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4.7 out of 5 stars
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This is the first Helen Hollick book i've ever read and as a fan of historical fiction i found this book to be a breath of fresh air.
Writers of historical fiction however good seem to ignore the anglo-saxon period and behave as though England didn't exist before 1066, concentrating instead on the plantagenets (again!) etc. Thus missing out on so many potentially interesting stories and characters.
Helen Hollick remedies this by telling the tragic story of England's last English king with honesty and realism and with multi-dimensional characters that really engage the reader.
I can't recommend this book more highly.
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on 29 May 2002
This title covers the life of Harold, Earl of East Anglia, Earl of Wessex, King of England, and above all a nobleman with a conscience. He meets Edyth Swannhaels and falls in love with the young women. Not prominent enough in status, Edyth becomes Harold's "common wife or handfasted wife" which is not recognized by the church as a legal, binding marriage. Throughout their lives their love and loyalty remain strong even though Edyth knows that someday he must take a "formal wife."
In addition, Harold must deal with a weak King Edward, and obnoxious, traitorous, treacherous siblings: Swein, Edith and Tostig. Their exploits against their brother are of unbelievable, but true, proportions. Harold must also contend with a brutal, manipulative Duke William of Normandy who tries to bend Harold to his will and ambition for the throne of England. When this backfires in his face, William declares war on Harold "The Usuper" and England at any and all costs.
This book shows a compassionate, caring man who inherits titles from his father and from Edward King of England. Diplomatic and charismatic but without the "win at all costs" personality of William of Normandy. His extremely human treatment of all of those around his proves his worth to have been chosen the last Saxon King in England.
The maps and genealogical information were also a great plus to this substantial but page turning historical!
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on 27 February 2001
1066. We know how it ends. And despite what we know, as we read this book, Harold the King, we hope that somehow, this time, the ending will change and England's date with destiny will be averted. Helen Hollick has produced a book that draws the reader into the lives of each of the major players in this drama. We see Edward I, Harold, Tostig and Duke William as they maneuver around the coveted throne. Their wives and families come alive for us so that we begin to understand what motivates the men who lead other men into battle for the sake of a crown . I liked the portrayal of Edward I as a confused man who should never have been given a crown and Harold, as the symbol of the Anglo-Saxon way of life which was already being blown about by the storms from the east. Duke William was no surprise as the man consumed with lust for power and Tostig flirting on the sidelines paves the way for William's conquest.
Five stars to Ms Hollick for creating a great read that kept me turning pages - while not wanting to get to the end I knew was there....
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VINE VOICEon 10 July 2011
Despite its title, this novel covers the whole quarter century from just after the accession of King Edward (later called the Confessor) until Harold's short reign culminates at Hastings. The author is a very good describer of landscapes and setting a mood of a place or situation. I am a bit less sure about her handling of characters, many of them come across as being a bit two-dimensional, either wholly positive or wholly negative. She is particularly down on King Edward until he is on his deathbed. But overall an engaging read and the final battle description is excellent.
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on 23 December 2010
For the most part, a well written novel, faithfully recording historical events in England from 1043 to 1066. As might be expected from the title, the central character is King Harold Godwinson. Unfortunately, he, and most other characters in this novel are cardboard cut-outs. Either all bad or almost sickeningly good. At times, there are scenes involving Harold's family that could have come straight out of The Waltons. It too often seems like a novel meant for children, with pretentious use of schoolgirl French the most irritating thing I found about the book. Ms Hollick seems intent throughout to emphasize her own daughter's knowledge of horses, which sometimes makes it read like a pony club instruction manual. Also, the author does not seem to have appreciated just how wealthy, important and well protected the English kings and earls and their womenfolk would have been. This was 1066, not 1966! For instance, in one scene, Edward the Exile appears unannounced and knocks on Earl Harold's door as though he has come to read the meter. In another, Lady Gytha, Harold's mother, who couldn't have been much less than 60 in 1066, a good age for those days, is present at the night camp before the Battle of Hastings serving the men soup. Equally unbelievable is her idea that Harold could have marched an army in winter from Gloucester to Shrewsbury in 12 hours; it takes more than two hours by car, let alone on horses burdened with armour and weapons. And did Duke William and his seneschal, William FitzOsbern, really do their own scouting, on foot, carrying their chain mail in their arms? This betrays a complete lack of any understanding of matters military as does Ms Hollick's earlier statement that cavalry attacked in squares and that infantry formed "defensive" wedges. The idea of a wedge is that it forms an arrow shaped attacking formation. In her Author's Note, Ms Hollick explains why she did not use the term Confessor when referring to King Edward because, as she correctly says, this was not used until 1161. However, she does insist on calling King Harald of Norway Hardrada throughout. This also was a nickname not used until well after Harald's death. Finally, at 690 large pages this book is way too long. I was so looking forward to finishing it and starting something else that I skimmed the battle of Hastings section almost entirely. Harold the King is readable but I cannot rate it any higher than that, despite all the rave reviews I see here.

