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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
Harold the King
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

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 25 December 2009
Helen Hollick's Harold the King is the first historical fiction book I have read in a long time. I much prefer factual history books as a rule, but thanks to the author Helen Hollick this wont be the last historical fiction I read.
Helen Hollick in my opinion is a pure genius in her method of retelling the 1066 story. Keeping the facts in focus and pulling the whole story line together to keep the reader flipping the pages over and over again.
The author puts flesh on the bones of the many characters caught up in this tragic yet fascinating period of English history.
Although the ending of this story was written into history in a field in East Sussex over a thousand years ago, you kind of wish in the back of your mind that somehow the ending of 1066 could have been so different as you finish Helens book.........................but we know how it ends!...I give this book 10/10
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on 12 February 2017
I was surprised to realise that I didn't really know all that much about the events that led up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Helen Hollick's 'Harold the King' did a great job of filling in that gap in my knowledge, with a vibrant and thoroughly enjoyable telling of the story of Harold Godwinsson, the feeble Edward I, Harold's dastardly brothers Swegn and Tostig and his devious sister Edith (queen to Edward), and of course the horrible Duke William of Normandy, later to be known as the Conqueror. Not forgetting the other people in Harold's life, especially Edyth Swannhaels, his hand-fasted wife, who bore him seven children and retained his love to the end, despite him having to marry another woman for the sake of politics. I found their relationship most touching... In some ways, I felt their closeness seemed quite modern, but there is no reason to imagine that 11th century men, even such "manly" men as Harold, were incapable of such true and lasting affection.
Overall I found the characters very engaging and well-drawn - the "nasty" ones perhaps more fascinating than engaging - and watching everyone vie for position in their pursuit of the crown was intriguing. Helen's vivid writing drew me in both to their lives and to Anglo-Saxon life in general.
If I didn't know much about the years before 1066, I did of course know what actually happened in that fateful year. So it was inevitable that (as other reviewers have said), as I grew fond of the Harold that Helen had portrayed, I began to hope that maybe, somehow, history was wrong, and he would survive William's invasion. How very upsetting it was to find that history was right! I really felt I wanted to know what sort of king he might have turned out to be.
Thoroughly recommended, both as a great telling of the story of King Harold, and as a wonderful, page-turning read.
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on 10 May 2008
Harold the King, a sequel of sorts to A Hollow Crown (AHC was written after HTK), beings in 1043 as Edward the Confessor (as he was named after his death) rules England along with his aging mother the Dowager Queen Emma, and Harold's father Godwine is the second most powerful man in England. Harold falls in love with a woman he cannot marry, Edyth Swannhaels, but they are hand fasted and begin a lifelong relationship. The story also parallels the life of Duke William of Normandy as fate, treachery and a weak king with no heir spins England out of control leaving it ripe for picking at the hands of the Norman aggressors.

While most of us know the story of the 1066 Conquest and what follows afterward, there is so little that is known of the period and politics leading up to that event, and I very much enjoyed getting an "inside" look at this period. I loved the strong and vulnerable aspects of Harold's character (have the tissue ready for the end), along with the implacable and terrifying Duke William of Normandy. I have to admit that the first part of the book was a bit slow for me, but that was because I had recently read Valerie Anand's Gildenford so I was having a lot of Déjà vu, but once I passed where Anand's book ended I was thoroughly engrossed and had a hard time putting this one down. Highly recommended for any lover of medieval fiction or for those interested in England prior to The Conquest.
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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 14 June 2012
This is pretty much the first historical novel about this time period I've read and with only a basic knowledge of what took place in this era I was looking forward to getting a story-board-style lesson. Whilst this book was enjoyable and generally well written, the last part of the story is a huge anti-climax. A novel that is essentially about 1066 should build up to the Battle of Hastings and treat that as a the focal point, where all the characters that have been created and built up come to a head and are fulfilled. Unfortunately, the final confrontation is dealt with in roughly 8 pages, with the death of Harold barely covered by half a paragraph. Whilst the book attempts to make Harold to be a great hero, the writer fails to give him a hero's exit.

This is true of all the battle descriptions in the book - large build up, lots about the horses, great detail in small, barely significant encounters between characters, and oh yeah there was this battle, but there was another incident in a church.....
Overall, a good read for the most of it, but needed a better balance between the human characters and the battles which history is built around.
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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 9 November 2001
I enjoyed this book so much, I felt it just carried me right back to the events when they happened and the people involved. As well as learning a lot I didn't know about early English history I found this a really absorbing read.
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on 5 May 2015
I read this straight after reading A Hollow Crown. In A Hollow Crown, I was disappointed not to have a likeable female lead, but in this book I found one with Edyth. Like A Hollow Crown, this book really picks up in the second half, and I think some of the earlier stuff could have been cut.

My copy was a large paperback, which I find irritating, especially as the book is long. It's clumsy to hold in bed. There were a few minor typo errors.

My only quibble with Ms Hollick's writing is that she has a tendency to change POV from one paragraph to the next with no gap lines to warn us of this viewpoint change. Sometimes it's a change in location too (person A in the abbey, then the next line is person B in the inn and so on).

Having said all this I enjoyed the book very much, especially the second half. Reading these two books has got me interested in this period and I want to find more novels set at this time.
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on 24 January 2013
What a beautiful, lyrical piece of writing about the lost and greatly lamented King of the English, Harold Godwinson.

If the King's shadow still flickers over this land, then his soul will surely be upraised by remembrances tendered more than 900 years after his passing by several great authors, especially Helen Hollick.

Comfort too may be taken by the knowledge that the English today are still essentially his kindred in their language, bloodline and in their moderate instincts.

Added to that, yet more heirs of the Old English flourish within the four other Anglo-Saxon countries of our own time: USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Normandy itself is dwarfed by the scale of this achievement.

There is simply no other English King (or Queen, or Prince) whose heroic fight against two major invasions over just three weeks, is still a cause of so much sadness, even after the passage of nine and a half centuries.

Lovers of this book should read 'The Saxon Tapestry' by Sile Rice which is also an aching lament for what was lost when 'our King Harold' (a quote from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) failed utterly, yet only just, to save the English people from Duke William and the paid hirelings of fear who followed in his wake.
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