Having never been much interested in the history of Britain before around 1485, this book has changed my attitude completely. It brings to life the England of the Anglo-Saxons, the Danes and the Celts in all its visceral colour and intrigue.
The story is told from several perspectives - the main one being that of King Harold's most trusted bodyguards - a man whose duty it was to sacrifice his own life if need be to protect his King, but who failed at the last to do so, in the hope that, in living, he could return to his lovely wife and community. Alas, as the reader finds out, he loses both his dignity as a soldier and his community too. There is a touch of magic about the telling of this story, which weaves together characters and events both historically real and fictitious, often through flashbacks. I found myself dreading the end - we all know the outcome of the Battle of Hastings - as Harold is presented as the humorous, passionate, heroic defender of the Anglo-Saxon way of life, with its easy relationship between feudal lord and serf, its relative plenty, and the far better status enjoyed by women than in the less colourful Norman society. The bodyguard, Walt, spends the years after the battle undergoing a difficult rehabilitation as he wanders through Turkey and Syria with a group of new companions, some of whom were also intimately involved with the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings.
History, it is generally said, is a story written by the winning side and the historical view of William the Conqueror is that he was a great warrior and administrator. This book presents the view that, while 'the Norman Bastard' may have been a fearless fighter, he was bad-tempered, psychopathic, hysterical, obsessed by order, and rather inhumane. Whatever the truth is about him and about Harold Godwinson, this is a really good novel.