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Lord of Sunset
Parke Godwin
Avon EOS Books, 466 pages

Lord of Sunset
Parke Godwin
Parke Godwin is the author of a number of books. Of particular note is the beloved pair he wrote with Marvin Kaye -- Masters of Solitude (1978) and Wintermind (1982). Others include the Firelord trilogy (Firelord (1980), Beloved Exile (1984) and The Last Rainbow (1985)) and the humourous Snake Oil pair (The Snake Oil Wars, or Scheherazade Ginzberg Strikes Again and Waiting For the Galactic Bus (1988)).

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A review by Jean-Louis Trudel

National histories have a way of starting with crucial dates. The battle of Hastings in 1066 was long considered to mark the beginning of English history, and everything before that belonged to a dimmer, more savage, less interesting age.

History is rarely about losers, and it is always written by the winners. Which is why Duke William of Normandy, who won the battle of Hastings, has gotten more press than King Harold, who was beaten and killed on that battlefield. Yet, the pathos of Harold's common-law wife Edith Swan's Neck venturing onto the battlefield to find his body after death has ensured both of them a place in the more sentimental histories.

And, so, Parke Godwin chose to write the story of the last Saxon king of England and of his unfortunate wife, rather than that of William the Conqueror. This is not genre fantasy; the only fantasy therein lies in the arraying and reconstruction of historical events, with some artistic licence.

The result is a more and more engrossing read. While the initial scenes are less than gripping, the action and the interest pick up quickly. Godwin's Harold is an appealing figure, outgoing and good-natured, an imaginative warrior and a developing statesman. Edith also grows into her role, but historical circumstances leave her less of a role to play. The centre stage naturally belongs to Harold, as he must deal with a detached and suspicious Edward, newly crowned king of the English, and the political ambitions of his father Godwine, Earl of Wessex. And somehow preserve his love for Edith from the turmoil of an unsettled country.

Parke Godwin uses a broad canvas to encompass the exile of Godwine's family and their triumphant return to London, Harold's wars with the Welsh, and the growing rifts within his clan. In the end, Harold must choose twice the good of the country over fractious brothers, the impulsive Swegn and the scheming Tostig. His love for Edith is one constant, but he conceives a late and yet not insincere friendship with Duke William himself when he is shipwrecked in Normandy. Attaining the kingship in desperate straits, earning him enmity on all sides, even forces Harold into a political marriage and an apparent repudiation of Edith. The price of power has never been more clear nor more tragic. Edith was never Queen, but she is the one remembered by legend. And Harold was reluctant -- or so we like to think -- king of a doomed country.

The novel features a nascent English patriotism and makes it into the main motivation of Harold and those who fell with him at Hastings, which may be somewhat anachronous. However, the Anglo-Saxon setting is carefully researched and historical events follow faithfully the surviving records, which still left the author a lot of room to play with. Some of the book's best scenes, such as the climactic battle between Harold and the Norse army brought by his brother Tostig, are striking evocations of what 11th century England must have felt like.

Yes, Harold is truly Lord of Sunset, a memorable figure in an impossible situation, who deserved to be better remembered. He is the hero of a powerful story, and lovers of historical fiction will no doubt appreciate the many-sided truthfulness Parke Godwin brings to his portrayal as a man of action and emotion.

Copyright © 1998 by Jean-Louis Trudel

Jean-Louis Trudel is a busy, bilingual writer from Canada, with two novels and fourteen young adult books to his credit in French. He's also a moderately prolific reviewer and short story writer.

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