Category: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Myth & Legend
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publication date: 3 August 1998
Number of pages: 400
On the Sussex Downs in 1066, the psychotic William and his gang of European mercenaries began the process which fragmented a civilisation. Walt, the last of King Harold's bodyguard, the one who survived Hastings, wanders across Asia Minor in the company of Quint, an intellectual renegade monk. On the way he unfolds the events that led up to the battle which affected the destinies of every English man and woman. With rare skill, Rathbone vividly recreates a civilisation that stubbornly remains alive in the collective memory to this day, and so identifies the roots of the still-held belief that every English person is born free and should stay free. Tender romance, savage war, courtly intrigue and some wry humour combine to make THE LAST ENGLISH KING an exhilarating roller-coaster ride into our past.
The king is Harold, the loser of the Battle of Hastings, and his story is told by one of his bodyguards, Walt. Full of shame at having failed to save his lord, Walt embarks on a journey to the Holy Land, through countries plagued by marauding Turks (the First Crusade is not far off). He falls in with an ex-cleric Quint to whom he narrates his tale, a magician and his children and a red-headed trader in lapis lazuli who is not all she appears. The elucidation of the power politics of 11th-century England and Normandy is fascinating, as are the details of the social structures which underpinned them, and the many vignettes of everyday life. The story is earthy: as Rathbone points out in his introduction, this is hardly the place to be coy about Anglo-Saxonisms. The parallel story of Walt's journey is more compelling than the one he is telling, unfettered as it is by the constraints of history. This type of format always presents problems of anachronism, and of the need for the narrator within the story to explain things to the reader while at the same time apparently speaking to somebody who would be familiar with them. Rathbone makes a fair fist of this, but occasionally mars it by joining with his readers in a 20th-century 'we'. He also plays irritating cultural-reference games, such as introducing a busker who sings a song about how 'the answer to everything is blowing in the breeze', and giving Walt, the elite soldier, the motto 'winners dare'. That apart, it is an entertaining novel which combines two good stories. (Kirkus UK)
What the papers say:
A rattling good story and with a plot which is gripping...superb, unforgettable SPECTATOR Rathbone is a very clever writer. scenes of such solidity no reader will easily forget them TIMES A triumph... if there are echoes of I, CLAUDIUS that is a high compliment INDEPENDENT A magnificent historical novel to stand alongside Rose Tremain's RESTORATION 'One of the very best story-tellers around'
Julian Rathbone was the author of many highly-acclaimed novels. Two of which (KING FISHER LIVES and JOSEPH) were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He died in February 2008.
In Stock: 10 copies