The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell is the first in his 10-book Saxon Chronicles Series.
Here's what Cornwell says about the series on his website:
The Saxon Stories tell the tale of Alfred the Great and his descendants through the eyes of Uhtred, an English boy born into the aristocracy of ninth-century Northumbria, captured by the Danes and taught the Viking ways.A year or so ago, I watched the first episode of the TV series based on the books, and thought it well-done and interesting but too gory for my taste.
However, in my Reading Northumberland project, this series surfaced as a great way to fill in the gaps between the Romans and the Reivers, so I decided to read book 1 and see how I liked it. The verdict is in--I loved The Last Kingdom and ordered the next book in the series, The Pale Horseman.
I thought Uhtred was an excellent hero. Encountering him as a young boy, I got to see the world of the Britons as well as the world of the invading Danes through his eyes. Watching him grow up, with dueling allegiances to the tribe of his father and that of his adopted father, the Danish warrior Ragnar, was a great way to learn about the customs, biases, and motivations of both camps. Ragnar was also a wonderful character, and I could see why Uhtred loved him more than he did his own father. Uhtred is by no means a saintly character--he is full of flaws and reckless impulses but the core of the character is solid gold and I look forward to reading more about how he fares.
The book is extremely readable, despite all the place names being old English. Thank goodness for the map and the list of place names and their modern equivalents at the front of the book, both of which I referred to constantly.
This is definitely an adventure book. Just knowing that there are 10 books in the series kept me calm while Uhtred got into one hair-raising escapade after another. It's also pretty gory--life in general in the 9th century was brutal, short, messy, hard, and tenuous. The battle scenes in particular were pretty graphic for me, but easier to read than to watch! Despite that, the world Cornwell portrays also has room for love, loyalty, friendship, humor, and a reverence for beauty and nature.
I'm actually thinking about giving the TV series another try. I know it will gory, but in reading the book after watching episode 1, it seems that they stuck to the book version fairly faithfully. Of course, one episode isn't enough of a test.