Original date of publication: 1977
My edition: 1977 (Charles Scribners Sons)
Why I decided to read: recommendation on Amazon.com
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com
In 1036, a brutal massacre took place at Gildford, of Alfred the Atheling and his followers by Harold Harefoot, soon after to become King of England. That event, and the events of the thirty years following it, would lead up to one of the seminal moments of English history: the invasion of England by William of Normandy and his followers, in 1066. Gildenford is the story of both sides of the conflict over possession of the crown, with Brand Woodcutter, a retainer of Earl Godwin of Wessex, caught in the crossfire.
This novel is a very strong, real depiction of England in the years leading up to the conquest. Brand is a character to whom I became strongly attached: honorable yet conflicted over the decision he must make. As the novel mentions towards the end, Brand is the kind of person who wants to live his life with a worthy purpose, but nonetheless destined to behave deceptively. It’ll be interesting to see where the Conquest and Duke William take him.
Brand has every reason to hate and enact revenge upon Godwin and the Godwinssons, but he doesn’t, which I think says a lot about the quality of his character. I’ve not read a lot of fiction set in this period, apart from Helen Hollick’s portrayal of Emma in A Hollow Crown, so I was intrigued by this more rounded-out look of the period. In A Hollow Crown, Emma’s the protagonist, and obviously portrayed sympathetically; and she comes off less well in this novel, at least at first.
This is a very strong novel about the effects one person’s (or many people’s) actions have upon many, even many years after the fact. The characters in this novel are very real and believable (Anand toned down Edward the Confessor’s piousness a bit, however). It’ll be interesting to see how the story continues in the next book in the trilogy, The Norman Pretender (in some ways I already know, but that won’t stop me from reading the book). This book is rare and rather hard to find at a reasonable price, but well worth buying if you do.