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The Last English King Hardcover – December 13, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (December 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312242131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312242138
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,502,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though better known for his political thrillers, British writer Rathbone is also the author of several mainstream novels, two of which (Joseph and King Fisher Lives) were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This richly detailed historical novel tells the story of the great Norman-Saxon battle of Hastings in 1066, as remembered by Walt Edwinson, or the Wanderer, one of King Harold Godwinson's bodyguards. Battle scarred and numb, Walt is plagued with guilt for merely losing his hand and not his life when Harold is killed at Hastings. Instead of returning to the wife and child who desperately need him in Norman-ruled England, Walt condemns himself to wander, since his desire to live and return to his wife and home are what caused him to fail his King. In Byzantium, Walt encounters a traveling ex-monk and scholar, Quint ("nothing more, nothing less"), and together they embark on a vividly described journey through the medieval eastern end of the Mediterranean. Quint's impressive knowledge of religion and philosophy and his anachronistic grasp of the tenets of modern psychology help fill in the blanks of the story that Walt recounts: of the reign of King Edward, the ascent of William the Bastard and King Harold and the historic battle for the throne of England. The story suggests that Walt at last finds redemption through the retelling, despite the novel's tragic ending (revealed in the book's first chapter), but Walt's friendship with Quint also provides important consolation. Rathbone takes considerable historical liberties, writing in contemporary vernacular modern prose and painting King Edward as a man more interested in Harold's fetching brother Tostig than in the sister, whom he is slated to marry. However, Rathbone defends his decisions convincingly in an author's note, and his narrative presents an interesting interpretation of a tumultuous period in English history. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

For over 25 years, Rathbone has been producing political thrillers and was nominated for the Booker Prize twice. In his new novel, he takes us to England at a time when "the civilization of the English reached its zenithAit turned its back on the savagery of war and embraced hedonistic willingness to live as well as one can." After losing his honor and his hands at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 while attempting to defend King Harold II of England against the invader, William of Normandy, Walt sets out on a personal pilgrimage across Europe. Joined in his self-imposed exile by Quint, a renegade, apostate monk, he tells his story of politics, intrigue, and battle as seen through the eyes of a king's bodyguard. Rathbone's spare style aptly expresses the horror of war and its aftermath. Anachronisms abound in this work and were deliberately included by the author. Some readers may be amused; others will find them a distraction. For larger historical fiction collections.AJane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

It was not much help in my research project.
William J. Hayes III
Anyone appreciating historical fiction that shows a strong respect for the facts on which it was based will thoroughly enjoy this book.
Steve Charitan
I don't think having the story told in flashback added much, compared to the confusion it caused.
Caraculiambro

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Steve Charitan on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Author Julian Rathbone immediately introduces Walt, a likable character who will not only serve as guide through his 11th Century world but also acts as a participant in one of its most significant events - the Battle of Hastings. While this reader often finds books that ignore linear chronology in telling their story annoying, here the technique works quite well. We meet Walt, once guardsman to the late King Harold II shortly after the decisive battle. Injured, defeated, guiltridden, he trudges across Europe in search of either oblivion or expiation. The angst Walt carries around makes him accessible to a modern reader, but he is never made to seem either offensively anachronistic or unduly gloomy.
In brief, but compelling narrative the author recreates the sensation of traveling through the countryside in what was still, effectively, the Dark Ages. When he reaches the outskirts of the Byzantine Empire and then Constantinople itself, Rathbone cleverly sums up the wonders of the city through Walt's literally stunned reaction to a religious service he witnesses in the Hagia Sofia.
During the course of his journey, Walt encounters Quint, a quirky, nomadic character with an inquisitive nature. As he and Walt take to the road together, Quint begins to question his companion about his former life. It is in these discussions that the author sets up the social milieu in which the battle will ultimately take place. The two travelers are then, in effect, left "on the road" and Rathbone takes up the tale from the early years of Edward the Confessor's reign, focusing on his interactions with the powerful Godwin family as well as the King's relationships with his mother and his lover.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Julian C Green on May 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book at Stansted Airport hoping to pass a few otherwise boring hours of travel. I didn't realise how enthralled I was to become, not just in the plot but in the whole scene of pre-Norman England. Certainly Julian Rathbone's presentation brings the rather stilted characters depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry to life as flesh and blood. It has also aroused in me (an Englishman in exile living in Spain surrounded by Scots!) a definite patriotism as well as an interest to read further into the history of the period. (I romantically like to think of my own ancestors linking shields to protect the last truly English king). Certainly the parallelism with our own end of Millennium 'threat' from across the Channel was not lost on me. The wide (but not pretentiously used I think) vocabulary made this interesting as literature.
On the minus side: The anachronisms (depsite the plea of the author in his foreword) do sometimes grate. And I think he possibly has some religious axe to grind.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Death Bredon on January 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Imagine if Aragorn had fallen at the battle of Pelinor Fields, and one of his close companions had run away and finally given an account of his defeat, and you have some idea of how this book reads. Filled with cheerful anachronisms, "The Last English King" evokes "I, Claudius" but also "The Lord of the Rings". At the end both Excalibur and Durandil are mentioned. The fugitive survivor creeps across the forests and rivers of Europe till he fetches up on the quays of the Golden Horn. There at the capital of the last empire of the West he falls in with fellow travellers and recounts the tale of the defeat of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings. A housecarl he is close beside his lord at the last and fails to fend off a fatal blow directed at the king. Guilt of this and love of home kept him in exile. Now he recalls what English democracy was and how it was lost - "for a thousand years". Dispensing with the second millenium we can now likewise look back to the first for some distant mirror of ourselves. Here is one, fun-house distorted at times, silly and gloomy by turns, but for all its fictions striking home at last.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Graceann Macleod on November 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
Julian Rathbone, in his introduction, indicates that he uses some cultural anachronisms because they amuse him, and he hopes that they will amuse his readers, as well. I must say that it was these comedic little touches that changed my disdain for this book into grudging admiration. While The Last English King is not my favorite historical novel ever, or even my favorite read of the year, it was time well spent.

Walt, the last surviving bodyguard to King Harold, wanders the world after the Battle of Hastings, wherein his King and his friends were lost. He meets interesting characters on the road, including Quint, who draws Walt's stories out of him, and Taillefer, who brings his own side of the story to the table. Also woven into this "tapestry" are fleeting sightings of a "nasal folk singer who said that the answer to everything was on the breeze," and quick references to a "poet named Omar." William (later known as William the Conqueror, but whose appellation here is not shareable in a family forum) is written as a dangerous, though comic figure, and his "pep talk" to the troops is hilarious. I found that worth the price of admission on its own.

I must admit that I had a great deal of trouble, due to my lack of knowledge of this period of British history, in keeping up with who was whom within the narrative. I had difficulty understanding who was in line for the Throne and why they felt their claim was valid. This might have been remedied through less flights of fancy on Rathbone's part and more clarity. However, I felt it to be a stroke of genius to put this novel in fairly modern language so as to make it accessible to a reader such as myself.
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