Housecarl by :Laurence J Brown

Three rulers . . . one crown - 5 stars

As Edward the Confessor, the Saxon king of England, lies dying in his palace, he gives the nod for kingship to Harold Godwinesson, his brother-in-law and oldest son of his old enemy, Earl Godwine of Wessex. But Edward had been raised in Normandy and, years before, had promised the succession to his cousin, the young Norman Duke William, called the Bastard for the unfortunate circumstances of his birth. When William learns of Edward's reversal and Harold's accession to the throne, he takes the matter rather badly, thinking his claim better than Harold's. Complicating things, the Norwegian king Harald Hardraada (Harald Hard-Counsel), a giant of a man who has never lost a battle and spent his youth as a mercenary captain in the service of the Byzantine emperor, also covets the throne of England.

And so the stage is set as this book opens, recounting the events of the fateful year, 1066, when Harold Godwinesson became king of England, at the Confessor's death, and two strong-willed Viking descendants opposed him. The new king of England was himself part Danish so he, too, counted Vikings among his forbears. This novel gives us the events immediately leading up to the two fateful battles Harold Godwinesson would fight to defend his throne, the first in the north against a ruthless Viking monarch and the second in the south, at a place called Hastings, against a bastard duke who would come to be called William the Conqueror and would thereby change the course of English history.

It's a sad and tragic tale of ambition and high-mindedness as brother betrays brother and the last English king of the old order lurches down a pathway to his own destruction, driven by pride and events beyond his control. The story follows the actions of the king's champion, Ranulf, as he struggles to serve his king honorably, even while discovering love with a local tavern maid, a love that threatens to unman him at a time of his greatest need. Although the first 100 pages are a bit slow, this tale of the dual invasion of the English coast and Harald's desperate attempts to confront and defeat the foreigners, carries you along. The final battle at Hastings alone is worth the price of this book. It is vivid and bloody and tears your heart out. Though we know how it must end, the sorrow at a king's fall is in no way diminished . . . a well-told tale out of English history, the tragic turning point that made England the land it was to be!

An Amazon customer from New York