By the author of the lively and likable The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1972): an amiable but unconvincing 950-page whitewash...



By the author of the lively and likable The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1972): an amiable but unconvincing 950-page whitewash of that 11th-century Norman/English terror-of-a-tax-man, Ranulph Flambard (Fiery Torch)--and of Ranulph's boss William II, a.k.a. William-Rufus. Earnest, yeomanlike, and a shade prim, Ranulph's ""confession"" takes him from poor childhood to his priestly ordainment--after which he finds himself, impressed as a spy for William I's half-brother, the wily Bishop Odo, who manipulates the King's eldest son, Robert of Normandy. Eventually, however, after clerking for the royal chancellor and suggesting the famous Domesday Book census, and after the death of the Conqueror, Ranulph will become confessor/advisor/ friend to Robert's brother, king-to-be Rufus--seen here as a naive, open, honest, generous super-soldier. True, King W-R constantly demands money for his ""just"" wars with brother Robert and others; he tilts with the Church, represented by Anselm, the steely Archbishop of Canterbury; and he entertains a procession of male lovers--from an eccentric, gifted Irish harper to handsome young boys. (Ranulph will worry about the purity of his own wayward son Martin.) But William-Rufus is essentially just a nice regular guy in this version--and so is Ranulph, despite his amorous entanglements with an elfin English girl and with feisty, naughty Lady Isabel (once the mistress of Duke Robert). Eventually, of course, Rufus will be killed in the famous forest ""accident"" (Durham offers an inventive solution to that ancient mystery), while Ranulph will end up as the grandly blasphemous Bishop of Durham. And there's no shortage here of well-researched scenery, adventures and escapes, ceremonies and meetings. But, though period buffs may want to thumb through, most others will find this an agreeable yet unjustified slog--heavy on foreign-policy tangles (often tedious), blandly modern in dialogue, and unpersuasive in its attempts to substitute mild good-guy reasonableness for the fierce Norman spirit behind those deadly royal games of the 11th century. (Better recent bets: Gene Farrington's The Breath of Kings and Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter--along with the ever-reliable, bland-but-blessedly-brief Jean Plaidy.)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982