Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick

Description from the back of the book:

I Am the Chosen KingEngland, 1044. Harold Godwinesson, a young, respected earl falls in love with an ordinary but beautiful woman. He marries Edyth despite her lack of pedigree, pitting him against his turbulent family and his selfish king, Edward.
In France, William, the bastard son of a duke, falls in love with power. Brutal and dangerously smart, William sets his sights on England, finding ambition a difficult lust to conquer.
With Edward old an dying, England fall vulnerable to the winds of fate - and the stubborn will of these two powerful men.
In this beautifully crafted tale, Helen Hollick sets aside the propaganda of the Norman Conquest and brings to life the English version of the story of the last Saxon King, revealing his tender love, determination, and proud loyalty, all shattered by the unforgiving needs of a Kingdom. Forced to give up his wife and risk his life for England, the chosen King led his army into the great Battle of Hastings in October 1066 with all the honor and dignity that history remembers of its befallen heroes.
If you visit the book blogging community here on the Net, you will have read or seen many reviews of I Am the Chosen King by the end of March, since this is the month of this book's U.S. publication. Most of these review, if not all of them, will be praises to Helen and her talent, and rightfully so because she is one of the best storytellers there are and this talent of hers to draw a reader into the world of the past shines in this historical novel.

Helen Hollick is a fantastic writer and she created an absolutely wonderful piece of art in I Am the Chosen King. Yes, I believe that writing is an art and if done well, such as Ms. Hollick does it, delivers a lot more than just pure entertainment for the recipients, a.k.a. readers. In the days when I was reading I Am the Chosen King, I felt I was kidnapped by this story of the Saxon England. When I couldn't read the book, I thought about it during the day, I researched what I didn't know online and when sleeping, I dreamed about the characters (I believe I actually used such words as thegns, aetheling, housecarls in my dreams). I think it will not be an exaggeration when I say that Helen cast a spell on me, the one that made me fully absorbed in the world of I Am the Chosen King.

As amazing as the storytelling is, there's nothing lacking in other departments of this book either. The way the characters are introduced and made familiar to us is flawless. You will not even notice at what time they all become real, three-dimensional figures instead of merely ink on a piece of paper. And by all I mean quite a few characters. Harold Godwinesson, the future and last Saxon king is someone you just have to root for. His personality is endearing and causes others to really forgive him anything (not that there is much to forgive there, he really is a noble person). Edyth, Harold's taken-as-wife woman (in accordance to the Saxon law), is an amazing woman and as the story progressed, I admired her more and more for her poise and strength in the face of many, many hardships. As I mentioned in a conversation with Misfit, Edyth was ten times the woman I could ever dream of being. And then, there is the impossibly selfish, whiny, unable to function independently King Edward the Confessor. Supposedly, his reputation nowadays is being repaired by historians, but it was difficult for me to muster any compassion for this ruler. Of course there's no purpose in speculating about things past, but who knows what would have happened, had he been the King such as his predecessor, Cnut and such as England deserved to have.Those are only the three characters I decided to write about but in I Am the Chosen King, the multitude of them is astounding and almost every one is important to the story.

The time (1044-1066) might have been called the Dark Ages at one point but it's no longer that and Ms. Hollick shows us exactly why historians no longer choose to use that name. The Saxon England was everything but dark. The combination of Christianity and old Saxon laws and traditions provided for a very rich life indeed. The people were intelligent, interesting and could teach us a thing or two about what's important in life. There's much to be admired and much to be learned from that time in history and also much to be thankful for to Ms. Hollick for bringing it alive for us, contemporary readers. A perfect example is the final battle, The Battle of Hastings. It was breathtaking and heartrending to read it. Even though I knew what the outcome would be, I was still hoping for the impossible, still holding my breath in an event that maybe I read the history wrong and William, the Duke of Normandy didn't win. How incredible is that?! What a writing talent that can do that to a reader, to make you question the reality?! Brava, Ms. Hollick!

The Battle of Hastings - 1066
Some claim that Norman cavalry was too much for the Saxon infantry but according to the author, the Saxons were very well trained in fighting those mounted on horses and that was not the reason for the outcome of this battle.

Please watch the trailer. It's really worth. And don't forget to visit Helen Hollick's website. Make sure you read her article on Harold and on the Norman Conquest. Really fascinating stuff.

Special thanks to Sourcebooks, Inc for sending me a copy of I Am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick.