THE LAST ENGLISH KING by Julian Rathbone


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A dark-hued lament for the loss of jolly old England a millennium ago, when psychopath William the Conqueror used a bagful of tricks to best good King Harold, this saga from the wide-ranging Rathbone (Blame Hitler, p. 1076, etc.) has its moments but can’t sustain them The story comes out in the halting, painful recollections of Walt, one of Harold’s inner circle of advisers and bodyguards who has wandered far from the Battle at Hastings in 1066, where he lost his right hand as well as his king. Dazed and feverish, Walt has crossed Europe before meeting fellow traveler Quint outside of Constantinople; the ex-monk, realizing Walt has within him a tale that will pass many a weary mile on the road, suggests he pay their way on a journey to the Holy Land. As Walt recalls the time leading up to the Norman invasion, when competing bids for the English throne gave rise to intrigues like the one that brought Harold to Normandy to be tricked by William’s magician into swearing an oath of fealty that would later haunt him, an adventure en route brings them into the company of that same trickster—whom Walt had seen drop dead in Hastings. The conjurer expresses remorse for his earlier role and offers his own memories of William’s preparations, while Walt describes the desperate days after Harold’s coronation, when, faced not only with the Norman threat but another from the north, he had also to quell dissent from within. Walt, healing slowly as he lets go of his grief at not having died with his king, decides to go home before reaching Jerusalem, but not before providing the blow-by-blow details of Harold’s heroic last stand. Popping the clutch once too often in shifting between memory, history, and life on the road, but, still, an often haunting evocation of a tumultuous time of glory and grief.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-24213-1
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1999


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