Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Review of the Medieval Historical Novel "Hastings"

Hastings, by Griff Hosker


Review by Nancy Bilyeau

Like many other people, I have always perceived William the Conqueror and his Norman army as a menacing and relentless invading force that squashed the Saxons through overwhelming brute force rather than following up on a legal right to succession.

Griff Hosker’s novel Hastings at first glance, may look like an interesting take on the traditional view of 1066. It is subtitled “Conquest: Book 1” with the cover message “The Battle That Changed Everything.” This is a book coming to 1066 from a Norman perspective.

I knew that with Hosker, I would get a deeply researched and authentic medieval-age story. He has written historical novels spanning the Roman era to World War II, with my favorite series being the Lord Edward’s Archer books set in 13th-century Wales and England.

What I wasn’t ready for in Hastings were the emotional stakes of the story, which soon captured me. The protagonist, Richard fitz Malet, is a man with a complicated family background living in a complicated time of constantly shifting alliances. His father was a Norman knight, Lord Robert Malet, but his mother was English. She was the young daughter of an English housecarl, a bodyguard who served Lord Robert when he came to England. Seduced and swiftly discarded, she gave birth to an illegitimate son that the Norman family reluctantly raises, but at a distance.

There are enormous tensions springing from the circumstances of Richard’s birth. His grandfather resents the seduction of his daughter, which ruined her for marriage and broke her health, leading to an early death. Richard learns conversational English from his grandfather, the only loving family he has, which will prove crucial in later chapters. As his grandfather is responsible for teaching warrior skills and weaponry handling to the boys of the large household, he pays special attention to the training of his grandson. As he tells Richard, the Normans see the English as inferior and Richard is intended to live as a bodyguard of his half-brothers, inherently disposable. He needs the finest warrior skills obtainable in order to stay alive.

“Thanks to my grandfather, I never felt myself a Norman,” Richard tells the reader. But throughout his childhood and young manhood, he absorbs Norman standards of manhood and strengths in warfare. He respects those strengths, which made the Normans a feared group throughout Europe. However, his emotional loyalty is to his grandfather and the friends he makes himself, and later to warriors who go out of their way to look out for him, as opposed to seeing him as nothing but a human shield.

There is a great deal of tense and absorbing drama in Richard’s changing position as he slowly transforms from ignored bastard son of an obscure English girl to a formidable warrior. The Malet family is not wholly proud of those skills, especially his nasty half-brother Durand. Because Richard is not one of the “important” legitimate brothers, and these knights, squires, and housecarls often plunge into deadly conflicts, it’s by no means a certainty to the reader that Richard will escape from any encounter unscathed.

In these encounters, Hosker’s ability to describe battles--both the “big picture” and the reality of up-close fighting between men grimly trying to kill each other—really shines. He knows every detail of the weapons and armory. Those curious about William the Conqueror will find fascinating descriptions of his court and his trips to England with Richard in his retinue. These trips were diplomatic for the most part, and I was surprised by how close he was to the childless King Edward. Duke William’s claim to succeed to the English throne is outlined well.

Richard fitz Malet is more than a proficient warrior and a feared athletic combatant in a time of fierce war. He is someone of deep loyalty. While he has a good heart, there is a simmering bitterness inside Richard. I am eager to see where the next novels in Hosker’s series take this engaging protagonist.

To learn more about Hosker, go here:

Hastings on amazon:


No comments:

Post a Comment