Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: The White Horse King, by Benjamin Merkle

The White Horse King is the true story of Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, who lived in the late ninth century. He defended his country against Viking invaders, introduced a mini literary renaissance, and revamped the legal system of Wessex.

I’ll be honest and say I was disappointed, a bit. While the author does a great job of describing the Viking raids, and of describing the battle scenes that the Angle-Saxons fought against them, he skimps a little bit on the actual “biography” part of the book. I got a great picture of life in Saxon England as a whole, but I got a very small picture of Alfred himself and what he was like. Plus, his grasp of medieval Christianity and the effect it had on people’s lives, seemed to be a bit weak.

As a historical source, it’s a good introduction to the period, but on the other hand, I would have preferred a book that was less simplistic. I also found the sidenotes to be off-putting, taking up nearly half a pages (thankfully, they disappear partway through the book). And the notes themselves are a little History 101-ish (such as a description of who the Vikings were of the Roman occupation of Britain). Again, it might be good for someone who doesn’t know much about the period, but I was looking for something much more substantial.

As a side note, I often found the writing to be repetitive. Take this example: “The king… was unrelenting in his attack. He fought on fiercely and unrelentingly.” (125). The author’s writing style is engaging, but there are some stylistic mistakes. Still, I think this is a decent work of popular history. It’s not for someone looking for more insight on Alfred the Great’s character.


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