1066 is one of the most famous dates in English history so you can probably guess what this book is about! I have read a few other books set in this period recently so when the author of 1066: What Fates Impose contacted me to offer me a copy for review, I was pleased to accept.
The novel closely follows the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest. After a brief but dramatic prologue in which we see William the Conqueror on his deathbed in 1087, we move back several decades in time to Winchester in the year 1045 where we meet the family of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. It is Godwin’s son, Harold, of course, who will face William on the battlefield in 1066, but before we reach that point of the story there are twenty-one years of history to be covered and almost four hundred pages of novel to be read!
To fully understand what happened at Hastings, we need to understand the background to the conflict. G.K. Holloway takes us through many key moments including the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold’s handfast marriage to Edyth Swan-neck, the threats from the Welsh and the Vikings, and the fates of Harold’s brothers Sweyn and Tostig Godwinson. Along the way, we learn about the complex feuds and alliances between England’s noblemen and are given some insight into the situation in Normandy, where Duke William is preparing for invasion. We see how various characters plot, scheme and work hard to achieve their goals, only to find, in the end, that certain things are out of their control and that even the most careful plans can be thrown into disarray by what fates impose.
This is clearly a book that has been well researched and as far as I could tell (I can’t claim to be an expert on this subject) the story does stick closely to the known historical facts. Obviously there is a limit as to how much information is available on the 11th century so any author writing a fictional account of the period will need to use their imagination to fill in gaps and interpret the motivations and actions of the characters, but I think G.K. Holloway does this very well. Everything in the novel feels plausible and there was nothing that left me shaking my head and thinking “this would never have happened”.
The novel features a large and varied cast of characters, ranging from Godwin and his children to the ruling families of Mercia and Northumbria, Duke William and his fellow Normans, and an assortment of bishops and archbishops (most, though not all, of these people are listed at the beginning of the book, which was very helpful). Some felt more developed than others but sadly I didn’t really manage to form a strong emotional connection with any of them – although I did have a lot of sympathy for Harold as his story headed towards its inevitable end.
Because there is so much historical information packed into this novel, I think 1066: What Fates Impose could be a good introduction to the pre-Conquest years for readers who have little or no previous knowledge. A sequel covering the time between the Battle of Hastings and William’s death would be interesting, but meanwhile, having been left wanting to read more about this period I am now reading Gildenford by Valerie Anand, a book which has been recommended to me by several people recently.
Thanks to G.K. Holloway for providing a copy of this book.