Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book Review: I Am The Chosen King by Helen Hollick

In this beautifully crafted tale, Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England, is a respected, quick witted man both vulnerable and strong, honorable and loving -- and yet, in the end, only human. After the political turmoil and battles leading up to 1066, we all know William the Conquerer takes England. But Helen Hollick will have readers at the edge of their seats, hoping that just this once, for Harold, the story will have a different ending.

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

5 Stars

Helen Hollick's sublime novel I Am The Chosen King brings England in the years immediately leading up to the Norman Conquest vividly to life.  It commences where Hollick's earlier pre-Conquest  novel, The Forever Queen, left off.  Harold Godwinesson, the English monarch best known for his defeat by William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, is the primary subject of I Am The Chosen King.  The novel also features William, Duke of Normandy, and England's King Edward, who is better known today as Edward the Confessor. 

I Am the Chosen King contains all of the necessary elements which, to me, make a great work of historical fiction.  The author has done a masterful job of creating a strong sense of time and place, bringing the era alive for the reader and making them feel part of the action.  The historical detail is impressive and is evidence of the significant amount of research that went into crafting this novel.   While too much detail can serve to bog a novel down and detract from a story, in I Am The Chosen King the level of detail is just right.  As a result, the historical detail enhances the story and the reader's ability to connect with it.   Hollick paints a sympathetic portrait of Harold Godwinesson, a man not raised to the throne from birth, but who must accept it after the death of King Edward to ensure the peace and stability of England.   Hollick's William the Conqueror is a vain man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, which includes a throne he has no right to claim, while King Edward is shown to be a man ill suited to wear a crown.   

When facts are known, accuracy in historical fiction is important to me as a reader.   While Hollick does take some liberties in I Am the Chosen King, they are relatively minor and undertaken for the sake of the story.   Historical accuracy, however, does not trump my desire for a well told and interesting story.  I need both to be satisfied with a historical novel and this book delivers.   I was drawn into Harold's world right from the opening pages, never once becoming bored or wishing the story would end.   While the ultimate outcome of the battle between Harold and William of Normandy's is well-known, I couldn't help but hope that, this time around, things had turned out a little differently.  

I Am The Chosen King is recommended to readers of historical fiction who enjoy epic historical novels.   This book reminded me of Sharon Kay Penman's great historical novels, so fans of Penman should definitely check this one out.  

Note: The novel comes from my own personal collection.