The Last King is set in the AD 870s in Mercia, one of the ancient kingdoms of England. If you’ve watched or read Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom books then it’s just about where the first book starts.
I’ve long avoided trampling on the toes of the literary creation that is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. I’ve written about the seventh century, the tenth and the eleventh, but I had left the ninth well alone. But no more.
I was amused, while recently watching The Last Kingdom, to find a character called Coelwulf, no doubt ‘my’ Coelwulf, keel over dead during a feast in Wessex. This made me chuckle, and also made me appreciate that the archaeological find that inspired me to write about him is recent (2015) and has called into question just what was happening in Mercia (and Wessex) in the 870s. (For information on the coin find, please have a look here, https://www.ashmolean.org/watlington-hoard)
And so, The Last King. It’s very much an action thriller with a historical setting. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and gore, (and swearing) but it is an attempt to explore this ‘other’ scenario, contrary to that in the Uhtred books, and contrary to much that has been written about Coelwulf in the past. He has been seen as a puppet of the Vikings. But, what if he wasn’t, as seems increasingly likely.
First and foremost, I approach my books from a historical perspective. But what I love, (and I really do love), is reading between the lines, toying with the might-have-beens and the what-ifs. And Coelwulf, forgotten ‘hero’ that he might be, is a perfect vehicle for such an exploration of Mercia. And as a ‘Mercian’ by birth myself, it feels right to not let her get overshadowed by the might of Wessex, under what could just be, a perfectly written piece of political propaganda – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – that has plunged Coelwulf into historical obscurity, and from which he can only emerge thanks to the ‘Two Emperor Coins.’ These hint that Coelwulf was not a Viking puppet-king. Was he perhaps someone who overshadowed even Alfred himself, and who, Alfred, in a fit of pique branded as a traitor in his chronicle, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the chronicle of the time.
What if, indeed.
(Please note, I have taken to referring to this time period as Early England, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. No offense is implied.)
They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough.
Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.
Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.
To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.
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The Last King
I’m an author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest). I was born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since 1066. Raised in the shadow of a strange little building, told from a very young age that it housed the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia and that our garden was littered with old pieces of pottery from a long-ago battle, it’s little wonder that my curiosity in Early England ran riot. I can only blame my parents!
I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!
Not sure where to start your journey through Early England? Here are some pointers.
If you like action-adventure, with a heavy dose of violence, foul language and good old camaraderie – The Ninth Century series is for you, starting with The Last King, or The Seventh Century, starting with Pagan Warrior, has a little more politics to go with the set-piece battles.
If you like stories about the forgotten women of history, then the Tenth Century series, starting with The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter, is a good place to begin. Or, The First Queen of England, with a little more romance.
If you’re interested in the last century of Early England (before 1066) then The Earls of Mercia series is for you.
If you want to read it all, then you can read in chronological order, or mix it up. The series weren’t written in chronological order.
Monday, January 11
Review at Hoover Book Reviews
Wednesday, January 13
Review at Rajiv’s Reviews
Friday, January 15
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Saturday, January 16
Excerpt at Passages to the Past
Monday, January 18
Interview at Books & Benches
Wednesday, January 20
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books
Thursday, January 21
Review at Books and Zebras