Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick

We’ve all heard of the year 1066 and of William the Conqueror and his glorious takeover of England. But what is the rest of the story? What was the land that William was taking over, why was he taking it over, and who was he taking it over from? I am the Chosen King is the story of Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England and it answers all of these questions.

Like Beethoven’s Symphony Number 7, I am the Chosen King starts out quiet and touching and then slowly, almost without you realizing it, it moves to a stunning and powerful conclusion. For the last two hundred or so pages, I found myself totally obsessed with the book. Knowing that William would ultimately triumph did not lessen the suspense. I wanted to know what exactly happened, and I couldn’t help but wish that Harold would be able to conquer William the Conqueror or at least ride off into the sunset with Edyth.

Harold Godwinesson was the son of Godwine, the powerful Earl of Wessex. An Earl in his own right, Harold falls in love with Edyth, the beautiful daughter of thegn Eadric of Nazeing. As the only child of a thegn, Edyth will inherit land and money, but it is only a modest sum and not enough to tempt an earl. Harold marries Edyth anyway in a “handfast” ceremony with the expectation that at some point he may have to make a church approved political marriage. He spends many happy years with Edyth, but when destiny beckons, he is called to serve England as king and to protect it from foreign invaders.

I loved I am the Chosen King. There was so much to love about it and it was rich with such detail, that I’m having hard time writing about it and breaking it down. So read my review and thoughts knowing that I am only touching the tip of the iceberg of how much was in this novel.

I loved the history involved in this novel. It was a riveting time that I hadn’t really read about before and Helen Hollick brings it wonderfully to life. She captures the complex family relationships, political landscape, and riveting battles in a dramatic and readable way. The Battle of Hastings is the climax of the story and I had a hard time putting it down. I kept thinking about it and the end of the book long after I finished.

Queen Emma, Edward the Confessor’s mother, steals the first part of the novel. She is a powerful female figure and I was intrigued with her story. I want to learn more and I am definitely putting Hollick’s novel about her, The Forever Queen, on my future reading list.
It was also an interesting dynamic to the book that Harold has a long and happy hand-fast marriage to Edyth only to have to marry a sweet young thing Alditha for political reasons when he becomes King. I felt bad for Edyth, Alditha, and Harold for the love triangle they ended up finding themselves in, but I also enjoyed reading about it!

William, the bastard Duke of Normandy also is featured in the novel from his time on the run as a boy, to his ruthless consolidation of power in his teens and twenties, to his conquering of England. While I loved the story of his relationship with his wife Matilda, he seemed like not a very nice man overall. It was a great build-up of his story and interesting contrast between his life and Harold’s.

My favorite quote in the book deals with Harold’s inner turmoil:

“He felt as if he were two separate people. One, a man who had been offered the greatest power, the highest accolade. He could not deny that he wanted it. To be in supreme command, to answer to no man, to have his every aye or nay instantly obeyed . . . but then there was his other self, the man who loved this woman who was so desperately trying to hide her tears. A man who wanted only the laughter of his family, the comfort of his home, the pleasure of being a part of the turn of the seasons on his estate.”

Overall, I am the Chosen King is a supremely powerful historical fiction novel with a riveting ending in the Battle of Hastings. It led me to think about poor Harold far into the night after its conclusion.

I am the Chosen King is my fourth item in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

If this novel sounds like something you would love to read, please check out my interview with Helen Hollick and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of this novel. The Giveaway ends on Friday March 18th.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!


  1. Great review - I loved Harold!

  2. Isn't this just one of the best? I'm so glad Sourcebooks gave it a new life in the US, Harold The King had become so expensive to buy from the UK. I'd love someone to tell Edyth's story though...

  3. I will have to read this book! Thanks for the review.