Not for the faint hearted as the book gives some very descriptive scenes of graphic violence. Only to be expected of such a violent war torn era.
Not generally a fan of history as far back as 1066, I was unsure about volunteering to read & review this book, on behalf of theUK Indie Literary Festival Group. Having dropped History back in school, (which feels like an historical event in itself), I even had to check the very basic information on the Battle of Hastings.
Then after reading the opening teaser on Amazon I clicked, downloaded and read on.
The story begins at the end, which is with William the Conqueror on his death bed, haunted by his past. What a great opening line:-
“On his bed the King, who can never be killed, lies dying. The old hag was right after all. He would not die on the battlefield.”
GK Holloway has thoroughly researched his history and very successfully interwoven his fiction, in such a way as to be indistinguishable from the facts. The book is very cleverly written.
There are an abundance of characters, if not for the list of main ones at the front of the book it would have been hard to keep up. This was my main bone of contention, especially when reading the kindle version, it was difficult to keep stopping and turning back. It didn’t help that the first part of the book felt a little boring, cramming so much information in, concerning all the different families and characters. Then again families were large in those days and the nobles got into political battles over who owned what etc. Of course all this was absolutely necessary to link in the story further along into the book.
The kindle version was driving me crazy so I decided to purchase a printed copy; boy was I glad that I did. It is so much easier having the printed version in your hand and so much easier to flick back and forth to check out the characters. With this in my hands and delving deeper into the book, I could not get enough and it became a real page turner.
There are some wonderful scenic descriptions, which draw you in and truly bring the story to life.
“The gusting wind at the tail end of the storm carried their craft swiftly towards it destination across the Channel. The sun was doused in the ocean behind them and left a star-strewn sky to guide them on their way.”
TheGodwin family are the main characters in the book and I particularly loved following Harold Godwinson as he grew from a spoilt nobleman out hunting with very little care, to the majestic warrior King, defender of his people a very fair and loyal man, a man who really did not have fate on his side.
Duke William of Normandy almost comes across as a spoilt jealous brat, who simply must have his own way. If he does not get what he wants then he flies into a rage described as becoming red in the face and banging his fists loudly upon the tables. His petite wife Matilda on the other hand seems an angelic, calming influence and when she cannot talk him out of waging war with Harold then, she suggests getting support from the Pope. William has several influential religious men on his side.
During the Battle it was amusing reading how GK Holloway portrays him almost comically, falling off his horse and managing to avoid death. Then again some old hag, from the beginning of the story did say he could not die on a battlefield, William is seen to flaunt this in front of his friends and enemies. Fate did as we know favour him.
Character descriptions are wonderful I for the most part, like the section on page 200 when Duke William (of Normandy) went to visit Abbot Lanfranc.
“Duke William, in a mood of restrained excitement, was ushered by a young monk into Abbot Lanfranc’s gloomy private chambers and offered a seat. Flickering candlelight danced demonically in the Abbot’s eyes, which were as deep and as dark as a well…
…William continued to study his mentor while making small talk. The Abbot sat impassively with his fingers interlocked; they were fat and white like raw sausages. His head was square; his dark hair was peppered with small flakes of skin, which he shed from every part of his body. When he smiled it was to reveal a row of white teeth, perfect except for the gap between the top two at the front”
Several smaller characters stood out prominently for me, they are the ones that were the most evil. These were so well written you cannot help but despise them; Robert de Jumieges Archbishop of Canterbury is just one of many. He is the scheming friend & confident to King Edward of England, a king who had no heir and very little chance of producing one. Hence all the various claimants eager to take the crown.
Also Sweyn Godwinson – deranged brother of Harold, he features in some particularly disturbing scenes. Sweyn is a violent and malicious man often killing in cold blood.
The Norman invasion leading up to the battle was very well described and showed just how evil and malicious they were. The violence here is rather graphic and turned my stomach in several parts. There seems to have been so much death and destruction before they even reached the battlefield. Of course because of the wonderful interweaving of the story one cannot tell which part is fact and which fiction?
Ralph Pomeroy – A follower of Duke William is the most evil monster in the book this is a little section that describes him:-
“He lived to kill; he loved to kill. In death he found life. The dread in her eyes thrilled him. All the signs he knew so well were there. He knew she realised he would be merciless. The thrill of her fear excited him to the very centre of his being.”
I was hoping and praying this man would get his comeuppance however fate decrees otherwise, his heroism on the battlefield was rewarded handsomely.
All in all a great read, I was very pleasantly surprised and if you want to know more about the Battle of Hastings and the events leading up to it then this is the book for you. Don’t just take my word for it there are lots of great in-depth reviews on Goodreadsby history buffs and scholars almost all giving very positive feedback.
Top Score a 3 Rose Rating ~ Very Highly Recommended, a real page-turner