I would recommend to anybody who wants to read about Harold and William that they obtain by any means possible a copy of Hope Muntz's novel, The Golden Warrior. This book, written in 1948, remains the definitive story about the events of 1066 even after the passage of 60 years. If you would like to back that up with something factual and which offers believable opinion upon happenings than are not, and will never be known for sure, then Ian W. Walker's biography of Harold: The Last Anglo-Saxon King is the best.
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on 10 September 2014
Much as I enjoyed the previous book in the series, I found it impossible to really enjoy this and in fact as it is a very long book, difficult to finish it. Many of the characters simply do not seem believable whereas others are cardboard cut-outs brought out when Harold needs someone to converse with rather than having a part to play. The events leading to the battle at Senlac are relatively well known and this book follows them well enough but the motivations behind some of the actions seems conjectured. For example it dwells too much on Harold marrying Alditha because he found her attractive and not primarily because she was the sister of the Earl of Mercia - too Mills and Boon. I got little sense either of Anglo-Saxon life which was dirty and quite often violent. Dirt is mentioned in passing although it doesn't appear to inconvenience anyone and unlike the previous book there is no sense of violence at all and the final battle scene to which the tale has been building up seems almost an afterthought. Not great although not a terrible read if you like a historical romance with doormat heroines and have a lot of time to fill.For decent battle scenes and a good feeling of the period I would recommend Bernard Cornwell and Carol McGraths's Handfasted Wife is a nice story of Edith Swanneck and other women of the time.
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on 28 September 2013
Helen's books cover vast swathes of emotions. Raw, breathtaking, vivid pictures of things we all touched on in school. If history teachers could breathe life into their lessons like this, we would all be historians.
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on 21 October 2015
According to what many of us remember from school, English history began in 1066. Well, it didn't!
The later Saxon kingdom was a vibrant and cultured world, unlike the Duchy of Normandy that was soon to destroy it. And it's a period that really created our English identity: the people of this country have largely inherited the Anglo-Saxon background, even though the Normans imposed their language and political systems.
Helen Hollick has created a brilliant portrayal of this important but neglected period of history, with a cast of charismatic characters set in a convincing landscape and timescape. As well as Harold himself, we meet his wayward brothers, Swein and Tostig, his sister and his brother-in-law King Edward (later known as the Confessor), and his two 'wives' Edyth and Alditha. And Hollick also takes us across the Channel to see behind the scenes of the Norman court, and into the mind of Duke William - who will become the Conqueror.
In advance of the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings - recounted in vivid and gory detail in these pages - I thoroughly recommend 'Harold the King as an essential and enjoyable primer!
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on 11 March 2002
Helen Hollick weaves an interesting and enjoyable tale around the few facts we know from this decisive moment in our history. However, the book is just too long. I also found the characterisation rather one-dimensional.. rather like those movies where all the good guys are American and all the baddies are Brits, except in this case it's the dastardly Normans who are all bad. I can't help thinking that better (more critical) editing would have made for an even stronger book.
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on 4 April 2012
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is so absorbing I found it very hard to put down. The characters are so engaging; the action; thoughts and aspirations so vividly described I was transported. Where are the film makers? This would make a tremendous film or better still, short series!
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