April 2024
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Harold the King by Helen Hollick

In Harold the King, Helen Hollick deals with the seldom-fictionalized Anglo-Saxons, which I enjoyed very much. She is very historically accurate throughout, creating well-fleshed-out characters that I can believe existed and had motives for the occasionally horrendous things that they did. The story moved at a fair pace, considering the book covers approximately 20 years, and I was never bored. For readers who know little of English history beyond the famous Battle of Hastings, this book provides a painless recounting of how such a conflict came to be.

The characters even suffer internal conflict, and one can trace the development of, for example, Edith, from a spoiled young girl to a twisted, selfish queen. It is fairly easy to see where the characters are coming from. This is one of the things that I’m always looking for; are characters believable? Do I understand their doubts and fears? This book pulls that off nicely.

The prose, however, is a bit awkward. Hollick is a great storyteller, but she could do with a better editor. She seem to omit subjects from sentences when two or more sentences have the same subject, which is something I’ve never noticed elsewhere. Her transitions can be strange and her dialogue occasionally unrealistic. In general, the novel’s prose doesn’t have that polished feel which most books published by major publishing houses do. Her grammar is not incorrect, it just doesn’t flow perfectly.

I wouldn’t let that keep me from enjoying the story, though, because Hollick really does have something going here. It’s easy to get emotionally attached to her characters and to really feel for them; she also has the ability to create suspense when the conclusion of the book is already known. I’m looking forward to reading more of her Anglo-Saxon historical fiction, not only because it’s good but because there isn’t enough of it out there.


1 comment to Harold the King by Helen Hollick

  • Harold the King is my favourite of Helen Hollick’s novels. Have you also read her novel A Hollow Crown, which covers the life of Emma of Normandy and her marriages to Aethelred Unraed (Ethelred the Unready) and then Cnut? I found it felt longer and slower than Harold the King, but enjoyable nonetheless.
    There isn’t a lot of Anglo-Saxon fiction around, is there? If you’re interested in the era, you may like to try Wolf Girl by Theresa Tomlinson, set in the even more neglected seventh century (review with more details here: http://www.carlanayland.org/reviews/wolf_girl.htm), Fay Sampson’s two novels on the conversion of the English to Christianity (Flight of the Sparrow, http://www.carlanayland.org/reviews/flight_sparrow.htm) and Land of Angels (http://www.carlanayland.org/reviews/land_angels.htm), Bernard Cornwell’s current Uhtred series set at the time of Alfred the Great’s war against the Danes (military adventure with lots of battle scenes), Octavia Randolph’s Circle of Ceridwen trilogy (also set in Alfred’s time, and available online at http://www.octavia.net/), and if you’ve read all those you might even consider taking a look at my Paths of Exile (http://www.carlanayland.org/exile/index.htm).