not a man until you've stood in the Shieldwall."
If you liked Cornwell's Sharpe series you will find this book similarly enjoyable. If you've never read Corwell, give this one a try. Although it may lack the weight of a true historical work on the subject, it will definitely give you a feel for the time and get you in the mood for Saga. I found it an enjoyable light read that kept me coming back for more. I plan on picking up the next book soon.