Long before the Tudors we’ve become so tired of and before the Plantagenets we are never tired of (at least not me ;)), came Harold Godwinesson…the last English King.
I am the Chosen King begins in 1043 and continues the story of Saxon England started in The Forever Queen. Edward (or Edward the Confessor as he came to be known after his death) rules England along with his aging mother the scheming Dowager Queen Emma. Earl Godwine is the second most powerful man in England, and that power is well spread among his large brood of sons, including Harold.
A powerful Earl in his own right, Harold knows he must eventually enter into a Christian marriage with a woman of higher birth, but in the meantime falls in love and handfasts with Edyth Swannhaels, a woman he can never marry. Harold’s story is intertwined with that of Duke William of Normandy (who believes he has a rightful claim to the throne through Queen Emma) as fate, treachery and a weak king with no heir sends England spinning out of control and ripe for picking at the hands of the Norman aggressors. Only one man can rule England, which one will be the victor at the Battle of Hastings?
There’s actually a whole lot more to it than that, but you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out. While most of us know of the 1066 Conquest and what follows afterward, there aren’t many novels on the events prior to it, and I very much liked having an an “inside” look. I loved the strong and vulnerable aspects of Harold’s character (have the tissue ready for the end), and shuddered at the implacable and terrifying Duke William of Normandy. I really enjoyed Hollick’s writing style, a bit sparse and lacking overly flowery prose, which I found a very pleasant change of pace. Her battle scenes are excellent without going OTT in the blood and gore department, nor sending my eyes glazing over with endless minute details of every piece of weaponry and battle tactic imaginable. Ms. Hollick gets a huge thumbs up from this reader for her excellent author’s notes at the end, letting us know what is known, what was surmised and what was tweaked in order to tell Harold’s story. I loved the tidbit in the notes about Elizabeth II carrying the blood of both Harold and Duke William in her veins.
This is the second time I’ve read this book, the first being about three years ago in its original version, Harold the King, and that book has a permanent place on my keeper shelf. For some reason this wasn’t quite as unputdownable as it was the first time around, but I’m guessing that’s because I didn’t let enough time lapse between the reads and much of it was still fresh in my mind. I still loved it, highly recommend it and should appeal to both male and female readersFor those interested in reading other novels on this period I’d recommend Valerie Anand’s Gildenford (the first in a trilogy), although don’t read it too close together with this one as you’ll get a lot of been-there done-that. Parke Godwin also wrote a novel on Harold called Lord of Sunset, but it didn’t exactly rock my world as I’m not fond of multiple first person narratives. That said, Godwin does do an excellent job at showing the inherent difference in the Saxon and Norman mindset and cultures in A Memory of Lions which is set shortly after the Conquest (review here).
Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing me with this review copy.