Bernard Cornwell, "The Flame Bearer" (Harper, 2016)


Here at New Books in Historical Fiction, we don't often interview the same author twice. Bernard Cornwell is an exception. As I note in my introduction to this podcast, since I last interviewed him in June 2014, he has published three new Saxon Stories (now renamed the Last Kingdom series) and a nonfiction history of the confrontation between Napoleon and Wellington at Waterloo. Meanwhile, the BBC and Netflix have released his first two Last Kingdom novels as a hit television series, again under the title The Last Kingdom. With so much new material to discuss, a second interview seemed like the least we could do. The Flame Bearer (Harper, 2016) is the tenth novel narrated by Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Uhtred's story, which began at the age of ten in 866, is tied up with the drive of King Alfred the Great and his children to create a single English kingdom out of four warring principalities--three of them, at the beginning of the series, under the control of Danish invaders. Uhtred--descendant of kings, Saxon ealdorman by birth, Dane by adoption, and warrior by both temperament and training--becomes Alfred's secret weapon. A pagan lord never quite accepted by Alfred's Christian court, a fighter for the Saxon cause who at heart prefers the Danes, Uhtred has one unchanging goal: to recover Bebbanburg, stolen from him in boyhood by his uncle and held in later years by his cousin, who refuses to recognize Uhtred's prior claim. By 917, when The Flame Bearer begins, the situation portrayed in The Last Kingdom has reversed itself. The one remaining Saxon kingdom, Wessex, has expanded through alliance and conquest to include Mercia and East Anglia. Now the last kingdom is Northumbria, still largely under Danish control despite the existence of Saxon-held Bebbanburg. Sensing weakness, King Constantin of Scotland pushes south, pincering Northumbria between Saxons and Celts. And Uhtred must again choose between observing his oath of allegiance and recapturing his home.
C. P. Lesley is the author of six novels, including Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, and The Swan Princess), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Find out more about her at

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C. P. Lesley

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and four other novels. Her latest book, The Merchant's Tale, co-written with P.K. Adams, appeared in November 2023.

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