Hereward was something of an unknown for me as I went into it. With most historical fiction I read, I have some grounding in the subject or characters, but my knowledge of Hereward the Wake is limited to the fact that I knew the name, though I couldn't even have placed him in a century until I read this book. So there's something important that James Wilde has done: he has put a hitherto vague name on the map for a lot of people as a historical hero and placed him in a time period.
The book has upsides and downsides for me that swung my opinion wildly as I read, though I finished it with a solidly positive view.
I found the character of Hereward himself to be a little too familiar and stereotypical - bearing characteristics in common with Batman, the Hulk, and Conan the Barbarian among others. He is an anti-hero in a well-used vein, brooding and dark and moody, with a shadowy, unhappy past, interspersed with periodic berserk rages. I did get used to the character after a while, but the main supporting characters I thought were more original constructions. Saying this, the character, while a little jarring at the start, wore in very nicely by the end.
Easily counteracting any trouble I had with the main character was the writing itself. Wilde has a very visual writing style that makes his work a joy to read and, to be honest, he could write a bus timetable and I would find it gripping and effusive. Despite any issues I had during the book, I continued to pick it up and read it at every opportunity and finished it in three days (fairly quick for me.) Moreover, the book picked up pace and style toward the end and drew me ever further in, leaving me in the position where I would have been disappointed that it had finished, had I not the sequel standing by ready to go on to.
The other issue I had was with the two main battles handled within the book. There are only a few things that I do know about this period, but they generally revolve around the battle of Senlac Hill (Hastings) and the battle of Stamford Bridge (the latter having been fought not far from my home and therefore a matter of local interest). The accounts of both battles in the novel are sparsely and briefly treated, with Hastings being taken up suddenly towards the end of the battle and what has happened so far given as a brief retrospective. I was a little disappointed at that, given the import of the two battles not only on British history, but also on the characters in the novel. I felt that the battles should have been given much more detail and made more relevant, given their centrality to the plot. Also, the history of the battle of Stamford Bridge appears to have been slightly altered in the book (ref specifically the famous axeman on the bridge and the manner of his downfall.)
I do love the feel of the era as portrayed by James. This period has a tremendous mix, from pantheistic Vikings in the traditional sense, through Christianised Norsemen, Saxon Englishmen, knights of Flanders who would not seem out of place over a century later during Richard I's wars, to the Normans (who are only given a passing role in this book, but are satisfyingly portrayed as harsh and efficient former Norsemen themselves.) And kudos to James for his treatment of the much vaunted Harold Godwinson and his kin and the harepin bend he takes with their proud legend. Pleased at that, James.
Overall, I had a couple of issues, but nothing that prevented me thoroughly enjoying the book. The last quarter, in particular, I loved. I also like the fact that the story builds up from the introduction of a fates-battered anti-hero and ends with his rebirth as a true hero for England, leaving threads open and drawing the reader into the sequel.