It’s 1066 and William has conquered England and crowned King, yet there are still those who resist his iron-fisted rule, and long to put a Saxon back on the throne. Brand Woodcutter is determined to join the rebels and keep the oath he made to King Harold’s mother, while his daughter Wulfhild desires peace at any cost so that she can continue at her beloved manor Fallowdene. To this end, William gives her in marriage to Norman knight Simon Inconnu (the unknown).
William’s wrath at the rebels results in drastic and deadly measures taken on the innocent populace of the north and the nation finally settles into an uneasy peace. William brings his nobles from Normandy and parcels out the land and inter-marries the Normans with the Saxons — including his niece Judith with one of the former rebels, Waltheof of Northumbria. Judith is not a warm and loving wife (to say the least), and weak natured Waltheof is finally drawn into the disastrous Revolt of the Earls.
Anand does a great job of bringing the period and its people to life. William was terrifying (no surprise there), Mabel Talvas was over the top in her ever-poisonous drafts and drop dead (literally) relatives, all leading up to the final twist in Simon’s forgotten past that leads to deadly consequences that could leave Wulfhild at the mercy of a brutal Norman lord. My favorite character though was William’s niece Judith. Anand had her pegged and must have had a gas writing her character, along with the disdain she held for her weak willed husband, “She had smelt his terror and it pleased her. He was so frightened that he wanted to break down and sob with his head on her lap. But Judith’s book-infested lap was no good to him or any man.” There were plenty more like that, I wished I’d bookmarked them.
All in all quite entertaining and I highly recommend the series. There were one or two incidents in the book that I couldn’t find any factual references on, especially the kidnapping of one of Judith’s ladies (although it was jolly good fun). These books are out of print, but if you can find them without spending an arm and a leg and want to read more on the period I do recommend them. 4.5/5 stars. The series in order,
The Norman Pretender
The Disputed Crown
Anand also wrote King of the Wood that I read a couple of years ago and follows these books chronologically as she tells the story of William’s son William Rufus.